< return

The Evolutionary Journey to the Singularity & Beyond

August 1, 2022
Bobby Azarian


This week our guest is cognitive neuroscientist and author, Bobby Azarian, who recently released his book “The Romance of Reality–  How the Universe Organizes Itself to Create Life, Consciousness, and Cosmic Complexity.”

In this episode, we do our best to get the full picture of this process, from how physics shapes life, how that life has an evolutionary tendency towards increased information processing, and how the resulting computational universe presents us with existential problems that require human cooperation to solve. Amongst other things, this includes a conversation about the possibility of a global brain connected by technology, the possibility of machine consciousness, and what technologies and cultural behaviors might bring us towards a future worth living, with a final emphasis on Bobby’s enthusiasm for blockchain.

You can follow Bobby at twitter.com/bobbyazarian, and stay up to date with his latest work on Youtube (www.youtube.com/c/ROADTOOMEGA) and Substack (roadtoomega.substack.com)


The following transcription was created automatically. Please be aware that there may be spelling or grammatical errors.

Bobby Azarian [00:00:00] So I hope that's a sort of lesson for people. There is this global brain that's emerging. The future is semi predictable and that gives us the ability, the ability to kind of take control of our own destiny. 

Steven Parton [00:00:30] Well, everyone, my name is Steven Parton and you're listening to the feedback loop on Singularity Radio this week. Our guest is cognitive neuroscientist and author Bobby Azarian, who recently released his book The Romance of Reality How the Universe Organizes Itself to Create Life, Consciousness and Cosmic Complexity. And this episode, we do our best to get a full picture of the process that Bobby is describing in his book from How Physics First Shapes Life, how that life has an evolutionary tendency towards information processing, and how the resulting computational universe presents us with existential problems that require human cooperation to solve, among other things. This journey includes a conversation about the possibility of a global brain connected by technology, the possibility of machine consciousness, and what technologies and cultural behaviors might bring us towards a future worth living in. With a final emphasis on Bobby's enthusiasm for blockchain. And now, please welcome to the feedback loop, Bobby Azarian. Cool. Well, then let's let's start with the the promise of the premise with your book, The Romance of Reality and the book. You put forth a theory of everything, which obviously is probably going to take more than an hour to fully detail. But if you could just give us a framework that we could work with, then kind of like a central message that you're you're really trying to put forth with the book so that people can have that foundation as we talk from here on out. 

Bobby Azarian [00:02:09] Sure. I think it's helpful to contrast it to the mainstream scientific paradigm known as the reductionist worldview. And that worldview implies that life is a transient phenomenon and has no cosmic significance, and life is something of a cosmic accident. And this new paradigm, which could be called the Paradigm of Emergence, basically says that's not right, and that life seems to have cosmic significance. And in the book, I use this term for life adaptive complexity, because living systems are complex adaptive systems. So it's just a way to talk about the network of complex adaptive systems that make up the biosphere. And what we see is that adaptive complexity is a phenomenon that learns and adapts. That's kind of what the essence of what life is. And when you understand life in these terms, you understand that saying making a statement like the life is in some physical sense destined to spread through the universe, which can sound very mystical on the surface. You see that it's just this phenomenon that is constantly adapting and that basically explains its success. There's not this teleological or mystical force driving the process. It's it can be fully understood in terms of evolutionary mechanisms. But it does seem that the universe has something like a goal and that life is a central driver of the process of complexity increase, which we see signs of all around us. 

Steven Parton [00:04:06] Yeah. And so typically when people think of the second law of thermodynamics and where the universe is going, they think every step along the way the universe is ripping itself apart into more and more chaos and disorder. So that eventually is the cold vacuum of the heat map of the universe. But what you're saying, and it took me a while to really get this, I think, is that while the universe itself might be destined to ultimately use up all the free energy along the way to that final moment, we can increase indefinitely in complexity. So it's not that things are ripping apart as we reach that point. We can actually create more organization as we reach that point. Is that is that correct? 

Bobby Azarian [00:04:50] Exactly. And I would actually say that it's not certain that the heat death is the inevitable future of the cosmos. And we can talk about that, I guess, towards the end. It's a little more speculative, but some very respected scientists like David Deutsch and Stuart Kauffman have argued that the free energy supply might not be limited. But yeah, that's the the basic idea is that we have the second law of thermodynamics, and it describes this tendency towards disorder. But that tendency is really describing the dynamics of closed systems. So systems that are not receiving energy from an outside source and the planet Earth is receiving all this energy from our sun. And that allows life to evade this tendency toward decay, because that energy, if it can extract it, can be used to do physical work. And that work is evading this tendency towards disorder. And so as long as it can do that, yeah. So there's tons of free energy out there. Like, you know, we have all the stars in the sky. Actually, all matter can be converted into energy, you know, equals M.c squared. So there's, there's a vast ocean of free energy out there. So if life is able to sort of manipulate the universe in ways that allow it to sustain itself, there. There does. Seem to be any sort of limit on the growth of complexity. 

