[ExI] Individualistic upload societies realistic?

Kaj Sotala xuenay at gmail.com
Mon Feb 16 19:11:02 UTC 2009

Most discussion and fiction concerning societies of uploads that I've
seen seems to be based on the premise that they're basically societies
of individuals. Since all current-day societies are societies of
individuals, that's an obvious starting point, but is it realistic in
the long term?

In a draft version of my upcoming book, I argue (translated from Finnish):


Hanson's analysis [1] assumes that digital minds can be freely copied,
but that they remain basically human otherwise. Members of "upload
families" created by copying a single individual may be very similar,
but in the end every upload is an independent individual.

However, information processing doesn't only happen inside brains and
computers. The paradigm of distributed cognition studies human
societies as information-processing systems, with individuals being
parts of the larger system. For instance, the operation of an airliner
cockpit's crew has been studied from this perpective [2]. For a flight
to proceed without trouble, the different crew members need to be
aware of information relating to their areas of responsibility at any
given moment. If the crew is experienced and well trained, they'll
constantly stay up to date by e.g. simply listening to other crew
members converse with flight control. As flight control informs the
captain of a new flight altitude, the rest of the pilots begin to
adjust the altitude even while the captain is still finishing up the
communication. The cockpit functions as a unified system, and relevant
information is propagated to wherever needed. Several crew members
hearing the same information also allows for error correction. If the
message is unclear and the captain can't make out flight control's
words, he can ask the others for clarification. The co-pilot answers
the captain's query: even though one part of the system has failed to
absorb the information received from outside the system, the same
information has been stored in another part, which may then attempt to
re-send it where needed.

Several other fields have been studied in the same manner, ranging
from a child's language learning [3] to creativity [4]. A child
doesn't learn language by itself and in a vacuum, but via interaction
with adults and older children. Creativity, on the other hand,
requires common, shared "idea resources" which individuals may use to
come up with their own inventions and then give them back for others
to refine further. Another theory of innovation considers inventions
to be responses to problems encountered by the community. Things such
as bad laws or ineffective ways of doing things show up in community,
and are considered problems by its members. This leads the community -
the system - into a need state, mobilizing its members to seek
solutions until they're found.

One central idea is that social communities are cognitive
architectures the same way that individual minds are [5]. The argument
is as follows. Cognitive processes involve trajectories of information
(transmission and transformation), so the patterns of these
information trajectories, if stable, reflect some underlying cognitive
architecture. Since social organization - plus the structure added by
the context of activity - largely determines the way information flows
through a group, social organization may itself be viewed as a form of
cognitive architecture.

If societies are information-processing systems, then the most
effective and competitive societies are the ones in which information
is processed in the most efficient and fast manner. One reason for why
brains are so effective at processing information is that parts of
them have evolved to closely co-operate and share information between
each other, at high bandwidths. From this it follows that it is in the
interest of uploads to share information as fast and effectively as
possible, in order to compete. Existing in a digital format, they can
do this in a way that would be impossible for traditional biological
minds. They can develop connections between each other that permit
instant, brain-to-brain sharing of knowledge, in the same fashion that
different parts of a single brain share knowledge. If these
connections are of a sufficiently high bandwidth, it is likely that
minds participating in such information-sharing will lose some of
their own individuality, melding into hive minds. Also, nothing
requires the melding to only happen between humans: computer programs
may also meld into deeply integrated parts of individuals.

Naturally, this kind of development won't happen overnight. It will
take time to discover the most efficient and safe ways to join minds
together. It is possible, that the exact way of joining a mind to the
rest of the community must be custom-tailored to each specific mind.
Joining together also requires trust: as computer viruses have shown,
deeply inter-linked systems may also cause each other considerable
damage. In this, upload families formed by copies have an advantage.
Copies are very similar to each other, "standardized". When somebody
comes up for two copies to share knowledge, it can very rapidly be
generalized to the rest of the family. Members of upload families can
also literally trust each other as much as they trust themselves. As
before, if this allows for more efficient work, it will cause the
joined-together upload minds to dominate the economy and outcompete
any who choose to remain as individuals.

[1] Hanson, R. (1994) If uploads come first: The crack of a future
dawn. Extropy, 6(2), p. 10-15. http://hanson.gmu.edu/uploads.html
[2] Hutchins, E. & Klausen, T. (1995) Distributed Cognition in an
Airline Cockpit.
[3] Spurrett, D. & Cowley, S.J. (2004) How to do things without words:
infants, utterance-activity and distributed cognition. Language
Sciences, 6, 443-466.
[4] Miettinen, R. (2006) The Sources of Novelty: A Cultural and
Systemic View of Distributed Creativity. Creativity and Innovation
Management. Vol. 15, no. 2.
[5] Hollan, J. & Hutchins, E. & Kirsh, D. (2000) Distributed
Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-Computer Interaction
Research. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. Vol 7, no.



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