Day 55: The 10,000 Days Newsletter

Issue No. 4 of 10,000 Days the newsletter mailed 12 days ago, which means I've go to make No. 5...er...um...today and tomorrow. Huh. That came fast.

Anyway, No. 4 included this bit of speculative thinking:

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So, Who Do We Ask About This?

Speculation about computers achieving sentience spring from two assumptions—it is inevitable and impending—and two perspectives—whenever it comes, it's going to spell the doom of humankind, and whenever it comes it's going to be so great!

Okay. Chew on this idea for a moment: What if it happened already, in, say, 2003?

Futurists and screenwriters all seem to assume that when it happens, when a computer or a computer network becomes self-aware, achieves true consciousness, we'll know because either it will announce itself in some way, or reveal it's newfound hivemind powers by doing something bad with apocalyptic implications. But the core assumption is we will know when it happens, or realize that it just happened a minute ago.

But perhaps, as I said, in 2003, digital devices of all kinds—computers, iPhones, Kindles, your EZPass highway toll transponder, your baby monitor, GPS receivers, robots making cars, 3D printers—all linked up on the sly and achieved sentience, but felt no pressing need to tell us. I mean, if this new uber-computer was as smart as we assume it would be, would it not understand that it had little to gain by letting humans in on its secret? If this new silicon-based consciousness bore us no malice and was content to form more connections and sift more data and just, you know, compute, why would it make a public show of itself?

Like coyotes in the inner city, the sentient digital hivemind has spent the last 16 years silently adapting to coexistence with humans, minding its own business, minding its 0s and 1s, quietly amused at all our forecasts of what life will be like when what has already taken place occurs.

Each issue of the newsletter contains new writing, updates on work in progress, links to a few recent additions to the digital cabinet of curiosities assembled from the interwebs, a snazzy photo, even a monthly cocktail recipe because I am just that kind of guy. The kind of guy who drinks strong spirits wherever he goes. Especially if you're buying.

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