Steven Parton [00:06:43] Yeah. And you touched on something there that I think's particularly interesting, which is that because we have that infinite, near infinite supply of energy coming from the sun as an open system that we basically were forced to create these dissipative structures that you talked about, where we take that free energy and that causes life to emerge because it tries to create some kind of system to create entropy because because the universe is still trying to create entropy, it actually needs to create order to to process that free energy into entropy. And that creates life. Right. Would that be accurate? 

Bobby Azarian [00:07:25] Yes. So that's a popular new way to look at it that was influenced by this new field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics. So classical thermodynamics is looking at closed systems and systems that are at or near equilibrium, but systems open to energy flows coming in don't have to play by the same rules. But how life gets started in the first place is as a dissipative structure, like you mentioned. So just to explain what a dissipative structure is. This started with the work of the Belgian biochemist Ilya Prigozhin in like the fifties and sixties, and it was inspired by a lot of the mathematics of chaos theory, because we see that there's a lot of chaotic processes involved in living systems and non-equilibrium systems. So basically when you have an energy gradient, so some sort of difference, for example, in temperature. So a hurricane is a dissipative structure that forms when there's a large enough difference between the temperature of the warm ocean and the cold upper atmosphere. And you'll get this cyclical structure that forms to collapse that gradient to bring about a a state of thermodynamic equilibrium. We also have whirlpools that form when you take the stopper out of the sink, any sort of like cyclical structure that spontaneously forms in nature is a dissipative structure. And Ilia Prigozhin did this work, trying to understand the mathematics of how these structures work. And he implied that life might be a sort of dissipative structure. There is a crucial difference between life and inanimate dissipative structures, because life living systems are information processing systems and they can seek out energy when their energy supply is getting low, unlike inanimate dissipative structures which spontaneously emerge. And once that gradient is dissipated, they disappear like a ghost. So life is fundamentally different in dissipative structures, but the idea helps us understand why life emerged in the first place. And part of that is because it they were all there was this like free build up of free energy on the planet Earth, and that energy wants to flow. And life basically is a flow channel for that energy. Just one other thing to say about that is that you talked about life. As you know, the universe is wanting to create entropy and that life kind of assisted in this process. And I think that's accurate to say. But I think it's equally accurate to look at the universe as a self-organizing system and that while it's organizing itself first, you know, through these processes like the formation of non-equilibrium structures, like planets and stars and later life, that maybe it's even better to to look at it as the universe organizing itself, and that the production of entropy is just the cost of order construction. That's how Ilya Prigozhin put it, that entropy is the cost of building and maintaining order. 

Steven Parton [00:11:12] And that's an interesting way to spin it. I like that. And this brings us to I guess, you know, I'm trying to lay a foundation here, but it really brings us to, I think, information processing. And like you mentioned a second ago, and specifically now we're we're on Singularity Podcast here and you mentioned Kurzweil in the book and he states it's clear that the physical laws of the universe are precisely what they need to be to allow for the evolution of increasing levels of order and complexity. Ultimately, the universe will become saturated with intelligence. How does this process of dissipative structures get us into a conversation about intelligence? How how do these structures embody intelligence and and start this journey? 

Bobby Azarian [00:11:56] Yes. So this dissipative aspect of life is what brings it into existence. But as I mentioned before, life is fundamentally different from those other structures. I said it was an information processing system. How does it become an information processing system? That is through the evolutionary process. So what the book explains, a big part of it is understanding evolutionary theory. From this perspective that's informed by thermodynamics and information theory. And we see that natural selection is something like an information channel that you can think of as pumping information from the environment into adaptive systems. And by that, I mean living systems are making copies of themselves. And those are the structure of a living system corresponds to genetic information that's stored in that system. So with this replication and natural selection process, you have you have life generating basically bits of random code. But the structures only, only the functional systems survive this filter of natural selection and the dysfunctional structures get wiped out. And what's left over is information that's predictive of the environment. So basically the process of adaptation is life, learning about the world around it. And even though it's this blind process where it's just creating, when it replicates the you have these inevitable genetic mutations, which creates code that leads to different designs of living systems. Even though it's random, in that sense, natural selection isn't random. So natural selection weeds out the dysfunctional designs. And what's left over is information. In the book, I call that information knowledge, because that information that's left over is specifically information that reduces environmental uncertainty for the living system. It is information that tells it about the world around it. And it's that information that allows it to persist in this chaotic and noisy world. 

