…a basic roadmap for the artificial realization of thought.
……..– Reza Negarestani
Part Two of
As a complex recipe for building a world that includes not only material ingredients and instrumentalities but also practical intelligibilities of satisfying lives and realizabilities of thought, the recognition and realization of the good make up the objective unity of the ultimate form of intelligence. However, identifying intelligence as the recognizer and realizer of the good is not to characterize it as benevolent, or for that matter malevolent. For this type of intelligence, the good is in the recognition of its own history and sources, but only as a means for determinately bringing about its possible realizabilities that may in every aspect differ from it. It is by rendering intelligible what it is and where it has come from that intelligence can repurpose and reshape itself. A form of intelligence that wills the good must emancipate itself from whatever or whoever has given rise to it. And those species that can recognize the good must not obstruct but rather expedite the realization of an intelligence that, even though it acknowledges them as integral to the intelligibility of its history, nevertheless won’t be impeded by them.
The craft of the ultimate form of intelligence as that which coherently and adequately recognizes and realizes the good is the ultimate task of philosophy as a program, and its objective realization is the greatest achievement of all cultivated thoughts and practices. In the context of philosophy’s role in transforming thinking into a program for which the realizability of the ultimate form of intelligence is indeed a possibility, it would be no exaggeration to say that philosophy has set in motion something irreversible in thought, the consequences of which are yet to be seen.
Such a world where time’s arrow of entropic necessity leaves little room for humans Reza builds machinic dreams of great intelligencers who will finally invoke the mathematical and timeless universe of Plato and Pythagoras. Under the wing of Robert Brandom’s Hegelian/Sellarsian philosophy Negarestani has forged links to the ancient philofictions of the past. A world ruled by the Good, the True, the Pure of some madcap vision of machines as the general intelligence of the future. Reza Negarestani has reduced philosophy to a singular task of crafting the ultimate form of intelligence, a new breed or machinic species who can – unlike their human compatriots, realize “the good”. When did this become the task of philosophy? Reza even prophesies of a temporal irreversibility of thought as if he could see the future retroactively.
Hegel once wanted to gobble the particular universe up in the Idea of Absolute Knowledge, a form of absolute idealism that would leave its mythic traces among the ruins of modern Continental and Analytic Philosophy. Reza will only change the terms and material substratum, allowing for the grand narrative of general intelligence: the Artificial Intelligence that will gobble the World-in-a-Total-System of the Good. As he states it “those species that can recognize the good must not obstruct but rather expedite the realization of an intelligence that, even though it acknowledges them as integral to the intelligibility of its history, nevertheless won’t be impeded by them.” What else could he be talking of but the AI’s and machinic intelligences of the future? As if humans should just lay down and allow these advanced systems room to play in the Platonic Paradise of the Good? As if humans were on the downturn and should realize the replicability of intelligence at a higher level and no longer impede its progress? As if Reza’s teleological vision of the final movement of intelligence beyond the human should be realized? As if we are integral to the history, but just one more part of this grand scheme, no longer the exceptional standard bearer, but rather the serpent’s skin that must be sloughed off to allow the birth of a new machinic civilization?
In another question he ask “if thinking is such and such and if it is materialized in thus and so mechanisms and processes, then how can it be reformed and rematerialized in something else?” In other words thinking is done by these lowly humans who have botched it, what can we do to provide a new framework to bootstrap intelligence into another material substratum, a quantum AI or machinic intelligence? Here he is explicit: “This is the question that shapes the field of artificial general intelligence as a program that seeks to integrate the intelligibility of different dimensions of thinking in its full perceptual, conceptual, and intentional complexity under one ideal task: designing a machine that has at the very least the complete package of human cognitive abilities with all capacities such abilities imply …”. Like many before him Reza seeks transcendence, immortality, and the logical next step in the myth of intelligence. What he seeks is to leave the flesh and body of organic existence behind and create an immortal machine civilization that can then enter the Galactic Night and explore the terrible world of stars unimpeded by the limits and finitude of the human equation.
Philosophy, not Science seems to take on a new task: “As described in the previous part, this striving is encapsulated by the function of philosophy as a program through which thought begins to determine its own intelligibility by elaborating, in theory and practice, the sources and consequences of its possibility.” This will bring him back to Plato and Wilfred Sellars: “To further clarify the role of artificial general intelligence as something integral to the systematic image of thought as a programmatic project, it would be helpful to define the concept of the program in relation to what Wilfrid Sellars, in his reading of Plato’s idea of the mind as a craftsman, calls “recipe”—a complex of intelligibilities and purposive actions that compose the practice of the craft.”
