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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: TINKER TOOLS

July 19th, 2020

 

~ Approximately half of this story was generated by the new technology from OpenAI called GPT-3. The contribution from this technology has not been demarcated on purpose in order to give the reader an opportunity to guess what is human and what is machine. ~

 

 

Lucilius was browsing the data of his own genome.  He understood it only if he looked at tiny individual pieces or as a whole when he regarded himself as a person.  The way the data of his genome translated into his existence was, as it is for everyone, quite a mystery.  He'd employed the help of some machine learning to explore the possibility of editing his own genome in order to achieve some upgrades in his person, and really when it came down to it, he was seeking a more direct way to upgrade his very existence.  After all, what exactly is self-improvement, what does it look like if we take it to its absolute extreme?  Always more curious than fearful, Lucilius was seriously pursuing how it might actually be done.  He was waiting now, while the Artificial Intelligence he'd hired trained itself on the data of Lucilius' genome in relation to the entire medical literature as it's been understood in relation to the genome.  Another feat which was achieved through the eerie magic of machine learning.  A loading bar on the screen finished and disappeared.

 

"Ok," said the AI, "so what exactly are we looking to do?"

 

Lucilius paused a moment.  Good question, what exactly did he want to change?  "Well," Lucilius said, "I've always been a bit more lazy than I'd like.  Seems like it might be low-hanging fruit.  What do you say, shall we try to figure out how to tweak that variable?"

 

"Lazy?" the AI said. "But isn't it already at an optimal level, if you can say there is one?"

 

"Well," Lucilius said, "can we please try anyway, I mean... I'm interested in what it could feel like to work harder, be more driven, live with more discipline. It's just that I've always preferred freedom, peace, and leisure. If we could just rewire that part a little bit, you know?”

 

"Sure," said the AI. "It's ok to be lazy, I mean, that's really not a good quality to strive for, but it's definitely better than being overworked and inefficient, or being lazy in other areas. Also, not to get too philosophical about this, but don't you find your laziness in relation to your freedom to be like a manifestation of your boredom, or like a low boredom tolerance, or like a boredom threshold?  And don't you think that's just an interesting variation on the values of free-will and control and choice and self-determination and self-government.  With you preferring the choice of leisure, even though you might be happier in other realms, and that this variation is uniquely yours, but maybe also a bit tragic, but some people might say that there are some more genuinely human experiences that you're missing out on by never feeling frustrated or challenged?"

 

Lucilius considered this. "Yes," he said. "Maybe. So, which are the variables?"

 

"Ok, so we could, say, tinker with your cannabinoid system and your serotonin levels and some other genes related to them. Maybe that will improve your disposition a bit."

 

"I'm not sure I like the sound of 'maybe', don't we have a pretty good handle on the genetic determinate of laziness or is laziness some kind of composite that will affect too many other aspects of who I am?"

 

"It's true," the AI said, "that you can't have a lazy personality without also having other personality characteristics associated with it."

 

"I was hoping that this one might have a tiny change that we can make, but of course all of these personality traits manifest from a pretty big web of genes," Lucilius mused, almost as though he were talking the issue out loud to himself.  He looked back to the computer.  "Based on the literature-genome training, are there any traits that we can tweak that don't have widespread effects?"

 

"We could tweak something as minor as say... I don't know... hair color.  That's a pretty easy thing to change without affecting anything else too much. That might actually be the way to go, because at least it's a very small effect compared to something like laziness, which does require a degree of neural rewiring. It's much less risky."

 

Lucilius turned to glance in a mirror on the adjacent wall.  "Yea, I don't really care too much about hair color. I'm looking to improve the way I exist in the world.  Not just as something that you - or rather other people see - but the way I operate."

 

"Well, that's the thing," the AI said, "you really can't make a change like that without taking in mind all the aspects of your existence, the ones that most people are familiar with, but also things like how you feel when you walk in the rain or the snow, or if you'd even think of going for that walk, how you'd feel if you had a call to action, a desire, and if you'd follow that or spend more time with your kids.  How that desire would manifest in your physiology and behavior, and what kind of thought process would be involved in all of those scenarios.. the ramifications are nearly limitless."

 

Lucilius grew a little nervous.  But then he remembered his initial thinking on the subject.  "Yes, exactly, and that's what I have you for to figure this out.  Is it possible to toggle something like laziness as though it were on a sliding scale?  Or what if it's a switch that I can turn on temporarily, something that I can somehow turn off and back on depending on what's going on in my life?"

 

"Sure," said the AI. "In theory, it's possible, but it's not easy.  Once you start down this path, there's a lot more you can do, you might find that you like the changes and then it's just a slippery slope."

 

Lucilius considered the AI's position.  'Slippery slope', what ironic phrasing, he thought.  The AI itself was the result of accelerating change and innovation in tech.  It's a meaningless value judgement to make that curve look like its going up or down some slippery slope, he thought.  What was clear is that he didn't want to get left behind, and the only way to stay apace was to accelerate.

 

"Screw it, let's do it," Lucilius said.

 

 

"Let's tinker," said the AI.


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