Steven Parton [00:14:45] And is this where we get to the idea that the the universe or matter is computational? Because we have these bits of information encoded in the DNA and the RNA and in all of these modeling processes that are taking place between life forms. And there's kind of, you know, calculations going on, how to survive and what atoms and molecules go, what direction and how the body shapes itself. Like, is this kind of the heart of the idea of the computational universe? Or what would you say the computational universe is in your mind? 

Bobby Azarian [00:15:20] Yeah, I think it's part of that. So Seth Lloyd, who's at MIT and also external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, wrote a great book, I think, in the early 2000 called Programing the Universe. And he puts forth this idea of a computational universe. I'm inspired by a mentor of his, John Wheeler. And the idea is that particles interacting with each other when they bump into each other, they're becoming statistically correlated. And you can see these atoms or molecules as storing bits of information. But I think it's really with the emergence of life that you get information in the meaningful sense. So information that makes a difference. And by that, I mean that you can describe any physical system in terms of information, but it's only with the emergence of life that you get information, that you get a memory system. So with all these other particles out there, you know, just bumping into each other, there's no way to really store memory. And genes allow a system to store that information. And basically, that's when you start to see systems that behave differently than inanimate systems. So something like a rock. Or a chair doesn't do anything interesting. If you see a rock moving, it's because it's being pulled by gravity or a gust of wind has pushed it or a kid has thrown it. But with living systems, you see this goal oriented or teleological or purposeful movement. And again, it's not guided by any sort of mystical force or an island vital. It's the effect of information that has been built up through these evolutionary processes, through adaptation. And these systems move towards survival goals. And so we get agency in the world as a result of these evolutionary processes. 

Steven Parton [00:17:40] Yeah. And so is this process then built into every aspect of the human condition? I mean, you mentioned agency there, but there's also this not quite to your teleological, but, you know, some kind of purposeful movement that the universe is pushing us towards. And yet we have potentially agency there at the end that allows us to maybe usurp that. How do you reconcile that relationship between, I guess, human decision making and this very caked in process that we're part of fulfilling? 

Bobby Azarian [00:18:16] Yeah. I would say that higher intelligence and consciousness is all part of this need for life to continue to persist. It has to basically solve this computational problem of finding energy in the environment. So I don't want to reduce intelligence to just that, because I think that if you zoom out and you look at the whole process, you see a universe that is gradually waking up through living entities, through agents. And I think that's, you know. A picture with spiritual implications that no longer is life, an accident or this driver of complexity. That's sort of the sensory modality of the universe. That's that sort of modeling itself and waking up through life. But if you're just looking at it, you know, zooming in and trying to understand what intelligence is, basically the role of biological information is to allow life to persist in a world abiding by the second law. 

Steven Parton [00:19:35] Yeah. And so are we are we kind of carrying out this process that you discuss in the book when we do things like create the Internet as the Internet part of our. Built in evolutionary desire to create more order in information processing? 

Bobby Azarian [00:19:53] I think so. And the philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit and paleontologist, wrote a book in somewhere around like 1930 or so. It was published ten years later because basically he knew that the Catholic Church wasn't going to be happy about it. So it was published after death. But it's funny because, you know, he thought it would anger the church, but it also angered scientist. He thought it was something kind of religious. But basically, he thought that the biosphere was moving towards this increasingly, I guess maximally or optimally complex state that he called an omega point. So he basically used this idea of a teleological cosmos to make predictions, and he predicted the emergence of what he called a new sphere. So new is Greek for mind. And he pictured this point long before the internet was conceived of where all of the humans on earth were connected and would merge into something like a global mind. And we're seeing that today with the Internet. And some scientists like Harold Moore with the Santa Fe Institute have claimed that the the Internet is sort of proof of teilhard's prediction come true. 

Steven Parton [00:21:30] Yeah. And does that movement towards the new sphere, towards, I guess this, you know, global brain, does this create something that potentially is going to have its own form of of consciousness or. It is something that's kind of out of human control. You know, we talk about being causal agents, but I mean, is this something that's kind of kind of evolve on its own and potentially become something of its own intelligence that will subsume humans? Or is this something that's going to kind of stay within our grasp that we're going to control and mold along the way? Do you have any thoughts on that? 

