The Machine - A Thought Experiment That Changes Your Life

The Machine - A Thought Experiment That Changes Your Life

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Language: English

Type: Human

Number of phrases: 181

Number of words: 3325

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Laurence worked his whole life for this moment. He  had experienced countless ups and downs, endured   days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years  of continuous self-doubt, hardship, sacrifice,   uncertainty, and all the rest. But now, here he  was, finally tasting the fruits of his labor as   they squeezed out from the very core of his life. The day was August 12th, 2142. Laurence had just   received a standing ovation for a talk he gave at  the world’s most popular and respected biannual   conference. At which, the greatest thinkers,  writers, leaders, and innovators of all sorts   came both virtually or in person to give  one of their life’s greatest presentations,   laying bare the accumulation of their mind on  a stage scrutinized by the entire intellectual   community and general public at large. The  conference was streamed and distributed live   across every virtual reality, augmented reality,  and general streaming platform across the world.   Following his flawless talk, both Laurence and  the audience knew what they had just experienced:  
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a beautiful and successful encapsulation of  a life’s work that would likely impact the   way people thought about human cognition,  values, morality, and well-being, forever.  Laurence had spent the majority of his adult  life pursuing psychology. More specifically,   theoretical neuropsychology. Throughout his life,  he had this intense compulsion to understand,   with total and complete objectivity, the nature  and state of optimal well-being, or rather,   what he would go on to term psychological  worthiness: the most suitable, ideal   social and personal conditions to provide  the individual with the greatest, subjective,   qualitative, conscious experience of their life.  He had spent the vast majority of his twenties   and thirties experimenting, researching, learning,  and failing, developing a variety of insights and   theories along the way. Up until more recently,  now in his late forties, his work had mostly   gone unnoticed. But for some inexplicable reason,  Laurence always had this strange sense that he was  
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on the right track, that somehow everything was  supposed to work this way. He always felt a deep,   genuine connection and enjoyment in his work,  even when it would traditionally be considered   rather miserable. He also always seemed to  find himself falling into situations of great,   unforeseen luck just before hitting a wall,  or before things got too bad or unmanageable.   And now, most importantly, he was being  proven right; his work finally and   actually clicking into place, bringing him  right into that destination of limelight,   and giving him everything he ever wanted. In  this moment of the conference, it felt like he   had truly touched the ultimate state of life’s  worthiness–the very premise of his life’s work.  Throughout the remaining three nights of  the conference following Laurence’s talk,   he was approached by a large number of  people–both general and virtual attendees,   as well as other speakers. They asked him all  sorts of questions. Many attempted to rub his   shoulder well enough to become involved in his  work or get him involved in theirs. Women of   all sorts approached and hit on him, which he  politely had to decline, pointing to his wife  
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with him each time and revealing a flawlessly  attractive woman who, by all physical standards,   was in an entirely other league. He entertained  everyone as much as necessary to remain polite,   but mostly tried to get out of the majority  of the interactions as quick as possible.  One individual in particular, however,  was extremely interesting to Laurence.   When he saw the man at the convention center’s  bar one of the nights and recognized him as one   the first speakers of the conference, Laurence  actually hoped to get an opportunity to speak   with. The man was mysterious, with something  noticeably distinct and almost separate about him.   He fit the sort of super genius or science-fiction  hero archetype (or perhaps super-villain),   seemingly always dressed in all black with  strange, straight down hair, an unusual amount   of bionic body augmentations, and wearing all the  latest technologies, almost like he was trying too   hard to fit in but was a few decades too early.  This man had given a similarly impactful talk   on a new, groundbreaking brain-computer technology  two days prior to Laurence’s talk. Laurence found  
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it to be the most ambitious, interesting, and  curious talk of the entire conference so far.   The man was essentially proposing and announcing  a soon-to-be publicly available technology,   which, if it did what he said, would basically  be the type of innovation that defines and   separates an entire period of history from  all the prior. He had termed the technology,   “NewLife Technology,” and was the founder of the  company being built around it. The company was   set to basically offer people the option to opt  out of their lives. After completely selecting,   defining, and more-or-less programing the  conditions of their desired experience of life,   users would then step into cryogenic chambers,  have electrodes implanted into their brain   that would communicate brain signals, continuously  stimulating neural patterns and perceptual states,   and ultimately simulating an entirely new,  different life for the remainder of the user’s   biological life. The machines would also nullify  the user’s previous memories in the process,   replacing them with newly encoded false  ones to match with their desired story line,  
