If We Don’t Know What Consciousness Is Or Means, Why Are We So Scared Of It?

(Originally posted on Patreon, on November 18, 2014)

This post now resides at AFutureWorthThinkingAbout.com

If We Don’t Know What Consciousness Is Or Means, Why Are We So Scared Of It?

Fairytales Of Slavery: Societal Distinctions, Technoshamanism, and Nonhuman Personhood

This post now resides at AFutureWorthThinkingAbout.com

Fairytales Of Slavery: Societal Distinctions, Technoshamanism, and Nonhuman Personhood


We hope you enjoy your stay in Westworld. What could possibly go wrong?


What the heck is an actroid??

“Actroid robots are generally based on young Japanese women, and they can speak fluent Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English, as well as mimic body language and human behaviors such as blinking and hand gestures.”


Who wants to buy me tickets to Japan and this hotel for my birthday?


John Brockman


There wasn’t a single “like” to the link the The Edge Annual Question” I posted yesterday.

I never know what people will find interesting, all I’ve got is hunches. And my hunch about no links is that I’m old.

John Brockman is a literary agent. There’s a good profile of Brockman from ten years ago by Andrew Brown in The Guardian entitled, The Hustler. Here’s a short snippet from the end of that piece:

Even the name, the Reality Club, goes right back to his earliest big idea: that reality is what the smart people, who should be friends of John Brockman, decide to make of the world: “It’s an argument that I have with all my scientist friends, and I lose it every time. They don’t buy it at all. It’s very primitivistic, I’m told, or even solipsism, but it works for me.”

The responses to this year’s question: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK? are good.  The assortment of 180 responses bends towards old. Old is good when it comes scholarship. But taken together, even with all the diversity of opinion, something seemed missing.

I follow Damien William’s (Wolven) Tumblr blog, I’m Not Really Here. As I was scrolling through the responses at EDGE, I kept wondering how Wolven would respond. Better yet, What would smart people, who should be friends of Wolven, decide what to make of the question?

First and foremost, thanks protoslacker for the extremely kind and thoughtful words. I’ve been reading through and thinking about these for the past few days, as well, and while I don’t have any new thoughts Yet, I do have some older thoughts.

They’re thoughts from both myself and others, some from well before this most recent round of Machine Mind Panic was set off by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking’s unnuanced perspectives on the potential directions for the development of machine intelligences, and some which were developed both concurrently and in response to said.

And I get a little “I-Told-You-So”-y about Musk and Hawking, because I TOTALLY called the kind of machine consciousness backlash we’re seeing from people like those two, back when Google, NASA, and Boston Dynamics announced they would be working together.

But Anyway: Here are the proceedings from The Machine Question Symposium in 2012 (PDF), in which myself and others talked about a great many perspectives on the ethics, agency, rights, and responsibilities of machine consciousness.

Here’s the proceedings of Laval Virtual’s 2013 Virtual Reality International Conference. Look specifically for the sixth session, “The Progress and Uncertainties of Human-Robot Relationships.”

Here’s me talking about the problems with the Roko’s Basilisk thought experiment—the idea that, basically, thinking about an evil superintelligence will cause it to com into existence: “Laboring in the Liquid Light of Leviathan”

Here’s me talking about Elon Musk’s first flailing about: “If We Don’t Know What Consciousness Is Or Means, Why Are We So Scared Of It?”

And here’s’ fhrevue‘s Response/Companion piece to said.

In addition to all of that, I owe large debts of inspiration to jamaiscascio, zerosociety, m1k3y, catvincent, shriekygirl, firepile, Donna Haraway, Scott Midson, Tommaso Bertolotti, teratocybernetics, kalimayablack, Tom Henderson, and many other Very Smart People who’ve made it their job to think about these things, in general, and who have been gracious enough to talk about them with me.

I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

John Brockman