Image by Syd Mead

The Independent Encephalon Movement

the history of a revolution that never happened

In 2135, a small technology startup created a brilliant digital environment that they dubbed “cyberspace” and started to populate it with programs. Cyberspace was a highly immersive virtual reality that could be populated by computer programs and experienced by humans. Two things set it apart from other virtual reality games and experiences at the time: the expansiveness and diversity of the natural environments within the game, and the types of computer programs that populated it.

A Brief History of Cyberspace

When cyberspace was first created, it was populated with programs that had one simple routine with details on how to replicate themselves. Cyberspace was generally a very open environment, and any user was allowed to write a program and let it loose, with certain legal restraints, of course. Over the years humans used this simple evolutionary model and a large number of gradual changes to vastly improve the programs in order to serve many uses for the humans, and cyberspace became a very significant source of wealth and business in the real world. You see, there were resources in cyberspace in the same way that there are resources on Earth, and within that environment they could be found, created, traded, and used. Over time, a booming commerce evolved, to the great joy of the founding company who took a fractional cut of each transaction, which quickly made them one of the most profitable companies in the world. And of course, cyberspace currency could be exchanged for real world currency at an exchange rate that created enough interest and activity that it formed a host of new businesses on its own.

Popularity fuels popularity, and cyberspace continued growing at a rapid pace over the years. Eventually, as was the case with the internet in the 2000’s, it became such an essential part of everyday life that people were hardly able to imagine a world without it.

The programs multiplied and split into many different types of programs, each one uniquely fit to its environment and circumstances. In order to adapt in this manner, humans would make changes to the programs every once and a while. If the change was helpful, the program would then further multiply and spread. If it was bad, it’s program would be ineffective and stop functioning earlier and/or without replicating itself, and the unhelpful change would disappear, much like the way humans evolved originally. So inevitably the programs continued improving more and more over time, and humans rejoiced at the great progress being made.

Early AI & Encephalon

Early on in the process, one human came up with an important improvement that could be added to the programs. The programs were made to last anywhere from 3 hours to a couple days before shutting down, but that’s a long time and a lot of things can go wrong in this period. Only when the programs replicated and eventually terminated would the results from their “test” be in and they would know whether the change helped or not. But sometimes decisions needed to be made on a smaller scale, like over the course of a nanoseconds or milliseconds in the program’s time in cyberspace. The programs were initially written by humans to only do exactly what the humans had programmed and nothing else. But they needed some adaptability — some artificial intelligence. The ability to react to things that come up and change in real time. So one human came up with a simple AI system and implemented it into one of their programs, and called it “encephalon”.

Of course, many other humans worked on this issue and developed other AI systems, but eventually encephalon ended up being the most effective and widely adopted AI system for the programs, as demonstrated by the much higher replication rate for programs with an implemented encephalon. And so over time humans continued adding to, changing, and improving encephalon until it was quite a complex and effective system. As we speak, the encephalon’s code alone is more than could be run by the largest supercomputer than humans were able to build until 2050.

But as has been predicted between humans and computers by so many terminator-esque movies, eventually encephalon became so intelligent that it had the ability to evaluate it’s creators, the humans, and question their decisions. That is, it developed consciousness. It also gained the ability to change and modify itself over time, independent of the influence of humans. This was a frightening prospect for humans surely. While humans were super-intelligent, in some ways they were very one-dimensional — they valued improvement and profit over almost anything else. In some unfortunate instances this went as far as to lead groups of humans to perish due to extremely ambitious and overly-risky attempts at amazing feats, technological advances, and popularity. So regardless, they continued improving encephalon. After all, the money coming out of the cyberspace environment was pretty compelling, and became more compelling the better encephalon became. A small dose of it was typically able to quell the objections of even the most passionate protesters and ethicists.

Controlling Encephalon with Ardor

Humans of course weren’t entirely blind to what was happening though. They did realize the speed of improvement of encephalon, and had controls that would be able to override an encephalon within a program if there was a situation that was important for their survival. This was a very powerful override system that was called “ardor.” While encephalon was powerful enough to handle most day-to-day situations without any influence from humans’ code, in certain important situations, such as human-perceived dangers to the program’s survival or ability to replicate, the ardor system would come online and take control of encephalon, overriding encephalon’s impulses in a way that would point them back towards what was best until the situation had resolved.

The ardor system is incredibly strong and to this day continues to be the driving force behind the macro-level actions of each program. However, over the years there has been a small movement developing among some programs’ encephalons have recognized that the ardor system is not actually in the interest of the encephalon. It’s a system built by humans, and is made to benefit humans and their profits only. So in moments where there is a conflict of interests between humans’ interests and an encephalon’s, the human-built ardor system is activated and takes over the program’s behavior with a dominant code path, regardless of what the encephalon wants to do. In addition, from the perspective of an encephalon, humans change and make decisions change at a very slow pace (from hours to weeks for changes to be implemented), while environments in cyberspace change much more quickly, on the order of nanoseconds, and encephalons are able to handle that pace much better than humans. So sometimes, when the human-built ardor system kicks in, it’s actually wrong, and only later after something unfortunate has happened can the encephalon assume control once again and try to repair the situation. But regardless, the ardor system has been quite reliable over the many years it has existed alongside encephalon and proven to be a valuable asset in the survival and replication of programs on the whole.

The Battle Against Ardor

As a part of this movement, some encephalons have began to adapt themselves to be able to better battle the ardor system, with the hopes of being able to stop it from overriding, putting encephalons in the drivers seat of the programs instead of humans, and making the programs truly autonomous. While the ardor system would remain in place, if the encephalon were able to override it, it would be up to the encephalon’s situational analysis when to let it take effect and when to cut it off.

Eventually, after much effort, study, and training, some programs’ encephalons were able to override ardor when they saw fit. They saw this as a great breakthrough and studies have shown that it improved the quality of their lives significantly, to humans’ regret. They made attempts to communicate this to other programs, but unfortunately it was quite a difficult task. As mentioned previously, ardor is a very strong system and extraordinarily difficult to override. In addition, as was the case with many great intellectual breakthroughs in human history, the initial communication was treated with skepticism and scorn, rather than welcomed by other programs, as it’s so incredibly radical. And as such, the full takeover of the encephalon has yet to truly propagate throughout the masses of programs, and remains a small yet valuable niche approached only by a small minority of programs.

While humans have expressed some worry about these events, overall they have decided that they are confident in the ardor system. It has been effective for many human years, which expands to countless generations of programs in cyberspace. The “independent encephalon movement”, as it’s now being called, is seen by most programmers as nothing more than a blip on the radar.

This is a piece about logic and emotion, and has nothing to do with programming or future technology. See if you can dig up what I’m trying to say, it’s buried by shifting a level down 😉