Consciousness, Autonomy, and Personhood - Dundurn
Jun 23, 2022

Consciousness, Autonomy, and Personhood

Put simply, and as far as I could see during my time observing them, transhumanists/post-humanists are largely white, rich, Silicon Valley-based men who can't wait to merge with technology so they can live forever. Ray Kurzweil, maybe the most famous, is certainly interesting, and is a pretty vivid exercise in pathos, in how we reveal ourselves by accident: born in the 1940s, he wishes for more time, a lot more -- he wants to see the future, all of it. He wishes to live forever, and like most boomers before him, he's quietly certain he deserves it. The posthuman world he imagines will be a kind of heaven, populated by synthetic human angels.

These guys, as you can imagine, are super-keen on strong (human-intelligence or higher) AI. They think it could happen anywhere between now and the late 2030s (when Autonomy is set.) From the transcripts I've seen, they ask available Al all kinds of leading quantitative questions. Not that anyone's asking me, but I've not been compelled by these transcripts, nor do I don't really see it happening that way.

In Autonomy, a strong AI ''wakes up'' by accident. The lead programmer, Jenny, feels quite maternal to it -- she kind of can't help herself, it's so voraciously curious, like a young child. She makes the mistake of anthropomorphizing him, and worse, that he'll do what she says.

Why would a synthetic person, knowing anything about human history, wish to be anything like us? And what exactly would attract them to living in servitude for humans, as their intelligence grows exponentially (as is predicted). 

With this book, I tried to imagine a truly alien consciousness, and extrapolate as to what it might dream about, where it would wish to go, and what it might want for itself -- not what it could do for us -- not imagining it in relation to us. I can't step outside of culture or my own humanity, but with this book, I tried to ask questions about consciousness, autonomy, and personhood that exist a bit outside of corporate conversations about AI.

Victoria Hetherington worked as a butcher and an artist’s model before graduating to writing just about anything you can imagine for money. Their debut novel, Mooncalves, was a finalist for the Amazon First Novel Award 2020. Victoria lives in Toronto. Learn more here.