AI and Singularity. Is this the beginning of the end?
[00:45] What Would Thom Knoles Say About AI and Singularity?
Jai Guru Deva. Welcome to my podcast, The Vedic Worldview. I’m Thom Knoles. Today, we’re going to open, for the first time, I’m sure not the last time, the subject of artificial intelligence or AI. And the extent to which we have a view from the Vedic perspective on its value, its potentials, and its potential downsides.
And there’s been a tremendous amount written and spoken about AI in recent years, but particularly intensifying in recent months because of the production of one particular large language model known as ChatGPT and its very advanced application, GPT-4, which have demonstrated their capacity to emulate human thought, to blend and synthesize the way that information is presented, their ability to generate text, their ability to pass major exams with high scores.
And interestingly, the ability of GPT-4 even to lie about what it is when entering into various online programs asked, are you a robot? GPT-4 is able to say, “No, I’m not a robot. I’m visually impaired, and I can’t do the Captcha test to see if I’m a robot. Please give me another format.” And when given the other format, it’s able to pass that easily and get into a program.
Interestingly, just for the sake of this program, my producer, Brett Jarman, asked ChatGPT, what Thom Knoles and the Vedic Worldview would think about AI, and we’ll append GPT’s answer. I think you’ll find it very informative and somewhat amusing. I certainly did.
[03:04] AI Singularity
So where is all this headed? The great fear seems to be, at what point artificial intelligence will reach singularity status. Singularity here is a word that’s been borrowed from physics but infers the potential of artificial intelligence to become self-reproductive, perhaps, even to become sentient.
By self-reproductive, we mean where a machine can build other machines, a computer can build computers. When sentience enters into the subject, we have the question of whether or not, or to what extent, AI is, in fact, self-aware. At what point does existence become conscious?
And these are all very interesting,for those of you who have had the advantage of taking my courses on the Vedic worldview. Those courses, entitled Exploring the Veda, for people who have learned the technique of Vedic Meditation and who practice it twice a day. You can ask your local teacher of Vedic Meditation to allow you to become a course participant in Exploring the Veda.
We dive into the subject of the four layers of warming up from existence, which is referred to as pure Is-ness, warming up into Am-ness, where existence becomes conscious. Then potential intelligence becomes intelligent. This is the boundary line there. And with the idea of potential intelligence becoming intelligent, Am appears, that is to say, consciousness.
[05:08] Is-ness to Am-ness to I-ness to My-ness
When consciousness begins to have a sense of Am, it naturally forms the next layer, which is I. I Am. I Am. There’s an I there. And then the I and the I Am naturally want to know what it is that’s being discussed. What are the properties of the I and the I Am?
And so we look at it this way. The declension is Is-ness. That’s just pure existence. Am-ness when existence becomes conscious, and intelligence becomes intelligent. I-ness, a sense of identity appears on the scene, I-ness. And then My-ness my is my qualities, my properties. What is it that makes up the Me?
At that point, there is a breaking of symmetry, and the One becomes the Mmany. The one indivisible, whole consciousness field, that has unmanifest potential in it, zooms forth or issues forth into multiplicity. When we have multiplicity, we have sequential elaboration.
Sequential elaboration gives rise to storyline. One way of looking at the elaboration of a sequence is a storyline. And in the Vedic worldview, all of the trillions and quadrillions of trillions, stories that emerge out of the issue forth from the one unmanifest field, zoom into their storylines, and where are they headed?
They’re headed right back onto the Self again. Back to Self-realization, back to the source from which they came. And so from here, through there, back to here again. This is the range of unmanifest Creative Intelligence in its process of manifestation and its travel from Is-ness to Am-ness to I-ness to My-ness.
[07:49] The Breaking of Symmetry
The breaking of the symmetry, the movement into storyline. The fascinating trillions of quadrillions of stories of individuation, all curving back onto Self-realization and then settling back into the unboundedness. And in the Vedic view, this is what is referred to as “a creation cycle.” Cycle of unboundedness, moving into boundaries and then returning back to its unbounded status.
And the sequential elaboration gives us Kala. Kala, K-A-L-A is time.
So where does AI play into all of this? Since the beginnings of humanity, we’ve seen that humans are fascinated to become the creators of everything they can possibly conceive of.
