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Roko's Basilisk is Pascal's Wager for Nerds

By Edited Sep 11, 2014 1 0

Growing up with religion

When I was coming of age and considering whether there was an omnipotent god who judged us based on our belief and love in him or her, I came across what was essentially Pascal's Wager without actually knowing what Pascal's Wager was.  In my own 17 year old brain, I came to the conclusion that the only reason I clung to such a belief was because of a fear of going to hell, and a god (or God, if you prefer- I don't) who forced us to live under a microscope of his own creation would actually be a pretty crappy god indeed.  I've lived the rest of my life accordingly and never looked back, never buying into the "god works in mysterious ways" line, viewing it as more of a fail-safe against thinking. 

God, or a simulation of god, is much the same
Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/26/Michelangelo's_%22God%22,_from_%22the_Creation_of_Adam%22.jpg
Pascal's Wager: The Man Who Played Dice with God
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Roko's Basilisk

In a tongue-in-cheek article, David Auerback outlines a new philosophical concept called "Roko's Basilisk", essentially a technophile's version of Pascal's Wager.  It goes like this:  a superintelligent artificial intelligence is running the universe right now, and you're living in a simulation of said universe (realize that it's really, really difficult to disprove this, although physicists are discussing how this might be possible now).  In this simulation, the hyperintelligent AI creator comes to you with a choice:  you can either devote your life to helping create a hyperintelligent AI (essentially, "strong AI" that thinks for itself and dramatically self-improves at unimaginably rapid rate until it is, to us, all-powerful), or you can either roll the dice on suffering a fate in "eternal anguish" or nothing happening.  Having said that, if the strong AI is malevolent, it will know whether you helped create it or not, and if you chose not to help create it, it might cause you to suffer essentially an unimaginable eternal damnation, so you might as well hedge your bets and believe that you are helping to create such an all-powerful AI.  

Pascal's Wager and strong AI

If your brain hurts right now, don't worry- you're not alone.  It's also a debate that has been well articulated for three and a half centuries, and probably had for generations (centuries?  millennia?).  While it's very important for us to consider the long term repercussions, and not just the vast, almost unimaginable opportunities that will no doubt arise from creating computers that can think for themselves far better than people can, it's equally important not to fall into our own self-defeating philosophical traps.  I overcame Pascal's wager two decades ago, and I plan to never head back into that dark territory again.

All of this may sound like it borders on philosophy, and it certainly does.  At the fringes of scientific fact lies philosophy, and that has always been its role.  However, we're constantly working to close that gap.  In the meantime, it doesn't hurt to look ahead and contemplate a strange and bizarre potential future, but don't get caught up in a modern day Pascal's Wager.



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