A riff on genetic manipulation, Artificial Intelligence and aliens
by Phil Hall
Regulations are being enacted all over the world to prohibit the development of human animal chimera. Let’s call them zeeple. On the one hand, by helping animals along to sentience, we could probably justify calling them sentient – the word would fit. Claiming sentience for animals is something animal rights campaigners do anyway.
Hey, Mr. Chimpanzee man, how would you like us to swing?
Hello, horse-boy, Cat-girl and Pig-Dog-woman!
Hey, people and zeeple!
Tell us how we should we organise this more inclusive identity of humanity?
Dr. Hiromitsu, playing God at Stanford University, developed human pig embryos in 2016. The idea is that we can then harvest human compatible organs from pigs. According to US law you are allowed to conduct experiments on chimera, so long as you don’t take them to term.
The idea is that we can then harvest human compatible organs from pigs.
You can all immediately see the implications: Bio-tech companies will go to countries where the law permits the development of chimera. Or they will go to countries where government officials can be bribed into permitting chimera.
When an amoral science, lead by profit finally gets a deadlock on the law and philosophy, expect a plethora of chimera for every possible use. Then we will forget about clunky old AI robots. Who needs a robot if you have a friendly slave creature pet to do the housework?
So what about humanity’s plans for the future? One day we will venture only to find, perhaps, that there are vast powers in control of everything. Then we’d have to stick to our little corner of the cosmos and relinquish all those grandiose dreams of extraterrestrial colonisation and conquest.
Let’s conduct a thought experiment. Let’s entertain the idea that there actually have been alien visitations. Let’s play that scary game. In real terms, in terms of deep time and the potential ubiquity of life, it is a strong possibility.
Well, in that case, these beings have probably tinkered with emerging life. Humans tinker with animal and plant life all the time. Perhaps we are one of the aliens’ forgotten cultivars. These star travellers would have a big head start.
Even if we could oppose such celestial powers, we would still have to ask ourselves: should we? Perhaps we would be wrong and they would be right in some way that we can’t understand. A cat doesn’t understand why it needs a bath. For a cat de-fleaing and de-worming and a bath are cruel and unreasonable. Perhaps the aliens have some strong medicine in store for us when and if the properly announce themselves.
Let’s entertain the idea that there actually have been alien visitations.
To complicate everything, any extraterrestrials who arrived in the past, or extraterrestrials who are arriving in the present, or future, one of many potential space faring alien communities, might assume that they had discovered the earth and that, therefore, they owned it.
You hear similar narratives of implied, almost unconscious superiority all the time. I was listening to an old US documentary about jet flight. It went something like this:
‘By the 20th century man had explored every continent, jungle, and desert.’
The sentence is awful, isn’t it? For a start, it excludes half of humanity from being fully fledged humans. The sentence excludes women. (Oh yes it does!)
In second place, the sentence excludes everyone who was already inhabiting every continent, jungle and desert before the Europeans arrived there. Now, let’s face it, the narrator is probably only some awful schlemiel from an arts college, marooned in some godforsaken small town in the Midwest of the USA. The script writer is probably an ignoramus, half-baked in the hot air of American exceptionalism.
The script writer is probably an ignoramus, half-baked in the hot air of American exceptionalism.
All the same, the attitude expressed is breathtakingly hubristic. It has an awful easy, post colonial arrogance to it; you can identify traces of the same genocidal arrogance that lead to the so called ‘discovery’ of America.
If we are not the centre of the universe, and if earth is not exceptional in any way, then I think that we might just be a cross between a Galapagos and an island of Doctor Moreau. For sentient beings who live for long periods of time, the game of genetics and evolution, and its interplay with consciousness, is really the only game in town and the cheapest way of producing different kinds of consciousness.
Who gives a damn about the regurgitated crap a dead machine comes up with in conversation? It’s a tool. It can’t feel anything.
You notice how incel nerds get lathered up over the idea of artificial intelligence and develop Frankenstein complexes about giving birth to artificial life. But when it comes to aliens no one is interested in the idea of heart-to-hearts with an AI. Who gives a damn about the regurgitated crap a dead machine comes up with in conversation? It’s a tool. It can’t feel anything. Not even if you want it to.
If you want to have a conversation with a zombie, talk to a machine. Talk to a super Siri, a super Alexa. You are conversing with your reflection. Or at least the reflection of someone.
