Humans take psychedelics. Should robots?
Psychedelics are crude drugs. Could neuroscience and super-intelligent AI help us design something better?
BEN GOERTZEL: Psychedelic drugs, in my personal view, can be an amazing tool for gaining insight into one's own mind, to other people's minds, to the ecosystem and to the universe in general. So there's a tremendous amount of insight that can be plumbed using these various substances. There's also a lot of risk there, as with most valuable things. I mean, I've had friends and family members literally be pushed over the verge of insanity by excessive and poorly thought out use of psychedelics – it's a great potential benefit and a great potential risk. And I think it's generally a terrible thing that these substances are illegal in most modern governments because that means that we're not developing the right set of cultural institutions to guide people in really productive use of these substances.
When I was a teenager and first used psychedelics it was like at a Pink Floyd concert or something, it was all good fun, it didn't go awry, it certainly could have gone awry. I think these substances can give tremendous insight. I would say you can also get, even without a bad trip or some tragedy, you can get a lot of illusory insights using these things also. I mean, Terence McKenna, I loved reading his books. He had a lot of deep insights into how the mind works. I never really quite believed 2012 was the end of an era and the beginning of the dawn of the new age or something, so I think there's something that can happen where symbolic insights or metaphorical insights that are very meaningful in a certain domain you can access with psychedelics then when you bring them back into this logical and empirical domain where we spend our everyday lives, you don't want to take these metaphorical and symbolic insights that literally, necessarily. And many people can lose sight of that also so there's a mix of amazing reward and insight, some dangers and then just the risk of things that are meaningful in some sense but illusory and delusional with respect to the empirical and illogical world.
I think AIs are going to have it a lot easier in a lot of ways. So psychedelic drugs are just very, very crude instruments. LSD is sort of a serotonin mimetic; it looks a little bit like some neurotransmitters. It makes weird patterns appear before your eyes and it can give you some real and some fake insights into how your mind works. DMT is a naturally occurring substance in the brain. If you put a bunch more into your body than naturally occurs, many very interesting things are happening in your brain at that time, it can be a challenge to tell which of them are real insights or sort of rampant neural circuits generating meaningless entertaining movies. And I think for an AI, things can just be much more carefully engineered and thought out because it's not as though these drugs were designed by brilliant, insightful, enlightened scientists to direct the brain in the direction of maximum insight and creativity – you're just sort of tweaking things almost in a quasi-random way, then it's up to you to fish out the valuable things from the states of consciousness you get into. But with an AI that's engineered, its psychedelic experiences can also be engineered and you can make much more finely tuned modifications to the mind of the AI than we're able to do with the human brain.
I think the potential from hybridizing a human brain with an AI in an engineered mind is also quite fascinating because then this AI can read out the state of the human brain, understand the structure of the brain and mind and, again, with this kind of cyborg-type experience I think we can get much finer-grained and more interesting guidance of states of consciousness than we can with any drugs that we have right now. So I'm very much looking forward to all the new states of consciousness we can explore once we can jack our brains into the superhuman mind cloud and the AI mind matrix.
And I think the singularity is often thought of as a purely technological singularity – like machines will get smaller and faster, you know, people's jobs will be able to be done by machines, AI will have a higher IQ than people. But we should also be thinking about this as a singularity of consciousness and the tremendous flourishing of new and different states of consciousness that will be created once we've really mastered biology, neuropsychology, AI psychology, the creation of bio electronic cyborgs. We're going to be exploring states of consciousness that go way beyond anything we can imagine now and way beyond anything that the very crude psychedelic drugs that exist allow us access to.
- The illegal status of psychedelic substances is a terrible thing, says Ben Goertzel. With everything happening behind closed doors, our societies are not developing the right set of cultural institutions to guide people in the productive use of psychedelics.
- Once scientists have mastered artificial general intelligence (AGI), the psychedelic experience could be engineered for the modern world – it would be safer, less haphazard, and more meaningful. We would "trip" by jacking our brains into the superhuman AGI mind cloud.
- "We're going to be exploring states of consciousness that go way beyond anything we can imagine now and way beyond anything that the very crude psychedelic drugs that exist allow us access to," Goertzel says.
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