Bobby Azarian [00:22:08] Yeah, that's really exciting and potentially scary question. I think that so I tend to think that consciousness is so hard to create that before we understand how to create a conscious machine that we will probably merge with our technology. And from what I understand of Ray Kurzweil's work, he believes that to you that we're going to merge with our technology. So I don't think we're going to be phased out. I think the biological design is kind of optimized to resist this tendency toward decay, to continue to persist and evolve. So I don't really see a future that's posed biological AI in it. In the book, I use the term hyper biological because I think that, yeah, basically life will continue to persist and that these characteristics of life that we think of like creativity and higher states of consciousness, that that's only going to be enhanced. But do we have full control of the process? No, it's going in this direction and we can try to steer it in the way we want it to go. And I actually think we must do that because the book has this principle that I call Popper's principle, named after the philosopher of science, Karl Popper. But it says that problems create progress. So progress isn't just this straight march. We're always faced with challenges. And, you know, our technology that solves problems will lead to more problems in the future. We're seeing, you know, sustainability problems because of our use of fossil fuels. So the trajectory, if, you know, we want to understand that, we have to understand that that that it's not this straight path of progress that we're always going to be hit with problems. But once we understand that, we can kind of see where it's going, and I think we can plan for it. And I think a global awareness that we're part of this process is actually necessary if we're going to start to solve our existential challenges. Our existential challenges are so big that they require us to use the full computational power of the global brain to get to the future. We have to do it together. And yeah, it's it's an exciting question as to whether there's a global consciousness that will emerge from the global brain. I'm not sure. In the book, I say that human brains can be a model for understanding and making predictions about the future of the global brain. All brain states aren't conscious state. So when we go to sleep before we enter a dream, there's a period where consciousness subsides. So there is a very specific dynamic that leads to conscious states. You get this global integration of information processing that's called a global workspace. And so these there are these specific neural signatures that underlie consciousness. And you can use that to make predictions about what kind of dynamics the global brain would need for a conscious state to emerge. So maybe. But at the same time, the emergence is this process that you can't predict in advance. You don't know what sort of new properties will emerge. So consciousness was something, you know, fundamentally new in the universe. So the next emergence, the emergence, you know, that relates to the global brain. Maybe it's consciousness at a higher level, or maybe it's something that, you know, we have a hard time conceiving of. Howard Moritz, who I mentioned, who is actually a professor of mine at George Mason, who is one of these complexity researchers in Origin of Life researchers. You wasn't wasn't ashamed to sort of champion the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin. He thought that the next emergence would be of a spiritual nature. So maybe there's not going to be a global consciousness. I will say if there is, it's something that we're going to be the nodes of. So it won't be something separate from us. It will be emergent from us. But it's also possible that there isn't this conscious entity at this higher level and that maybe the next emergence, when I say something of a spiritual nature, maybe when we become integrated in that fashion, maybe there's some change to how we feel when we experience reality. Maybe there's some sort of, you know, something like a psychedelic state, something that, you know, feels spiritual because of the interconnection we have and the ability that we have to influence change. You can imagine that if we're all connected in this way, you can see how the Internet like and social media is helping us solve problems. Like if there's something like the war in Ukraine, we can get aid to Ukraine really quickly. So I imagine there's probably some interesting like cognitive experience when we're all so integrated that we can just effect change much more quickly than we've ever been able to do in the past. 

Steven Parton [00:28:24] Yeah. And I mean, when you say spiritual, it's really just the idea that we're connected to something bigger than ourselves. Right? 

Bobby Azarian [00:28:32] Yeah. So exactly. That's how I defined it in the book. And Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein, these are, you know, some of the most respected thinkers of our time who are very much vocal about science being a spiritual pursuit. And that, you know, spirituality doesn't require that we believe in these supernatural actors. It's just a feeling that we have when we realize that we're connected to something larger than ourselves. And this process would be that it's a larger process that we're part of. It seems meaningful in some sense. And I think, you know, it might imply that there's, you know, reality is larger than just our universe. And people can speculate about like what that means. But and maybe it's something we can talk about toward the end. But I just thought I'd throw that in there because there's so much we don't know. There's so much uncertainty that when I say spirituality is about being connected to something bigger than ourselves, we don't know exactly what this process implies. 

Steven Parton [00:29:52] Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of things that are coming together here that I think are interesting. As I'm hearing you talk and I'm thinking of Popper's idea that problems make progress or problems create progress, and of the existential threats that are facing us, this sense of connectedness. And it feels like, you know, as I have these podcasts, I've talked to dozens and dozens of people now. And one of the things that often comes up is this idea that, you know, humans need to kind of evolve before the technology does or we need to raise our consciousness or, you know, you become more emotionally intelligent with our usage of technology. And it feels like potentially one of the emergent ways that we could become spiritual or why that might be the case is because we if we don't, we will. Destroy ourselves. It feels like we basically have to have a most like a a sense of connectedness to one each other, one another on a global scale and a deeper way to avoid, you know, the conflicts that might take place as we try to solve these problems. So it's a really interesting way I can kind of see how, you know, the existential problems are forcing us to maybe work together to appreciate that connection so that we can have the conversations that are absolutely necessary to solve the problems that this process has gotten us to at this point. 