The literary critic Harold Bloom is right. Interiority is a monster. It grows and grows and consumes everything as people get older. Their memories and thoughts, their suppositions and speculations gather mass, accumulate and send them faster and faster inwards.
AI is merely a reflection of that thought, a bubble of our interiority. If it were real it would be qualitatively alien, unlike a living consciousness. We would be able to communicate with a living being much better than we would with an AI.
Reconstructed internal dialogues arising out of Artificial Intelligence will never be alive in the sense that we want them to be. It’s so difficult to make a machine alive. It’s much quicker and easier to play with DNA. Now that really does produce any assortment. Why piddle about with silicon sandcastles.
The moon’s light reflects the sun. One of the greatest inditements of any culture is to say that it has fallen in love, not with life, but with the things that it has made itself. AI is merely about the magnification of the self. About imposing and imprinting on the world.
The perfect example of this is an expert system. It is made on the same principle as the idea of ‘Best Practice‘ in business. best practice constitutes an imposition. It is a roboticisation of behaviour where agency and discretion is stolen from teachers, lawyers, doctors and all sorts of professionals and practitioners, so that it can be controlled by managers.
It’s much quicker and easier to play with DNA. Now that really does produce any assortment. Why piddle about with silicon sandcastles.
In Best Practice and, consequently, with expert systems, the way one person does something is reproduced into the way everyone does it. This is a capitalist’s wet dream. It is so controlling! It is an idea we too easily accept because we are conditioned to do so. But to automate thought and decision making in this way a grotesque and dehumanising idea left over from the ‘scientific’ industrial division of labour, an era of philosophical determinism.
We would like to meet living aliens, not alien AI. But, going by the ugliness of some of the saucer sightings, it is far more likely that these craft are automated in the spirit of all the craft people have sent out into the solar system.
Advanced aesthetics seems to be one key sign of living sentience. The craft spotted by military pilots are extremely ugly. They look functional in the extreme. If they aren’t our drones, then they must be someone else’s.
DNA produces beings with different types of consciousness. Now, if you had a different set of morals you would play with DNA and get hilarious outcomes: you would get chimera. Monkeys that fly, lay eggs and eat porcupines, all sorts of creatures. The sloth is a joke. So is a kangaroo.
Then you would get the more serious minded aliens – a little vain – who would try to splice up beings who looked a little more similar to themselves. The worst of them would be cult leaders, Lucifarians, not Rastafarians. They would make humans in order to screw them. No need for sex bots. Make beautiful monkey women and men. Much more fun.
Advanced aesthetics seems to be one key sign of living sentience. The craft spotted by military pilots are extremely ugly.
They would produce creatures they could even have physical intercourse with – after those long interstellar journeys. The point being, evolution is just the mechanism, but you can play with it easily. How does Genesis go again:
Now when men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born to them, 2the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they took as wives whomever they chose.
Look at us. What have we done to animals? What have we done to plants? Whatever we bloody wanted. A little pug dog, that’s funny. A pit bull, someone’s macho alter ego on display, All of it.
But would you make a dog or a pig sentient? Wouldn’t it suffer terribly?
But this is the kicker. It takes a special kind of evil to give an animal sentience. An animal lives in the Garden of Eden, so long as it doesn’t know it lives in the Garden of Eden. Self-awareness and awareness of mortality is a curse.
Only a supreme sadist would give short-lived, frail animals like humans, full of uncontrollable animal emotions, sentience. We can’t get our shit together because we are still animals. The idea is that somehow, when we are cut loose of our passions, we are free to transcend. This is pure wishful thinking.
It takes a special kind of evil to give an animal sentience.
A person who disconnects from their emotions may become a Buddhist, but they might equally become an unanchored psychopath. So-called enlightenment is actually highly inadvisable. It is a disconnection.
Shakespeare wasn’t enlightened, neither was Mozart, or Einstein. What the hell do people mean by enlightenment? They mean being free of the human condition. It is almost impossible for humans to reach equanimity.
In the end we must take the gnostic view. The so called ‘God’ who created us was not in fact God at all. The act of creating of human beings, possibly, was an evil act. Lars von Trier is partly right. To create a human was the moral equivalent of creating a chimera, a pig person.
Of course, if you asked a pig person if it wanted to live or die, it would probably want to live. People want to live. I want to live. There’s no going back now. Onwards to full sentience.
Reflecting on the question of human chimera, I have more sympathy with the ideas of the Albigenses, the Cathars, now.
Phil Hall is a university lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine. He started Ars Notoria in May 2020.