Hackers and Worms in the Singularity

Friday, September 07, 2018

David Holmes

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So I saw an ad for this project, “OpenWorm.” Seemed like it checked all the boxes that cause me to click a link:

 

  • Vaguely open source

  • Something to do with Legos

  • Robots

  • Has an app associated with it. “Get the App!”

  • And it’s for “real worm geeks!”

  •  

I consider myself a geek, and I’m real. Except, what the hell is the worm part? And even though I’m a real geek, I’m not a “worm geek.” Eeewww.

 

Turns out that the OpenWorm project is trying to digitally simulate the mind of one of Earth’s simplest creatures, the C. elegans nematode, a microscopic worm with only 302 neurons and 95 muscle cells. Researchers have scanned C. elegans and uploaded its neural map into a docker container or something, where you can troll it with various stimuli and model its reactions.

 

Its tiny brain is even smaller than those of many YouTube celebrities and can easily fit into an app on your phone.

 

image

RAY KURZWEIL

Photo by Michael Lutch. Courtesy of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc., CC BY 1.0

 

The Singularity

 

The OpenWorm project reminds me of an upcoming event that’s going to solve all my aching-old-man problems: the Singularity. Coined by futurist Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity is defined as the moment when human consciousness merges with, or is surpassed by, artificial intelligence. After that moment, history will be defined as “prior” and “afterthe Singularity, because civilization will change radically.

 

There are two possible pathways to the Singularity. The optimistic route is that science will figure out how to scan a human mind and upload it into the cloud while preserving its consciousness. Once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, we’ll all be immortal. The OpenWorm project is a baby step toward that goal of immortality.

 

I’m already looking forward to picking out a sporty android body to carry my artificial intelligence around. Brand consultants at Tesla should be on this, because people are going to be self-conscious about what model of robot body they are rocking.

 

There’s a second, darker path to the Singularity. You’re eating your Wheaties and reading the paper in the morning and you tell your life partner, “Hey, babe, it says here that those ‘geniuses’ at Google created an artificial intelligence that achieved consciousness. And, yup, it’s already decided to exterminate the human race. Knew this would happen. Thanks, Obama.”

 

In this darker scenario, evil-looking male robots will be assigned to hunt and track human scum in the shelled-out underworld of Mountain View, California. It’s a trope we’re all so familiar with and no one will be surprised if it happens.

 

Stop and consider for a moment. What will the role of hackers be in the Singularity? It depends on how we get there.

 

Hackers in the Singularity

 

On the “light” path, where human minds migrate into computers, hacking will becoming the worst possible crime that anyone could commit. Hacking someone else’s mind could be tantamount to murder (or “real-death” in Altered Carbon lingo), or slavery. Hackers will be the equivalent of demons attacking your mind. Imagine you and your bestie are walking down Robson Street in your Tesla model XY robot sleeves, when suddenly your friend freezes and the words “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US” starts scrolling across his face. “OMG, dude. You’re being hacked right now!” you exclaim, and you try to summon the Royal Canadian Mounted Cyber Police. But the only acknowledgement you receive is “IM IN UR BASE KILLING UR D00DZ,” and you realize you’re being hacked, too. Chilling, isn’t it?

 

On the “dark” path, Google Exterminator™ droids are using advanced data analytics to find the last pockets of human resistance to show them ads immediately prior to dispatching them. Hacking, in this world, will become humanity’s greatest hope, and hackers will be heroes. They will be freedom fighters like John Connor or Moses, and the black hoodie will be the symbol of resistance and liberation. Hackers will finally breach G Suite, perform lateral movements, and smash its defense grid.

 

Now, isn’t that interesting? On one path to the Singularity, hacking is the worst possible crime. But on the other path, hacking is humanity’s highest calling. Either way, the absolute value of hackers is going to be maximal. If you’re a young reader trying to choose a career, infosec should be an even more enticing option now that you’ve gamely read this whole article.

 

There’s an artificial intelligence conference in Australia that polls its attendees about when they think the Singularity will happen. Most recent guesses say 2040, though some predict it will come as early as 2020.  Guys, that’s super close. The Texas Rangers, bless their hearts, have never won a World Series and may never get a chance to do so, because one assumes that, in the Singularity, all baseball games will be simulated inside silicon-based computers and have team names like the Dell Blades, the Intel Insides, or the Nippon Ham Fighters (oh, wait, that last one is already taken).

 

Since it’s looking like the Singularity will be a thing before I succumb to liver cirrhosis, I can probably stop contributing to my flaccid 401(k) retirement plan, because who’s going to need those in the Singularity?

 

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