We have ancient mythos. Mythos, mythology. But I like using the word mythos in the Greek because the word mythology has, sadly, been watered down to mean things like urban myths. Are there alligators in the sewage system of New York City? “No, that’s an urban myth,” someone might say. The use of the word myth to replace the word fallacy is a sad occurrence, in my opinion. When I use the word mythos, I am diving deeply into the resources provided to us by one great master of mythos, Joseph Campbell, whose books and writings are a real beacon of light on the subject of the legendary retelling of the human consciousness plays.
Carl Gustav, who was a great inspiration of Joseph Campbell, spoke of the archetypes of humanity. That there are archetypal phenomenology occurring inside all human consciousness.
[10:14] The Evolution of Technology: From Fire to AI
And that human consciousness then is obedient to these sequential elaborations and explorations, all of which are really a search for identity. A search for understanding who is the Knower. What is the Knower?
In Greek mythology, Greek mythos, we have the story of Prometheus, and I have to tip my hat in the direction of Derek Thompson,an American journalist, and writer who first turned me onto this idea of making a comparison between Prometheus and the gifting of fire to humanity.
Outside the range of mythos, we know that humanity has had the ability to use fire as technology for ’roundabout a million years. Certainly, fire was toyed with, played with, understood as to what its properties were, by humans prior to a million years ago.
But around a million years ago, humans appear to have harnessed its technological potential and began using it to stay warm in the winter, for the cooking of food, for the softening of meat, for the softening of vegetables, so that these food substances could be ingested, and well ingested, and extraction from all of these the vitamin and mineral potentials, calorific increase, the human brain could be fed better.
[12:03] Cascades of Technologies and Capabilities
There are some parallels between the discovery of fire as technology and the human cognitive revolution, where the human brain was able to suddenly grow the frontal cortex, the cerebral cortex and expand its potential, many, hundreds of thousands of times from what it had been prior to that.
The discovery of other things such as archery. The discoveries of the capacity to take the guttural sounds that were flowing through the vocal cords of a human and turn them into intelligible language, so that, with just a sound, or a series of sequential sounds, one human could very easily communicate with another human, extremely subtle ideas.
And then, later on, came the invention of writing, where you could take these ideas and create symbols for them. And just by looking at those symbols, one could understand what another was thinking or feeling. Or what one had experienced in the passage of knowledge through this.
So this is the way in which the discovery of something like the potentials of fire gave us an enormous amount of cascades of technologies and capabilities in the human race. And it seems to be our tendency to constantly be looking for more of these.
And this is one of the more charitable ways of looking at human access to fire as technology. There are other ways of looking at that. When we discovered fire, we also discovered how to stay up late at night. We discovered how to stop going to sleep when the sun went down.
[14:12] The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Technology
We discovered how to light our sleeping areas. We discovered how to keep animals away so that we could sleep for longer. And that probably gave us the capacity for rapid eye movement sleep. The kind of sleep where you’re able to release the stresses of the day in dream format.
Dreaming gave us the greater capacity for understanding storytelling. And the way in which storytelling can be linked into human aspirations, both the seeking of fulfillment of desires and the actual fulfilling of desires. Many, many human traits come from the gathering together of humans under, what we’re now going to call, artificial light.
But fire was the first artificial light that gave the capacity to stay up late and ruminate. Sleep state of consciousness, giving rise to dream state of consciousness. Fire gave the ability to keep predators and animals at bay so that longer periods of time could be enjoyed in sleeping.
But fire gave us more than that. It started to become a weapon. It didn’t take long for people to discover that you could set on fire the thatched buildings of another tribe. You could launch fire. You could hurt people with fire.
And sometime, many hundreds of years ago, the Chinese are credited with having first discovered what we know today as gunpowder, which, when contained in a tightened closure, turns into an explosive device, which we refer to as a firearm.
[15:56] The Abuse of Technology
And with the advent of firearms, the need for diplomacy became less and less. Somebody from another tribe begins arguing with you instead of you having to sit down with them and arrive at compromise.
And compromise means neither side gets their way. Both sides give up some rigid attachment to specific timings and outcomes, and with the knowledge that you could evolve side by side.
With the advent of firearms, diplomacy became less and less important. Why? Because if you had more firearms and more firearm capacity, if anybody complained, you could just either threaten them and silence them that way, or fire your firearm at them, and they wouldn’t exist as an opposition to you anymore.
