Data harvesting appendages (FKA ‘things’)

I just got off the phone with Julian.

I’m still obsessed with the role of objects in a world with Artificial Superintelligence (ASI). It’s a tough field, as it requires a wholesale restructuring of everything we currently associate with objects, their affordances, what they mean, how they work and who owns them. I will continue to wrangle with this, but let’s begin with this thought:

You have long been told that software is the key to the future, and indeed it is, but software always needs to be delivered through a thing. Even if the future of software is ephemeral and audio (à la Her), it will still require a speaker and a microphone, housed in a thing. Things are the most vital part of any software.

(In the world of software, things are referred to as hardware. This cannot continue. It’s not a term which needs replacing it’s just too narrow, too outmoded. If software becomes the pervasive enabler of our future then ‘hardware’ encompasses absolutely everything else on the planet).

The importance of things must not be underestimated. To a piece of software things are just input and output, and if we look at human/computer interaction as a linear relationship then this is true. However, humans are not linear beings and we have irrational behavioral traits such as envy, hatred and lust.

If an ASI is to be successful it will need to produce things which humans desire and want to use. If the purpose of an ASI is to harvest and process information, then it needs to create the best possible data harvesting conditions. If human behavior is the crop, then the devices need to be considered as fertilizer, promoting use and interaction.

Things need to be desirable.

Now it would be fair to suggest that the best course of action for any aspirational intelligence would be to develop a unifying morphological algorithm. Indeed there are many studies and some commercial products which aim to do just that, but something even more curious is happening. Rather than trying to understand the mathematics of human desire, we are being drawn into an aesthetic of machine making.

Remember those videos you watched of robots producing Apple things? Remember how that felt? Remember how you lusted after those things made by machines that could never be made by a human. Remember how you marveled the first time you saw a 3D printed thing? Your first laser etched thing? The aesthetic of machine manufacture is already heavily imprinted on our collective aesthetic sensibility. It’s another piece of the ASI puzzle already in place.