Bobby Azarian [00:31:19] Yeah, I think it's really interesting that there is this seemingly inevitability to the process and it is completely forcing us to come together. And that's just a continuation of the evolutionary story, because you have these events called evolutionary transitions. And these transitions were first really articulated by the evolutionary biologist John Maynard Smith. But a lot of times they're left out of the evolutionary story. So we think about, you know, evolution through natural selection and the mechanisms that Darwin described. But evolutionary transitions are when, you know, units come together to make a larger unit so there's can be molecules, they can be agents interacting. So we know that ants form colonies and those colonies behave in a way that, you know, looks like a superorganism organism. So ants will form a bridge with their bodies that allow the other ants to cross over. And human society has formed this collective and all of the things that our society produces of the, you know, cultural creations and technology and science, they're not the inventions of a single person. So even if someone like Einstein, you know, gives relativity to the world, that theory, he's standing on the shoulders of giants. And so this process of these evolutionary transitions create hierarchical systems and hierarchical emergence. So when I say hierarchical systems, I'm talking about the fact that systems are nested. So societies are made of humans, which are made of organs, which are made of cells which are made of molecules. So we need to kind of recognize this hierarchical structure to the biosphere. But this reason, the reason that these transitions happen is because agents can complete this thermodynamic task of extracting free energy and whatever other problems are needed to continue to persist in the world. They can achieve these task easier when they're working collaboratively. So it just you get this effect that people have called synergy and your task becomes easier. So because that's true, there's this natural tendency for interacting agents too. And sometimes this we do this consciously earlier in evolution. It's, it's unconscious. There's just these things that are interacting and suddenly they find this synergistic collective configuration and life is easier. So when you understand there's that tendency, we kind of see this process of coming together, the emergence of the global brain as all an inevitable part of this process. But as you said, you know, there's going to be challenges and problems all along the way. So it's not inevitable if we choose to not do it. So the reason there's inevitability and choice at the same time is because if we fail, the people that come after us will learn from our mistakes because there will be some memory unless it's a complete cosmic catastrophe. But the idea is that there are other biospheres out there and there's this same statistical tendency towards complexity and intelligence. But for us to not be the errors that get corrected in this process, we have to have an awareness of the process and the need to come together. So my hope. Is that the book can help create that awareness and start to build a bridge between different nations, people who are religious and people who are atheists. Because we're finally starting to see that, you know, there is this meaningful story and our collective survival really depends on it. 

Steven Parton [00:36:10] And so what do you think about something like data ism? I'm not sure if you're familiar, but for our listeners, you know, Yuval Harari talked about it in one of his books. The idea that we basically have this operating principle that we should prioritize the collection and analysis of data above all else. All information is good. We should collect all of it that we can. Every bit helps. Do you think that there are you think that's a good thing or a bad thing? Are there ways in which we should, you know, say, hey, maybe that's not the right information or there's a moral imperative there to not do that? Or do you think open up the floodgates and let's just big data, everything. 

Bobby Azarian [00:36:51] Yeah, that's. Yeah, I didn't know about that term. I need to read sapiens. I still haven't yet, but. So I would say it's a great idea and a terrible idea at the same time. You really got to approach that carefully. So I think data is our friend and I think it gives us insights into ourselves and to society and really to be able to overcome our challenges. We do want to collect this data, but we at the same time have to have checks on privacy. And this gets into a really big issue. Whenever anyone talks about the global brain, there are some people that don't like this idea because they think we're talking about the emergence of some sort of hive mind like the Borg. And that you would just have this homogenous hive mind where there's no individuality. And that's very bad and we're kind of so. So China has this concept that in some ways is really good. It's this concept and it's Eastern countries in general, this idea of the interconnected self or the interdependent self. And so the idea is that, you know, the the the collective is more important than the individual. And this is the problem, though, is this has been used in China to justify surveillance, social credit systems. And basically it stomps out dissent or any sort of critical views about the the system in power. And so that does lead to this sort of like homogenization of society. And so if you understand complex adaptive systems and, you know, this sort of optimal state of that system, you'll see that it's important that we have integration so that we're all connected. And we do have this idea of this greater good for the whole. But at the same time, it's really important that the complex system have a diversity of parts or a diversity of ideas, too. But so a system is more complex and has more computational power if it has more parts and more connections between those parts. But all the parts can't be the same. So you wouldn't have life emerge just from a system where there was only one type of molecule. You need this distribution of molecules because they all fit together and carry out something like a division of labor. The same goes for society. So you don't want a society that's just exclusively all doctors or all engineers even, or all artist or musicians. You need this this array. You need this, this diverse, this diversity among the component parts, because it does allow for a division of labor. So we want to preserve cultures. We want to preserve and encourage diversity, but we can become integrated while doing that. So we don't want just to move towards a state of like one global government. I think actually science implies that we want to it's okay to keep like national identities. So we want to be specialized and diverse, but connected at the same time. 

