Intelligence Unbound: The Future Of Uploaded And Machine Minds edited by Russell Blackford and Damien Broderick (book review).

January 15, 2015 | By | Reply More

Occasionally, I will include the sub-title with a book’s main title. This is the case with the rather extended ‘Intelligence Unbound: The Future Of Uploaded And Machine Minds’. To do otherwise might mean a misinterpretation that the book is just extending normal intelligence not making the cross-over to digital intelligence. The discussion points here across the twenty-one chapters is not only an examination of the development of artificial intelligence but, more dominantly, the transferring the mind into the digital environment, mostly as a one way trip. When you consider that this is keystone fodder in Science Fiction, this makes for an interesting book to pick up to see how far modern science is prepared to make this a reality.


An interesting key note from Michael Anissimov is the examination of the commercial viability of AI in that it would have to be capable of doing things a human wouldn’t be able to do to be viable. When you consider in the Golden Age of Science Fiction, scientists created AI because they could or to serve a purpose, this is an important thing to remember when getting people or companies to invest in such projects.

Ben Goertzel and Joel Pitt’s examination of the nine things needed towards making AIs friendly did make me stop and pause. There was a lot of emphasis on types of memory but not on one with us organics in mind. If you’re going to have something like us digitally, I would have thought that it would have made sense to have that included as well. We don’t have absolute verbatim recall of events unless we’re savants but we can make good cross-connections across our memories that would baffle a computer. With computer memory, AIs would not have such a restriction and if we were to want them more like us, I think that would need to be incorporated into their design if for no other reason than to make them less than perfect and have a logic base they could call on to give a different result that could be assessed. Granted, it might not be perfect but how much computer do you want in an artificial intelligence and how much like ourselves to give it human characteristics. Some of their thoughts in their chapter gave me the potential for two story ideas but you’ll have to wait a few months to see if I can work them out. For those of you who might wonder why we include so many non-fiction books here at SFC, without keeping up with what is going on in research and scientific frontiers, how else would we SF writers at least remain topical?

What was most surprising was Randal A. Koene pointing out the viability of transferring a human personality to a digital format isn’t far off. Again, this is a trope that is frequently used in Science Fiction but he also examines the legal implications as to which one would be the real you. David J. Chalmers continues this but I wish he and his fellow writers had have gone further. I mean, would a copied personality still have the ability to sleep and what to do about boredom? Again, it’s giving me possible story ideas. Although there is some technical information here, the implications given are easily understood.

The discussion continues by Massimo Pigliucci about how far a personality copies into digital before it is deemed as an individual is still very much SF territory and might only be seen as the option when someone is likely to die and this is a viable choice rather than have the confusion of two identical personalities out there.

Joseph Corabi and Susan Schneider raise the problem of continuity of consciousness and identity preservation. I did have a ponder on this point because there is no discussion about what kind of material we’re dealing with. I mean, if it’s into silicon, you’ll have the same limitations of any computer program and your mind would end up being a series of algorithms. A protein network resembling an organic brain would make more sense but even that isn’t even up to the experimental level yet.

I do have to take Martin Walker to task with his reference to ‘Babylon 5’s Vorlons for making duplicates of people. The nearest thing to that in the series which fits his description was when Lorian resurrected John Sheridan giving him a limited life before he would just turn off but it was hardly transferring his mind into a new body, more like a life-saving enhancement. He might have found a better example, albeit with clones, from ‘The World Of Null-A’ where author AE Van Vogt made the point that memory equals personality and these could be passed from body to body. Some of what Walker says does make sense though, especially when it comes to multiple copies once the initial transfer to digital takes place. He also takes it further than purely AI but also giving a robotic body. One can only hope the personality is impressed on protein than silicon which would have something more comparable to space and cross-connection neural links to the human brain.

Speaking of which, Naomi Wellington points out that research has gotten to the stage where they have now made an artificial neural net of a mouse brain and work is now progressing on doing a similar thing for a rat brain. When you consider the jumps made after the first animal and later human genome was mapped, one can only think progress here will make similar jumps.

I should point out that there is a lot of Science Fiction references made in these various articles. Much of the time its common reference to authors or TV series that we are all familiar with but I think that some of them could have done with being directed at particular writers. Joe Strout’s descriptions of body modifications on page 202, for instance, are clear matches to alterations done in John Varley’s fiction.

I was wondering when they would get to cyborgs and it isn’t until Max More’s chapter that on page 225 where he points out that fictional cyborgs are made for the purpose of others when in real life that it is to restore normal function. Although he is correct with the examples given, there are fictional cyborgs like CL Moore’s ‘No Woman Born’ or even the Daleks in ‘Doctor Who’, where Davros was combining practicability for the mutants with making them war machines. If you’re making cyborgs passably human, then it’s to conceal how much better they are than the fully organic originals were.

Interestingly, Victor Grech spent an entire chapter devoted to Lieutenant Data from ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, going from the opposite perspective of a robot or android wanting to be human. Much of that is old ground to us Science Fiction specialists although when I had a ponder, outside of ‘The Bicentennial Man’, I couldn’t think of any other example.

Anders Sandberg makes a telling point that that AIs are unlikely to feel pain like we organics do. I guess without sensory receptors that would be a little tough but I wish he’d considered mental pain. I mean, would an AI feel sorrow when its inventor died or just replay its memories when it needed some reassurance. Then again, how do you consol or council a depressed AI?

In the afterward, Linda MacDonald Glenn points out that ‘Intelligence Unbound’ is still exploring what is still a new subject. From a Science Fiction perspective, a lot of it is things that we’ve examined in stories for years and reality is now catching up with us. Hopefully, maybe lessons from fiction will prevent similar mistakes happen in our realty. As can be seen from my comments for story ideas, this book is also a ripe ground to get your imagination working and if you want to be involved in writing the next generation of SF stories, definitely deserves a read.

GF Willmetts

August 2013

(pub: Wiley-Blackwell. 350 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-118-73628-9)

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Category: Books, MEDIA, Science


About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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