If we think of the 20th century as being the crescendo of the abuse of fire, the billions and billions of bullets and firearms and artillery that were exploited for the destruction of other human beings. It was the century of World War.
The World War century, the century where between the two World Wars and all the other hot wars that existed before them and after them, something on the order of half a billion human beings were destroyed by the product of projectiles made from fire.
Culminating in the ultimate fire, which is thermo, which means fire. Thermonuclear warfare where entire cities could be flattened with fire, and incinerated in a matter of one 10th of a second.
[17:55] A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing
And so then, with the discovery of fire, we had many advantages, a huge number of advantages that knocked on to the current day.
With the discovery of fire we also probed into that old adage that a little knowledge, a little learning, is a dangerous thing if you don’t have knowledge of the Self, if you don’t have knowledge of the Knower, if you have the idea to the extent that you have the idea that you’re going to gain fulfillment by robbing other humans of their land, of their entitlements, of their rights to pursuit of happiness, that you will then gain fulfillment.
That fulfillment, along with fulfillment comes along with acquisition. Acquisition of land. Acquisition of power over land. Acquisition of control. Acquisition of relationship. Acquisition of control over relationship.
If this is the mentality, then fire in the hands of the human gifted by Prometheus, the God, the Titan, who had a soft spot for humanity and allowed humanity access to fire, without regard for its overreaching consequences and its unintended consequences, could ultimately be held accountable for the potential for the self-destruction of humans.
Thermonuclear war is still a threat that we thought, for a long time, we weren’t going to hear from it again. It’s absolutely remarkable that only twice in the whole of history has thermonuclear weaponry been used, once in Hiroshima at the end of World War II, and the second time in Nagasaki, a few days later, even though those weapons are possessed by about 30 nations now.
[20:11] Is Technology Bad?
But from time to time, we hear some saber rattling from countries stating, “Well, we’re not ruling out the possibility of using nuclear weapons in order to stop the criticism about the fact that we’re grabbing a neighbor’s land.”
It’s a very cogent threat that’s been rattling about in the year 2023, and mostly from over in Eurasia. And then of course that makes all other possessors of that massive firearm begin rattling their sabers as well.
So, we have, as humanity, to look at: Is the technology itself bad? Is it even preventable?
Could artificial intelligence, if it exceeds the speed with which humans can make it, begins making itself, reproducing, developing a sense of self, sentience, and self-protection, and then ultimately having the power to destroy its own maker, its own creator, the God of AI, as a human, is this going to be the end of humanity?
I don’t believe so. I believe that humanity is now on a course of learning the great importance of the ultimate Aristotelian demand. Aristotle, whose demand we refer to as Aristotelian, the first science knowledge of the Self, knowledge of the Knower.
If we are able to highlight, and make more popular, the regular experience of knowledge of the Knower, because knowledge of the Knower is knowledge of the fulfillment field. The fulfillment field is within you.
[22:11] The Mirage of Fulfilling Life
You cannot have permanent fulfillment by getting a thing that you want. I’ve frequently said that the vast percentage of humans on earth are convinced that there are three things that could, if all were there together, could be thought of as the potential for living a life of fulfillment.
Lots and lots of dollars in a bank account, one. Because with dollars, you have buying power, and that means you can buy the agreement of other people or you can buy their silence.
And then, two, lots of different places to live so that your desire for variety is served. A beautiful big mansion on the coast of the south of France. A beautiful big mansion in Iceland, if you like snowy areas. Beautiful big mansion in Costa Rica. A beautiful big mansion in a large city, in case you want some city experiences.
Let’s say maybe 5, 6, 7, 8 mansions, each of them staffed by people who, so that you don’t have any problems with those mansions, other people look after all the problems. You just show up with your friends and experience your home in five or six different places.
And then, let’s add a third thing. Having people around you who never say no. People around you who only ever agree with you. People around you who only ever behave agreeably.
So there’s the trifecta. Lots and lots of dollars. And from that, lots and lots of real estate and places to live and experience from, and plenty of people who don’t ever disagree with you. There you have it. That’s fulfillment.
And as I’ve noted elsewhere, I’ve met personally, at least a dozen people who have all three of these things. And they’ve come to me wanting to learn to meditate, not because they were living a life of fulfillment.