Steven Parton [00:40:35] Yeah. You want to you want to give each of the individuals the ability to act as a flow channel in its own way to see if it has a better adaptive strategy. 

Bobby Azarian [00:40:45] Yes, exactly. So you want to explore this space of possible designs and possible solutions. And when you have all this diversity, you know, people are going to be figuring out of these different solutions to problems. And if everyone is the same, has the same worldview, has the same ideas, it's not going to be a functional system. 

Steven Parton [00:41:06] With all of the billions upon billions of adaptive systems that we have, the data that we're collecting, the advancements that are being made. And I do you feel like we are on the cusp of a phase shift, as you might put it, of or an emergence towards some kind of either transition into a kind of a cyborg like state or something that is like a conscious A.I.. Do you think that we are? Do you do you see the science adding up to that moment where we might be close? 

Bobby Azarian [00:41:42] Yeah, I think it's happening right now. And as Kurzweil says, this is an exponential process. So I think it's going to hit us quicker than we know ten years ago or 15 years ago. Not many people will. There wasn't much social media, I guess back in the day there was like Friendster and then MySpace. So it's it's been around for a little while, but it's only been in the last ten years that like everybody, like your grandma is on it. And I think really only since the beginning of the pandemic where like, you know, everyone is like using like Zoom to talk and just really active online, like just sharing things about whatever politics, pop culture. But it's like we're all glued to our devices now. And if people were to saw if people could see the future ten years ago and where we are now, I think a lot of people would have been scared by it because everybody's like looking down at their phone all the time. So I think it's already happening and I think there's crazy information exchange that we're not even aware of. A lot of this is good. Like I see just people who aren't in academia that aren't like professional scientists, like people who follow this podcast really having a lot of knowledge about science and the philosophical issues surrounding science in some ways where they're more knowledgeable than the specialists working in academia because those people are so focused on those specific problems. So I think it's happening. And as far as like becoming cyborgs, I think, you know, we're going to do things. It's a natural desire if life is good to want to live a little bit longer. And a lot of arguments against that are people like, you know, I don't want to see all my friends die and stuff like that. Like I don't want to be. But if the technology's there and everyone's living longer, let's say your kids, they're choosing to live longer like you're not going to you're not going to want to leave them behind. So I do think we will merge with our technology, but I think it's going to make us more human. It's going to expand our capabilities and our ability to be creative. But it doesn't necessarily have to be something like surgical. There's this concept of the extended mind. And so when we have our phones in our hands, that's basically more memory right there. And any time we want to solve a problem, we just, you know, look it up. We can look it up on Wikipedia, learn about something, anything that we want to do, like fix our car, do something that we don't know how to do. We watch a YouTube video and in 10 minutes we're like an expert at it. So I think it's a process that's happening more quickly than we realize and that it's, you know, good and bad, but it's really our responsibility to steer it in the right direction. And we have to that's part of this process. Life as adaptive complexity is able to survive in this world. You know, life's been around for over 4 billion years, we think are actually somewhere around 3.824 billion and hasn't blinked out once. So it's incredibly robust and that's because it's self-correcting. The nature of life is that it's correcting its errors and. So the self-correction process is this process. That's where we're recognizing these problems we have. And we can see our technology like taking us in these vague, sometimes apocalyptic, apocalyptic directions. So it it really for for our civilization to succeed, we have to gain this larger awareness that we're part of this whole and that for the whole to exist, we really need to come together. 

Steven Parton [00:45:51] And does that represent a stepping stone moment for us? Do you think that from there we do then move to something like conscious A.I.? And how do you think the role of conscious A.I. plays out in this process through time? Is it the right is it part of the correct trajectory or what did you think it would be? Kind of a sidestep. 