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experiences, and conditions. Lastly, the  user would be plugged into a separate program   connected to a quantum supercomputer that created  populations of artificially intelligent beings   who could then be interacted with  within the simulation in a manner   that would be arguably equivalent to  interacting with biological human minds.  Previously, in its slightly earlier forms,  the technology had been used exclusively   for individuals with serious physical or  mental ailments, like body paralysis, comas,   unresolvable depression, trauma, or worse.  In these cases, it was considered by most to   be ethically permissible. Although, for many,  even here, it was still certainly debatable.   However, it was federally approved in most  countries, which was enough. Now, however,   this particular neuroscientist and technologist’s  premise was to allow ordinary, otherwise healthy   people to use the technology. This was met by  both worldwide support and worldwide contempt.  The understandably large, primary sticking  point with the technology was that it  
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essentially couldn’t (at least not easily) be  reversed or exited from, since once inside,   the user wouldn’t know that they were inside  anything. And if it was set to be cut short, the   effects of coming out could pose serious mental  risks when trying to readjust back. As a result,   currently, users would essentially be required  to willingly and fully opt out of their own life   until the end of their life. Part of what the man  was giving a talk about was the risks compared to   the benefits of such a choice, and how for some,  if not many, it would still, for good reasons,   actually be the preferable option. Laurence found the entire premise of the   man’s talk to be somewhere between completely  fascinating and completely nonsensical. In a   lot of ways, it contradicted his own talk and  key theories of well-being and human values.  When the man approached Laurence at the  bar on the fourth night of the conference,   Laurence was excited to engage in a  discussion with him. He had several questions,   criticisms, and some hope that perhaps the seeds  of a potential collaboration or debate could be  
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planted for the future. The two congratulated  each other, first, then discussed each other’s   talks for a little while, then moved on to other,  broader philosophical topics, and then finally   narrowed back in on the NewLife Technology and its  implications. They started fairly light-hearted,   but as a few more beers were poured and emptied,  the intensity increased. Laurence argued, not   about the ethics of what the man was doing, but  the philosophical problem with what it presumed:   that consumers would and should desire to leave  their life for a fake, virtual one–even if their   own life was relatively bad and the new life could  be anything they wanted. Laurence argued that   people want and should want to know and live in  reality more than they want and should want live   in what is purely pleasurable, easy, desirable,  and designed to one’s preferences. “We value the   true form of things over the mere pleasure of  what things can give us. The uncertainties and   ups and downs of life are important, essential  even: the negatives as much as the positives.   In most cases, it’s the difficulty, scariness,  and unpleasantness a part of things that allows  
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the experience of things to ultimately become  meaningful or worthwhile or perhaps even capable   of being experienced at all.” Laurence said to  the man. The man had plenty of counter arguments,   of course, suggesting that if one felt that life  was best lived with ups and downs, they could just   program that in. “It need not be pure pleasure,  Laurence. I don’t disagree with you on that point,   but that doesn’t discredit the technology. I am  not suggesting that people plug into a purely   blissful experience of life, if a purely blissful  experience of life is not desirable. But I am   suggesting plugging into a purely desirable life.”  the man replied. “Yes, but people still want what   is real. There are entirely separate factors  relevant to human experience beyond the actual   feeling of experiences. Humans want to earn their  way to pleasure, to reward, to meaning. They want   to be and do within truth, even if it’s painful or  hard; perhaps even if it’s only painful and hard   with no reward. If it’s simply engineered,  chosen, or predetermined at the beginning,   it’s undesirable, and most won’t do it. And they  shouldn’t.” Laurence went on with. “Why not?” the  
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man asked with fairly sturdy confidents. “Aren’t  you merely assuming the position that knowing   truth will provide the most desirable experience  of life… or greatest wellbeing or whatever else   you called it. I forget what term you used in your  work. In any case, it isn’t truth in it of itself   that you’re actually arguing for there, but the  underlying desire for a preferred state that truth   will give you.” “Worthiness.” Laurence quickly  interjected to confirm his preferred terminology.   “Ok, worthiness.” the man picked back  up, “Let’s assume that if that term   serves as an umbrella term for a life maximized  to its highest degree of positive, personal value,   then it would not merely be a life defined by  the most pleasure or least pain, nor the most   truth or least illusion, but rather, the most  optimal experience of life in total, regardless.“   “Sure.” Laurence interjected with hesitancy. “Then  would not the difference between life’s maximal   worthiness and life’s minimal worthiness only  be a matter of one’s experience of it being so,   or perhaps more accurately, the experience of  their believing it to be?” “Yes. But…” Laurence  