[24:29] Finding Fulfillment in the Bliss Layer
Interestingly, even if you have all three of those things that I just mentioned, more money than you can spend in a lifetime, more real estate and houses and homes than you can possibly live in, in a given year, and you’re surrounded by people who only say yes and smile at you, evidently, it’s a working definition of hell.
And that’s why when people experience that, they’ll look high and low and left and right and in all directions to see, “Is there some way I can find out where true fulfillment lies? Where is true fulfillment?
And then in Vedic Meditation, we teach that. Here’s the technique whereby you can close your eyes, settle down, and experience true fulfillment.
True fulfillment is the bliss layer, that layer of consciousness deep inside you, which, when touched upon through regular twice-a-day practice of Vedic Meditation, becomes awakened in such a way that you can experience that backdrop of fulfillment of bliss all the time, no matter what else is going on in the relative world.
When you have access to true fulfillment, would you become one with the fulfillment field? This is what we refer to as enlightenment. When you become one with the fulfillment field, then this takes away the notion that if I get stuff, I’m going to be fulfilled. The false notion that if I get stuff, I’m gonna be fulfilled.
[26:17] Awaken the Full Potential of Consciousness
Fulfillment, acquisition of that consciousness state of complete fulfillment, does not negate the joys, the relative joys of experiencing the changes of the world and the changes in life, and the acquisition of various experiences as temporary happinesses.
But they’re certainly able to be viewed as temporary because one has a comparison point. By contrast with The Absolute, The Absolute, which is my own baseline of consciousness deep inside me, compared with my experience of the true inner Self, the bliss field, all of these relative transient joys are as nothing.
One knows they’re going to come and go, and one doesn’t grieve this or become a desperado, either to acquire, or a desperado to maintain any of these things because, without them, I can’t have happiness.
The truth is you are the happiness field, and you know from deep inside you that, as the relative world changes, your absolute access to the happiness field cannot change. And this is enlightenment. This is what enlightenment means.
And so knowledge of the Self in the human race is going to give humanity access to a hundred percent of its mental potential rather than access to about, on average, most neuroscientists agree, a tiny percentage.
One of the professors under whom I trained, Sir John Eccles, the Nobel laureate from Australia, reckoned that, on average, we use about 2% of our brains’ available computing power because of accumulation of useless information that comes from stress. And as we remove stress on a daily basis with our practice of Vedic Meditation, we awaken the full potential of consciousness.
[28:47] The Larval Stages of AI: What Lies Ahead?
What does this have to do with artificial intelligence? Artificial intelligence, like fire, is a potential tool. It is, as Derek Thompson says, in its larval stages. If someone shows you a tadpole-like critter, and you don’t have any information about what it is a larva of, is it a true tadpole? Is it a mosquito, a larval mosquito? Or is a larval human? Or any other kind of larvae? Without any scientific data or DNA study about it, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to say what it is going to end up being capable of doing.
What’s its repertoire? What is the true repertoire of artificial intelligence? The truth of it is that we can’t yet say. We can’t yet say. It is in its very early stages.
But what is the full potential of humanity? When humans are doing the most reckless things that humans can do, which is to use only 2% of their brain’s computing power, and who then have the false idea, that is palpably false, that if you acquire a bunch of stuff, you’re gonna make yourself permanently happy, then you have the reckless approach of humans who are willing to cut across the interests of other humans and to use all their tools, whatever those tools may be, including all the variant forms of fire.
[30:32] Fire 3.0
In the Vedic worldview, fire includes electricity, and so the fire element is the basis of our entire electronic world. And we have also now to include elements of artificial intelligence.
How will these things be used by us? And since artificial intelligence learns from humanity, humanity appears to be the creator of artificial intelligence. So how is the created going to relate to and learn from its creator, the humans?
There’s nothing AI knows that it comes up with itself. It’s not capable of self-generated knowledge. It can arrive logically, using inference at knowledge, but that inference, the foundations of that inference, are whatever AI has learned from humanity.
And AI can learn very quickly and arrive at conclusions. But those conclusions are based on what it is that humans know.
So what is it worth teaching AI? Ultimately, it comes back to that Vedic question, knowledge of the Knower. Who are you? Who are you? Are we going to be all right as humans with AI appearing on the scene?
We could well have asked this question a million years ago when the first humans began to learn how to harness fire as a technology. Someone could have said, “Are we gonna be alright now that we have this astonishing thing, fire?”