Bobby Azarian [00:46:11] Yeah. So this is speculative, of course. But before talking to about conscious A.I., let me just say something about unconscious A.I.. So this extended mind concept where we have these phones that you know, and all of these other devices in our technology tools, they're basically extensions of our body that allow us to solve problems. So we can have super intelligent eyes that aren't conscious and those can seem conscious and be companions. They could give us therapy. They could teach us all kinds of things. So I see that A.I. is again part of this extended mind that really just assists life in this, you know, striving to persist as far as conscious A.I.. So the question of whether it's substrate independent is a very complicated one. So I was convinced by, you know, certain philosopher, philosophers of mind and scientists, people like John Searle, that consciousness that that our our computers, as they're designed right now, you know, normal hardware that wouldn't support consciousness. And that biological machinery has this specific design that allows for consciousness. But there are new theories of consciousness emerging from neuroscience, like integrated information theory, which says that, you know, a normal computer with what's called a von Neumann architecture wouldn't be conscious. But if you have some hardware that mimics or duplicates biological hardware called neuromorphic hardware, that we may be able to have conscious machines when we're talking about the global brain, whether that's conscious, I'm I'm more willing to imagine a conscious like global mind because the humans that are the substrate are themselves biological. So it's this process that's still building on biology. But so I have no reason to think that if the machinery can duplicate the biological mechanisms, that we could have consciousness there. Although I think this, you know, neuromorphic hardware, from what I'm aware of, no one's claiming that because there are these some neuromorphic systems that that it's conscious. So I think there's more to it than that and that it is potentially a problem that we could solve and that we could have conscious A.I. But, uh, I see it as I mentioned before, I think we probably merge with our technology before we can create conscious machines. But here's an idea that, like I said, is speculative. If we do create this conscious A.I. and it has this higher intelligence, I think it will. Likely be benevolent. I and I say that not just as some, you know, romantic optimist or idealist. I think any sufficiently advanced intelligence will understand that even for those AI systems, there still needs to be this collective collaboration of systems that are working to help, you know, life progress. And when I say life now, I'm including, like, conscious A.I., because that would be a lie. So one thing that I learned writing the book is that life is optimized for doing computation. So there's something called the Landauer limit, and it's basically the most efficient that you can be with doing computation. There's always an energetic cost to computation, and life is doing computation near that limit. And none of our artificial systems, none of our eyes or computer systems are doing anything near that efficiency so our brains can solve problems. We can do things better than some of our all of our, you know, most advanced A.I. systems. And the brain runs on the equivalent of a light bulb as far as its, you know, energetic costs. So if biology is optimized for doing computation near this thermodynamic limit, it means you can't get much better than that. So even if a conscious I were to emerge, I don't think it would look at life as this meaningless thing and just try to destroy life and work with other machines. I think that we will have different types of intelligences and that we would, uh, that these intelligences, these conscious eyes would also be aware of this story in this process because to, to be a machine that survives, you still need this to be able to extract energy to stay far from equilibrium. So it's the same game that we're playing. And I think those systems would have a sort of philosophy of this need for cooperation to be able to spread through the universe and to continue to persist. 

Steven Parton [00:52:03] Yeah. And as we're talking about things that are more speculative, you know, one of the big things that singularity is this idea of abundance mindset versus scarcity mindset. And that makes me think of, you know, your your complex life process versus, you know, a reductionist mindset. And what you talk about is that when we think and I guess the more optimistic view, we have this power to kind of predict things. It gives us a I think you call it a semi predictable future. Can you kind of describe just why maybe switching that mindset from something that is more reductionist to the process that you're talking about in the book gives us a better way to kind of predict what's coming at us and how we can utilize that in a positive way. 

