AI: The Abstract Human – Errant Knight or Übermensch

What people don’t realize is that AI’s are taking on the mental features of every aspect of our own externalized feature set of human properties. AI is being defined by some abstract notion of  human Intelligence. The algorithms and binary operations are not new, their as old as humankind, a world of binary relations that was well studied ad nauseum by the recent post-structural era. So if you’re worried that AI’s will take over the universe, you should be worried; for in the end they will be nothing but our dreams and nightmares of the Übermensch Nietzsche wrote of long ago.

As Rüdiger Safranski believed the Übermensch could represent a higher biological, biomechanical, or artificial type to be reached through artificial selection and at the same time an ideal for anyone who is creative and strong enough to master the whole spectrum of human potential, good and “evil”, to become an “artist-tyrant”. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche vehemently denied any idealistic, democratic or humanitarian interpretation of the Übermensch: “The word Übermensch designates a type of supreme achievement, as opposed to ‘modern’ men, ‘good’ men, Christians, and other nihilists … When I whispered into the ears of some people that they were better off looking for a Cesare Borgia than a Parsifal, they did not believe their ears.” Safranski argues that the combination of ruthless warrior pride and artistic brilliance that defined the Italian Renaissance embodied the sense of the Übermensch for Nietzsche. According to Safranski, Nietzsche intended the ultra-aristocratic figure of the Übermensch to serve as a Machiavellian bogeyman of the modern Western middle class and its pseudo-Christian egalitarian value system.

What if instead it turns out to be more like Miguel De Cervantes errant Knight Don Quixote de la Mancha, a laughable and comic travesty of humanity’s foibles and eccentricisms? One imagines an errant AI rambling round the universe like an excited child imposing erroneous human fantasies upon the unhuman spaces of alien worlds. And, yet, such a sceanrio might itself be more of a nightmare than Nietzsche’s or Safranski’s, it might like many children be a spoiled brat that will impose a tyrannical vision upon the universe as if it were a toy to be bashed when the fun is all gone. The obvious issue with this scenario is ‘Where will Sancho Panza be in all this?’ The common sense humor and wisdom of a man who knows and sees the universe for what it is rather than like the Don as he wishes it to be?

Yet, as I’ve written about many times before there is three other possibilities. Nick Land’s hyperstitional Intelligence from the future manipulating human kind since the advent of Capitalism (Nick, of course, equated AI = Capitalism), moving it steadily toward the inhuman singularity that will in the end be the demise and catastrophic annihilation of humans at the hands of their own progeny. The next is David Roden’s disconnection thesis that we as yet do not have even an inkling, much less the imaginative intelligence to conceive what this inhuman singularity will entail. All we can project is the fantasies of transhuman, posthuman, and non-human discourses that are in themselves – all too human. The notion that humans will with known sciences and creative aspirations become a mode of Wide Humans: humans that seem still connected to us but may have other properties as technological extension in physical for as implants, or become biogenetically modified advance species, etc.. Yet, the unknown mode would be the disconnected modes that we in our time cannot even conceive since they are problematic and beyond even our notions of the Wide Human variants. The final in Reza Negarestani’s notion of Spirit and Intelligence, a weaving of a pragmatic vision in which “Mind is not a thing, it is what it does.” Following in Nietzsche’s footsteps, yet with other more non-aristocratic goals, Negarestani states:

To concretely demonstrate the death of God, we must become gods. But gods as objects of philosophy vastly differ from gods as objects of religion. Having disenchanted the intellectual intuition of the divine through the powers of discursive rationality, having dismissed its myth of completeness as a fleeting historical illusion, philosophical gods are only gods in so far as they conceive themselves as moving beyond any condition given as the totality of their history, in so far as they can reinvent themselves as the inhabitants of the worlds which themselves have made. Yet they are capable of giving rise to that which is better than themselves through their pursuit of the good. For our present as humans only matters in the light of a better future generation, whoever or whatever it might be. The criterion of its betterment is its capacity at once to craft a satisfying life for itself, and to entitle all minds to that life. In imagining the possibility of a better world for that which comes after us, we have already begun to become philosophical gods destroying the given gods of religion, nature, technology and economy. However, like all gods, we should know that our death is at hand, for the better. Reason has taught us that death is inevitable, that thought’s historical revolutions in time only begin when thought has realized that it fears nothing. For intelligence, death is no longer an existential impediment, but a cognitive-practical enablement. Proceeding from that which is good—the death of all gods—the ultimate form of intelligence works toward the good life by removing all conditions of exploitation, in doing so emancipating itself and all others.1

Of course, underlying the above is an echo of that whole tradition that stems from Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto where they once suggested that

In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.2

Yet, as the history that followed such wishful thinking has shown, even the best intentions might lead to tyrannical outcomes. So in the end one wonders if Reza’s neo-humanist Enlightenment of Intelligence unbound from the human will in itself lead to such a radical conclusion.

