Stanovich, 'The Robot's Rebellion' (mini-review)

by lukeprog1 min read16th Nov 201139 comments

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The jacket text for Keith Stanovich's The Robot's Rebellion sums up the book well:

The idea that we might be robots is no longer the stuff of science fiction; decades of research in evolutionary biology and cognitive science have led many esteemed scientists to the conclusion that... humans are merely the hosts for two replicators (genes and memes) that have no interest in us except as conduits for replication...

Accepting [this] disturbing idea, Keith Stanovich here provides the tools for the "robot's rebellion," a program of cognitive reform necessary to advance human interests over the limited interest of the replicators and define our own autonomous goals as individual human beings. Drawing on the latest research... The Robot's Rebellion describes how short-term and reflexive thinking processes dominate the higher-order thinking necessary for achieving autonomy from our biological programming. These higher-order evaluative activities of the brain... hold the potential to fulfill our need to ascribe significance to human life.

We may well be robots, but we are the only robots who have discovered that fact. [This] is the first step in constructing a radical new concept of self based on what is truly singular about humans: that they gain control of their lives in a way unique among life forms on Earth — through rational self-determination.

The book is an excellent introduction to the first stage of Yudkowskian philosophy: We are robots in a mechanistic universe running on a swiss army knife of cognitive modules. But at least we finally noticed we're robots, and we can use the skills of rationality to hop off our habit treadmills and pursue our values instead. These values are complex and often arbitrary, but we can use our reflective capacities to extrapolate our values based on "higher-order" desires, a desire for preference consistency, and other considerations. All this is argued for at length in Stanovich's book. The only thing missing is a discussion of what to do about all this when AI arrives.

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