- File Size: 1001 KB
- Print Length: 204 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Ari Heljakka; 2 edition (May 1, 2013)
- Publication Date: May 1, 2013
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00B6SPR8A
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- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #946,377 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Model Zero: Why You Are Obsolete at Almost Every Level and Live Largely in Fiction Kindle Edition
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In the mid-aughts a Finnish programmer/scientist/philosopher named Ari Heljakka collaborated with me on the Novamente Cognition Engine, the predecessor to the OpenCog AGI system I’m now working on. Along with discussions on the specifics of our AI work, we often dug deep into philosophical issues. Ari had a unique and powerful view of humanity and the path to transhumanity, and we kept in touch after he left the Novamente project to found a software company, Dreambroker.
Ari had a lot of insights about a lot of things, but what struck me most was his steadfast dedication to the task of perfecting his own mind — of transforming himself from a human being driven by human emotions and instincts, to a fully rational goal-achieving machine. One thing we frequently discussed was the aesthetics of goal-system sculpture — how to shape one’s goal-set in a way that effectively lends itself to being an effective goal-achieving system.
At some point in there, Ari wrote a book on his philosophical views, “Model Zero.” I read it in PDF form years ago; but I just noticed recently that the book had made its way to Amazon.com ….
If I had to write a blurb for the book, this would be it:
Have you ever considered transforming yourself from an ordinary human mind into a supremely rational, self-reflective, logically and conceptually coherent goal-achieving system? Do you consider this idea at least interesting and worth musing about, or understanding better? If so, this is a book for you. Combining the philosophic and the pragmatic, Heljakka carefully explores what the human mind is, and what the human and transhuman mind could and should be.
“Model Zero” is elegant, pithy and at times cryptic; but always well thought out and worthy of careful reading and reflection. It’s not leisure reading, and it’s not supposed to be; but there are no prerequisites beyond an ability to deal with abstractions and a willingness to think hard.
I have to admit, I don’t feel personally inspired to follow the prescription for life that is implied by Ari’s book. In recent years my thinking has been drifting in different directions. I’ve been impressed by Weaver and Viktoras’ notion of “open-ended intelligence”, which takes self-organization and autopoiesis and evolutionary growth as primary, and views goals and the quest thereof as particular patterns that emerge in this open-ended growth and organization process. This view doesn’t necessarily contradict Ari’s view, but it certainly places the emphasis differently. On a personal level, it seems there is a big difference between
1) shaping oneself into an optimal goal-achieving system, with a well-sculpted goal-set
2) entraining oneself, as an open system, with the open-ended intelligence of one’s environment … acknowledging that this is likely to lead in unexpected, unpredictable directions
Of course, one can formulate the latter as a goal, and then say that achieving powerful open-ended intelligence is just one goal that one may work toward. But the question is whether this is really a valuable perspective to take on the dynamics of an open-ended mind. I’m sure it’s a perspective with SOME value, but I’m not currently sure how much. Other, complementary views also merit exploration.
But Ari has formulated the “mind as a rational goal-achieving system” more clearly than anyone else I’ve known or read, and he makes all sorts of other interesting points along the way…. If only there were more deep thinkers like this in the world; if only there were more books recording such deep, original, intriguing thoughts…
It reads almost like an engineer's self-help book, with the occasional whiff of a manifesto. Describing someone who wishes to transcend the flawed factory settings of human cognition and avoid becoming obsolete, the author says: ”She must reinvent her concepts, language, ways of thought, feelings, goals and herself multiple times during her own life.” The starting point is to ”approach most things in the world – including your body and your mind – as instruments.” The part of the individual that uses these instruments is called the user.
This might make some academic readers uncomfortable, but the content of the book is as intellectually ambitious and sophisticated as any academic work, and the approach makes sense when the book is viewed in terms of the transhumanist movement. Model Zero could be seen as an effort to lay a consistent and disciplined conceptual foundation on which the development of humanity and the individual could be based. ”We should not be interested merely in the deconstruction of who we are and what the world is like, but in the even more difficult part – the reconstruction.” One might call this philosophical engineering.
Despite the apparent transhumanist agenda, the book does not deal with details of artificial enhancements. It dips into body hacking and mind hacking only briefly.
Much of the length of the book is dedicated to approaching the world in terms of models that, while recognizing human cognitive biases, best serve the user's goals. This is where the pragmatist tradition is summoned explicitly: the accuracy or level of detail in a model is secondary to its usefulness in relation to the user's goals. Trying to find the 'truth' of things is futile, both because of the cognitive limitations and the goal-oriented pragmatism of the user.
An important and interesting concept in Model Zero is the user boundary. It refers to the boundary between the user and the things she uses as tools, and it can be in different places depending on the tool in question. For example, when a hammer is used as a tool, the boundary is between the human body and the hammer. In another context, the human hand can itself be considered a tool, placing the boundary within the human body. Further in, the models deployed by the user are tools, which means that parts of the mind can also be outside the user boundary in a given context. The final user, the core self that stays the same when everything else about the individual can change, is called the canonical user.
The canonical user might sound like the old homunculus sitting in a Cartesian theater. The book knowingly leaves this question mostly unexplored and considers – quite reasonably – the nature of the user a black box for Model Zero. When the methodology described in the book is applied in practice, especially in the transhumanist project, it may eventually become necessary to address this question, but it is a big one and understandably falls outside the scope of this particular work.
Model Zero is a book of many strengths. It is systematic and rigorous, heavy with clever insights, and the presentation is clear and concise: no words are wasted. The book is ambitious yet level-headed in its ambition, even if some expressions may come off as didactic.
The cognitive biases covered are all familiar phenomena but described in pragmatist terms and utilizing mathematical language and concepts in a novel way. For a mathematically oriented reader, the formulations offer delightful insights and, indeed, further clarity on the basic concepts. On the other hand, to the less mathematically inclined, these descriptive devices may appear impenetrable, even though the main points of the book hardly require mathematical expertise to grasp. One can only hope that potential readers aren't needlessly intimidated by the choice of presentation.
An actual weakness in the book is that the problems of communicating models between users could be made more explicit. Sometimes this is just a question of wording, but often it reads as if solving the problem of modeling would also solve the problem of communicating said model to others. To be fair, the focus of the book is on an individual user, modeling the world for himself, but follow-up work on the communication topic would be a very interesting and important expansion of Model Zero.
All told, Model Zero is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in clear-headed, sophisticated, and disciplined self-development and transhumanism.