Jacob Hohwy (The Preditive Mind) and Andy Clark (Surfing Uncertainty) in their recent work on the predictive mind-brain take on this whole complex and update it into the auspices of the neurosciences showing just how interesting the evolutionary interactions between brain/environment have produced the intricate rules of prediction in uncertain data. As Hohwy puts it:

“The mind exists in prediction. Our perceptual experience of the world arises in our attempts at predicting our own current sensory input. This notion spreads to attention and agency. Perception, attention, and agency are three different ways of doing the same thing: accounting for sensory input as well as we can from inside the confines of the skull. We are good at this, mostly, but it is a precarious and fragile process because we are hostages to our prior beliefs, our noisy brains, the uncertain sensory deliverances from the world, and to the brain’s urge to rid itself efficiently of prediction error.

The mind is shaped by how we manage these predictive efforts. We continually need to adjust, regulate, and revisit the balances and checks on prediction. The way we do this determines how we bind sensory attributes and how much our preconceptions can penetrate experience; more chronic, systematic failures to manage prediction can tip us into mental illness.

The predictive mind has extreme explanatory reach. Conscious unity, emotion, self, and introspection can all seemingly be brought under the prediction error minimization mechanism that maintains and shapes the mind. With this mechanism we can see ourselves as mere cogs in nature’s causal machinery and also as mental islands set over against the world, which is hidden behind the veil of sensory input.”

We’re turning the world outside-in creating the engines of intelligence that will re-write humanity in ways that cannot be foreseen or known. Such a future will be as David Roden suggests in his “disconnection thesis”: informally, the disconnection thesis proposes that posthumans would be cases of former Wide Humans becoming feral: becoming able to fulfil an independent career as an agent outside the human socio-technical assemblage Wide Humans.3 This notion of Wide Humans is the unbound movement into posthuman alterity that entails one foot in the human and the other in some “X” or unknown. Or as he sums it up:

While the disconnection thesis makes no detailed claims about posthuman lives, it has implications for the complexity and power of posthumans and thus the significance of the differences they could generate. Posthuman entities would need to be powerful relative to WH (Wide Humanity: “Whereas narrow humanity can be identified, if we wish, with the biological species Homo sapiens, wide humanity is a technogenetic construction or “assemblage” with both narrowly human and narrowly nonhuman parts.” (110)) to become existentially independent of it (§ 6.1). The disconnection relation is thus multiply realizable by entities with, conceivably, very disparate natures. But since all these would be powerful enough to become “feral”, the majority of these would be hot cores of influence of a kind humans have not encountered before. (167)

This wilding of the human as “feral” possibility – a moving into something existing outside the current socio-cultural assemblage is to realize it as an unknown unknown. What we do know is that we are in our time, and have been since the Enlightenment and the rise of the Industrial Age, been undergoing modifications that have disconnected us from our roots in Agricultural Civilization – a ten-thousand year history some term the Anthropocene. A world in which humans were immersed in the cyclic time of natural process and astro-tyranny of the stars that guided the planting of crops, the rhythms of daily life, yearly festivals, and the dark transports of the religious and mystical mind. But since the Enlightenment (or even Renaissance) technology and the scientific mind has slowly weaned us from the natural cycles and imposed their progressive and historical regime of clock-work time and the mechanization of humanity through instrumental Reason. Which leads to the notion of originary technicity that entails a co-evolution of technology and humans. In this sense originary technicity which reverses the old notions that technology is a tool or prosthesis – an extension of the human mind, has now entered the stage in which we’ve become the tools-extensions of technics and technology which is more and more independent and autonomous of the human and rewiring what it means to be human – or, even posthuman. Technics is reinventing or revising human nature as it has been known from Plato to Derrida. We are being re-written, re-programmed, and re-engineered by these new ICT technologies to inhabit the artificial worlds of the Infosphere. How this will proceed is part of the task ahead of us…

  1. Negarestani, Reza. Intelligence and Spirit. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (November 27, 2018) (Page 510-511).
  2. Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich. Works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Includes Capital (Das Kapital), Communist Manifesto, Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte & more (mobi) (Kindle Locations 308-309). MobileReference. Kindle Edition.
  3. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 113). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.



2 thoughts on “AI: The Abstract Human – Errant Knight or Übermensch

  1. Beautiful writing.

    I agree the most intelligent machine would be the one with the fullest capacity for errancy.

    But do errancy; curiosity; thirst; hungry; not necessitate plunder? Why is Cesare Borgia not the more errant personage, over Quixote?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s