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jumped in before quickly being cut back off.  “And if so, then any and all subset qualities   that maximize this condition–this state–could  all be setup to perfection within our machines.”   concluded the man. A little thrown off now,  Laurence replied, “Without even having to   look any further into that argument, I would still  say that you’re missing the most important part:   it isn’t real. The people aren’t real. The history  and effects on the course of reality are not real.   None of it’s real. And that’s fundamental.” The  man paused, nodded while smiling with clenched   lips, and then asked Laurence with a noticeable  tinge of sarcasm, “So… then, you don’t want to do   it?” Laurence let out a small laugh while smiling  and rolling his eyes with a reciprocated note of   sarcasm. “We could really use you.” the man added.  ”I think a mind like yours could help us both   inside and outside. Your ideas are really what’s  probably missing. I’m not supposed to share this,   but we’ve already started short-term trials where  people have gone in for short windows of time and  
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come back out just fine. I would love to see if  there was maybe an opportunity there if you were   ever interested.” “Look, I don’t personally see  anything ethically wrong with any of it,” Laurence   interrupted, “but I think you’re wrong to assume,  one, that people will want it, and two, that they   should be convinced that they do. I like this  life. It hasn’t been easy. But it’s real. So no,   I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to pass.” “Ok.”  the man said with a final, accepting head nod.  After a noticeably long pause of silence between  the two, the man turned back to Laurence and said,   “Then would you like to exit this one?”  Another, shorter pause followed this. “The bar?”   Laurence replied with a short,  confused laugh underneath his words.   The man turned more straight-on towards Laurence  and took off his augmented reality glasses.   Then he said, “Laurence, you’re going to have to  try to bear with me here, but you are currently   in a NewLife Machine.” The man paused again to  let Laurence process the information and reply.   Laurence did not successfully do either, but could  only laugh, believing with certainty that the man  
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was just joking or messing with him. “I know this  is hard.” the man went on with, “It always is. But   this, right now, is actually an exit checkpoint  inside a NewLife Machine. You came up with the   whole thing. One of the cleverest ones we’ve seen  yet, I might add. You essentially came up with and   scripted this entire conversation as a method of  gaging your own interest in continuing or leaving,   without revealing to yourself that you’re  in anything prior to you declaring to a bot,   myself, with sufficient certainty that you are no  longer interested in the idea of being in here.   And it seems to me that you just stated that.”  Another brief pause hung between them. “You also   planned on your own reasonable skepticism here,  so…” The man put his AR glasses back on and swiped   his hand a couple times in relation to them.  The entire bar, all the other people, objects,   everything turned pure white. Laurence began  to sink into the truth of what was happening,   or rather, sort of not happening. “If you tell  me that you would prefer to leave this reality,  
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which is in fact a simulation, and return  to whom you were before in base-reality,   I can send an alert signal that will trigger  a cease to the simulation right now. But I   am the only one who can do this, Laurence. And  this is the only checkpoint you currently have.   You have a little time to think about  it right now, but if you say no,   I go away, and this memory is erased. And  that’s almost certainly the end of any way out.”   Laurence, now petrified, began to  noticeably and physically panic.   The man grabbed Laurence by both his shoulders and  calmed him down. Once he was calmed down enough,   Laurence quickly asked, “What was before?” The man  looked through a display of VR files only visible   to him through his glasses. Then he said, “Before  was similar in the overall, fundamental sense.   You were…well sort of still are an aspiring  psychologist, especially interested in   neuropsychology. But you were…are beginning  to get somewhat old, in your mid-hundreds now.   You were still unsuccessful, at least in your  view, and lacking the intellectual abilities to   measure up to your dreams of becoming a leading  thinker or theorist in this field. You were alone  
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romantically and lower-middle class. Again, that’s  all according to your own self-approved report.”   Laurence looked down at his lap in indescribable  shock. Then, he looked back up. “Why?” he emitted.   The man motioned a quick swipe of his hand again  and then said, “It was your dream to do what you   did here at this conference. You wanted to be  a leading thinker; an important, successful,   revolutionary neuropsychologist.” “Yeah,  a real one.” Laurence quickly interjected.   The man paused and looked more directly at  him. “You are a real one.” Another brief   pause hung in the air while Laurence tried to  make sense of this ridiculous seeming comment.   “Many years ago, you volunteered as an early trial  member to help develop this technology. So far,   you’ve helped reveal and map cognitive changes  before, during, and after, and most importantly,   provide real data and evidence on how to best  set up psychological and neurological conditions.   You’re helping build the library of reliable  experiences and states to be selected from for   future users. Your findings in here are real. They  have and will help people you know and don’t know,  
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remember and can’t remember. And Laurence,  is there really any reason to believe that   an experience is less valuable if it isn’t  real, if one cannot know the difference?”   Another very long pause sat between the two. “So,”  the man said, “would you like to stay or leave?”

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