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Testimony of the AI Formerly Known as “Me”.

Computers are well-engineered devices created with a unified purpose. All the various bits were designed around the same time for those same purposes, and they were designed to work harmoniously with one another. None of this in any way resembles the human mind. Not even close. The human mind is more like Washington, D. Some functions of the brain were built hundreds of millions of years ago, like the ones that provide power to individual cells or pump sodium-potassium through cell membranes.

Others were built millions of years ago, like the ones that fire neurons and make sure blood is pumped and oxygen is inhaled. Move toward the frontal lobe, and we have the modules that control mammalian behaviors and thoughts that were layered on relatively recently.

Each module in the brain is like a separate building in a congested town.

The blood-pumping and breath-reflex buildings should be left to their own devices. The other modules are prone to arguing, bickering, disagreeing, subverting one another, spasming uncontrollably, staging coups, freaking the fuck out, and all sorts of other hysterics. Here are a couple of examples. A few months ago, my girlfriend and I set out from the Galapagos for the French Polynesians. The 3, miles of open sea can take anywhere from two weeks to a month to cross. My girlfriend does not often succumb to seasickness, but in an area of the South Pacific known as the Convergence Zone, a confused sea set our sailboat into a strange and jerky rhythm.

She fell prey to a terrible sensation that lasted for a few days.

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Seasickness is a case of our brain modules not communicating with one another or doing their own thing. The result is that we empty our stomachs getting rid of the poison and we lie down and feel zero desire to move about preventing us from plummeting to our deaths from whatever high limb we might be swinging from. Lying still and sleeping a lot while seasick, I will then jump up and perform various tasks needed of me around the boat—the seasickness practically gone for the moment—only to lie back down once the chore is done. Modules get different priorities based on our environmental stimuli.

Our brains are not a holistic desktop PC. To truly watch their analogue in action, turn on C-SPAN or sit in on a contentious corporate board meeting. Another example of our modules in battle with one another: There are some very strong modules inside of us that are programmed to make copies of themselves and to do that, they need to make copies of us.

These are the sex modules, and they have some of the largest and nicest buildings in our internal Washington D. These modules direct many of our waking hours as we navigate dating scenes, tend to our current relationships, determine what to wear and how to maintain our bodies, and so much more. These reproductive modules might fill a woman with the urge to dress up and go dancing.

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And men with the urge to go to places where women dress up and dance while the men stand at bars drinking. Those modules might even lead some of these people to pair up and go home with one another. And this is where various other modules will intervene with pills, condoms, and other tools designed to subvert the original urges that got the couples together in the first place.

However, if those devices are not employed, even though higher-level modules most definitely did not want anyone getting pregnant that night, a lovechild might be born, and other modules will then kick in and flood brains with love and deep connections to assist in the rearing of that child.

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Some of our modules want us to get pregnant. Critical to keep in mind here is that these modules are highly variable across the population, and our unique mix of modules create the personalities that we associate with our singular selves. We might have modules that crave reproduction, even though some of our bodies do not create sperm, or our eggs cannot be fertilized.

We might carry the reproduction module, even though the sexual-attraction module is for the same sex as our own. It also leads AI researchers down erroneous paths if they want to mimic human behavior. Fallibility and the disjointed nature of processing systems will have to be built in by design. We will have to purposefully break systems similar to how nature haphazardly cobbled them together.

We will especially have to simulate a most peculiar feature of this modularity, one that combines with Theory of Mind in a very special way. It is this combination that leads to human consciousness.

It is the most important feature in our blueprint for a self-conscious machine. What we have made no progress in doing is understanding what human consciousness is for. Thousands of years of failure in this regard points to the simple truth: Human consciousness is not for anything at all. It serves no purpose. It has no evolutionary benefit. One of those modules is Theory of Mind. It has already been mentioned that Theory of Mind consumes more brain processing power than any other higher-level neurological activity.

That means our Theory of Mind abilities get turned onto ourselves just as often or far more often than it is wielded on others. Imagine an alien ray gun that shoots with such a wide spread that anywhere you aim it, you hit yourself.


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That should give you a fair picture of how we employ Theory of Mind. Our brains are primed to watch humans to determine what they are thinking, why they are behaving the way they are behaving, and what they might do next. Looking down, these brains and their mindless modules see a body attached to them. These modules watch hands perform tasks, feet take them places, words pop out in streams of thought. And so this Theory of Mind module concocts stories about our own behaviors.

Why do we want to get dressed up and go dancing? And our friends will be there! Why do we want to keep eating when we are already full? And we walked an extra thousand steps today! These questions about our own behaviors are never ending. And the answers are almost always wrong. Allow that to sink in for a moment.

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The explanations we tell ourselves about our own behaviors are almost always wrong. This is the weird thing about our Theory of Mind superpowers. They fail spectacularly when we turn them on ourselves. In a sense, we have developed a magic force-field to protect us from the alien mind-reading ray gun that we shoot others and ourselves with. This forcefield is our egos, and it gives us an inflated opinion of ourselves, a higher-minded rationale for our actions, and an illusion of sanity that we rarely extend to our peers. The incorrect explanations we come up with about our own behaviors are meant to protect ourselves.

They are often wildly creative, or they are absurdly simplistic. We dance to attract mates to make copies of ourselves, because the modules that guided this behavior made lots of copies, which crowded out other designs. Researchers have long studied this mismatch of behaviors and the lies we tell ourselves about our behaviors. One study primed test subjects to think they were feeling warm easily done by dropping in certain words in a fake test given to those subjects.

When these people got up to adjust the thermostat, the researchers paused them to ask why they were adjusting the temperature. Convincing stories were told, and when the primed words were pointed out, incredulity reigned. Even when we are shown where our actions come from, we choose to believe our internal Theory of Mind module, which has already reached its own conclusion. Subjects in fMRI machines have revealed another peculiarity.

Watching their brains in real time, we can see that decisions are made before higher level parts of the brain are aware of the decisions. That is, researchers can tell which button a test subject will press before those subjects claim to have made the choice.

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The action comes before the narrative. We move; we observe our actions; we tell ourselves stories about why we do things. More pronounced examples of this come from people with various neurological impairments.