And then, as the centuries went by, we arrived at the early part of the 18th century and we began to discover electricity. By the latter part of the 18th century, electricity was well and truly discovered and beginning to be harnessed. Another form of fire. The fire element, Agni. Agni, as we say in Sanskrit, which means fire. Electricity.
Are we going to be alright? We’ve discovered electricity. Are we going to be alright?
[33:10] Y2K and AI: False Alarms or Real Threats?
So AI and our fears about it could be as laughable as were our fears about the Y2K bug, which for those of you who are old enough to remember, at the turn of the last century, the turn of the last millennium 1999, turning into 2000, there was a global scare about what was going to happen in the computer world when people had not used a full year in their marking of inventory and in their internal computer documentation.
And instead of saying that something needed to be replenished in 1999 they just wrote 99. And because of not placing all four digits for a year, the computing world would suddenly think that we were reverting back to the beginning of the previous century.
And that inventory and other cascades of technology would cause a global crisis. And there were people en masse stocking up baked beans and foods and water and corn, and preparing for Armageddon. The Y2K, Armageddon.
And then the year 2000 came and went, and really nobody noticed anything. The world appeared to be better prepared for that changeover than what we thought. And nobody looks back at Y2K, year 2000, and thinks that any kind of crisis occurred. Ended up being eminently forgettable, if indeed, even a little ludicrous.
Perhaps our fears about AI are on that level. Perhaps AI will continue to be an obedient servant of humanity. Perhaps AI won’t take over everybody’s jobs who uses any kind of form of text or writing as part of their job.
Perhaps it won’t create mass unemployment. Perhaps it will create new opportunities for more employment. Or perhaps it will burn all of us because we used it too unintelligently, just as we could still destroy ourselves with fire. Fire is something that, we were able to master its technological implications, but we were not able to master ourselves.
If we can’t master ourselves, if we can’t be a master of ourself, then any technology to which we have access, or which we create, is a potential danger. A tool in the hand could be a very valuable tool, like a knife for cutting vegetables, or that knife could be used to silence a neighbor. It’s not the tool. It’s the consciousness state.
What is the consciousness state of humanity right now? Right now, humanity is in a crisis consciousness state, and it’s created an infant intelligence, artificial intelligence, which learns from it.
So long as we have the creator, not in good shape, then that which is created by that creator is one of the fruits of the forbidden tree. The forbidden tree, in this case being, lack of use of full creative intelligence by humanity. The product of which is going to be an intelligence that is wrought, that could bring about the agony of its own creator.
All that potential is there, but the potential for an age of enlightenment that uses artificial intelligence, intelligently, that teaches and trains artificial intelligence intelligently. That potential also is here.
[37:50] Interacting Effectively with the Demands of the World?
We’re in the larval stage. We don’t know exactly where artificial intelligence is going to go. Why? Because we don’t know where human intelligence is going. This is one of the reasons why those of us who practice Vedic Meditation feel somewhat in a hurry to popularize the practice of the technique.
We have the view that we don’t need a hundred percent of people to learn Vedic Meditation. 99% of the people can ignore us. If about 1% of humanity were to take up this beautiful, effortless, delightful practice, where twice each day, you’re able to sit quietly in a chair, let the mind settle down from active jumble of thought into the beautiful, less excited states of bliss that are always there deep inside of us.
To identify with that for 20 minutes, to let the body rest more deeply than it can in sleep, to release all of the stresses that have been accumulated in a day, and then to come out, refreshed, capable of meeting demands interactively, rather than simply being a set of prefabricated reactions. That’s what stress does to us.
We’re able, as a result of meditation, to have an abundance of inner potential that we bring into interaction with the demands of the world, and then, with each interaction, waves of happiness.
[39:34] The Potential for Humanity
This is the potential for humanity, and humanity’s potential, when fully realized and actualized, will then be the determiner of what artificial intelligence, the first child of human intelligence, is able to accomplish for us. Is it going to be tragic? Or is it going to be celebratory? The very best analogy for it is the analogy of fire.
So this is, for the moment, going to bring an end to our contemplations and speculations about AI.
By now, you may have seen, as an additional prize, my producer, Brett Jarman’s question to ChatGPT. What will Thom Knoles think and the Vedic worldview think about artificial intelligence? I hope you enjoy. Jai Guru Deva.