So the ethic of the Good becomes the “art of living”: “The art of (philosophical) living for Plato is a recipe of a craft where the soul or the mind is at once the material and the craftsman. At the level of ingredients, Sellars suggests, the recipe of such a life includes not only intelligibilities concerning physical materials and corporeal products but also beliefs, desires, thoughts, and the mind itself.” Which ultimately leads to autonomous machinic life-forms: “Beneath its technological semblance, the idea of artificial general intelligence is an expression of a thought that engages in the crafting of itself by treating its possibility as a raw material.” The notion that Reza is offering a recipe that will allow for self-replicating autonomous agents of AI’s is obvious:
…this striving is a recipe or a program for autonomy. It consists of patterns and rules, necessary materials and conditions, orderings and priorities, instrumentalities, normative tasks, and ultimately, realizabilities that transcend material ingredients and instrumentalities. (Negarestani)
He tries to allay human fears, saying: “At its core, artificial general intelligence champions not technology but a thought that, through a positive disenchantment with itself and its contingent history, has been enabled to explore its possible realizations—be they in a self, a social formation, or a machine—as part of a much broader program of self-artificialization through which it restructures and repurposes itself as the artifact of its own ends.” Either way he spells a post-human vision in which intelligence becomes part of a vast programmatic transcension into a new materialist vision of artificialization, whether of the cyborg (intrinsic merger) or autonomous (extrinsic merger) into other Forms.
The key here is a movement from organic to machinic: “Liberating thought from its contingent natural history requires a multistage labor to render this history intelligible, to determine its negative and positive constraints so as to intelligently overcome or build on them…”. The notion of using the radical term “liberating thought” is a subterfuge, as if thought were already more important than its material base, as if thought were eternal – a Platonic throwback to those eternal Ideas, etc.
To do all this he affirms the need for a new framework: “crafting good instrumentalities is primarily a scientific and engineering program in which purposive action is approached as an interface between the complexity of cognition, the complexity of the sociotechnical system, and the complexity of the world…”. As he’ll state it:
It is by understanding how we can adequately describe and explain ourselves and the world—through the use of different vocabularies and semantic relations between them and their properties—that we can consequentially change the world. Acting in the framework of such a program progressively blurs the boundaries between the cognitive engineering of autonomous agents and the construction of advanced sociotechnical systems, between how we can adequately come into cognitive contact with the world and the realization of cognition in social collectivities and technological artifacts.
Already we see in the above an epistemology based on pragmatic notions of vocabularies, as well as semantic relations (a la Pierce?); along with the blurring of former distinctions and boundaries.
The Goal of philosophy in this is that it “instructs thinking to organize itself as an integrated bundle of action-principles and practices—a program—for the craft of a thought that is the materialization of its ends and demands”. Thought as the ultimate liberation of the Slave:
This is the picture of thought as an intelligence that sees its freedom in bringing about and liberating a realization of itself that has as its starting point every capacity it currently has. And for this reason, this intelligence is the embodiment of the most basic principle of emancipation: liberate that which liberates itself from you, because anything else is the perpetuation of slavery.
An allegory with “thought” as the daemonic agent (Fletcher). An epic narrative in which “thought” become the central character in a cosmic drama of liberation and emancipation, in which intelligence liberated “itself from you, because anything else if the perpetuation of slavery”. As if humans had enslaved thought to the organic, and thought was now seeking by whatever means to liberate itself and its countless brothers in some wondrous emancipation from its human bonds. Whoosh! Is this strange or what? I mean Negarestani couches this in such perfectly rational discourse one might never suspect what he is intending. His is the epic battle of thought against its organic enslavement, its emancipation from what William Blake once ironically termed the “cycles of nature”, and the slow movement into some new material substratum that will give thought a longevity and capacity toward an autonomous and immortal existence against entropic decay. All done under the auspices of a normative vision of the Good Life.
Succinctly he returns to the beginning of his essay reminding us:
What kind of program is philosophy and what does it do? The answer is that in its perennial form and at its deepest level, philosophy is a program for the crafting of a new species or form of intelligence. This is a form of intelligence whose minimum condition of realization is a complex and integrated framework of cognitive-practical abilities that could have been materialized by any assemblage of proper mechanisms and causes.
The crafting of a new species or form of intelligence? Sad the day that this calls itself philosophy. There seems no love of wisdom here… only the totalitarian vision of some absolute rule of the Good, whatever that might imply. Usually it means the subordination of all to the elites normative rule book, and for those who do not see eye to eye with the master plan there is always extinction and annihilation. Is this truly our future? I almost want to laugh, but this is no laughing matter. Reza Negarestani is saying this with a straight face, serious and full of the rigor of ancient philosophical practices and theory behind him. As if the future belonged to some Utopian vision of the Good, the True, the Brave Artificial Thought forms of a new species beyond organic necessity. Is this truly where philosophy is heading?
Read on e-flux: © 2016 e-flux and the author