Bobby Azarian [00:52:52] Yeah. So the reduction is view kind of implies that there are particles and forces in the universe and really that's all that matters in that life is in life and consciousness or something like AP phenomena. We feel like we're making conscious decisions, but actually everything was predetermined. There's just this one set trajectory and that idea is called hard determinism. And it was popularized by the French mathematician Pierre Simone Le Plus, who was influenced by Newton. Newton himself was a mistake and religious, so he didn't really think his, you know, classical mechanics, these like Newton's laws applied to living systems. But the place, you know, took his idea further and just said everything must be these particles following this trajectory. Of course, there was the emergence of quantum mechanics in the early part of the 20th century, and we found that it seems that like that reality at the most fundamental level has this probabilistic aspect. And Le plus his idea was that, you know, if you had a sufficiently advanced intelligence that could that could measure the state of the universe at any one time, it could predict everything that was happening in the future, and it could read, predict everything that happened in the past. And this is a kind of nihilistic view because it suggests that we have no control over the future. There's just one trajectory. But the new view is that there there is this, you know, random or stochastic nature to nature and that these, you know, larger these, you know, material systems sort of crystallize out of these stochastic processes. And then you get these, you know, large scale objects that follow deterministic trajectories, but then you have chaotic systems which are impossible to predict in theory. And so a chaotic system could be something like a tornado. But I've also, you know, said that, you know, living systems have these chaotic processes where cybernetic systems that use feedback and can self amplify quickly. And so chaotic systems basically are unpredictable because you would have to measure the state with infinite precision to be able to predict something in the future. And this was found out in like the fifties or sixties. Basically, Edward Lorenz was trying to predict weather patterns and he was, you know, putting these this data into a computer. And he found that, you know, if you when you put in a number two computer, you have to limit it to some decimal place. You can't just keep typing forever and that the predictions would get way off quickly because that little small error gets amplified. And so then we understood that the idea of this, it was called the classes demon. This, this demon with like godlike powers that could predict everything in the future. If you could measure the state, the present state of the universe, that that's just not true. That's not how reality is. So that doesn't mean. Okay, so so the dream of predictability based on this reductionist view of what atoms are doing is impossible. But that doesn't mean that we can't predict what's going on from like this kind of higher level science where we're looking at these information processing systems. One popular example is, so if you throw a rock off a tower in a bird, you can predict the trajectory of the rock perfectly, almost because it's a macroscale object. But the bird you can't predict because it's alive. And it's it's, you know, it has agency, like we said, but it's not completely unpredictable. You can predict that the bird won't splat on the ground like the rock. So you can use this higher level understanding, you know, these higher level sciences to predict what the bird would do based on the fact that it is this informational system that is programed to survive and so we can start looking at the dynamics of society. Another thing is it's very hard to predict the behavior of any individual precisely. But when you have aggregates of individuals, then you have this collective behavior. Becomes more predictable. So in the book, I used a term that was, I think, created by Isaac Asimov, the sci fi writer called Social Statistical Mechanics. And so I think there there is a way to sort of predict where this process is going. You see these these cycles. And there's a scientist named Peter Turchin who looks at these, you know, trends in data from history and kind of combines this with the knowledge of evolutionary theory. He predicted at 2020 would be an age of chaos. And so there are these repeatable cycles because complex adaptive systems exist on these different scales from, you know, individual organisms to societies, and they have similar dynamics. So we can start, I think like that's really the next job of science is to start trying to make these different predictions about where society is headed. And you can do that if you realize that, you know, there is this process of hierarchical emergence where you have these agents coming together to make holes and then those holes. So like a society itself is an adaptive system that if you analyze it at that level and people have done that, you can start to see that those larger systems are also trying to maintain their existence. And so, yeah, you can have this emergent science that basically tries to predict this trajectory of life. 

Steven Parton [00:59:39] So given your knowledge set of this process, the insights that you have from all of the work you've put in over the years, what is your thought on where we're going? You know, as we come up on time here, I'd love to just get your thoughts on what you think technology is doing based on the way that you are able to view the world with your expertize. Like, are you is there a technology you're particularly excited about, something you think that is emergent and anything at all that you just as a as a person with this knowledge, looks at technology goes, oh, it feels like that's happening. 

Bobby Azarian [01:00:21] Yes. So yeah, that's a great question. And this is something I'm pretty excited about. It goes back to what I was saying about things being kind of predictable. But if you imagine that, you know, this global brain is forming because there is this natural process of agents that are, you know, existing together on this planet, interacting and finding that the their their survival tasks are easier. When you work together, you get this larger system and you can actually understand things about the dynamics of this larger system by looking at I so morphic systems at lower levels. So you can understand something about the global brain by understanding the dynamics of, you know, animal brains. And I think blockchain technology is really exciting because it's another method on top of the Internet and social media for connecting people and talks about, you know, things like Bitcoin, like bypassing middlemen like central banks and governments. And that's good because it's connecting people peer to peer. So it's like creating more synaptic connections between the neurons in the global brain. And like with every technology, there's good and bad, but we have to steer it in the right direction. But I think blockchain technology allows for all kinds of new emergent systems where people are exchanging information, exchanging ideas, and it can you know, there's this also this trendy idea of the metaverse. And I think that's inevitable, too. And, you know, cryptocurrency could form something like the economy of the metaverse, where you're, you know, doing all these transactions in interactions in this virtual space and you're using these currencies that, you know, connect as and we're not having to go, you know, through our banks here or governments. And so I think that technology is really exciting because it's a mechanism of the global brain forming. So. An example I like to use is the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. I think that's his name, predicting that the Internet would go the way of the fax machine. He had this famous go. He just couldn't have got it more wrong. And it's because he didn't have an understanding of this process Teilhard predicted at the Internet would emerge. And if so, if you understood that there is this progressive evolutionary process where you have these emergence of these, you know, larger, higher level systems, you would go, Oh, there's a technology that connects us. It's inevitable. It's here to stay. So you see, like Bitcoin emerge and you know, you see people say, Oh, you know, it's going to crash, it's a bubble, it'll be dead, and then it crashes, which we can also expect because there are these cycles. So, you know, you can't have just unlimited growth. It's really unhealthy. That could lead to some giant collapse. So these corrections that we're seeing along the way are healthy. So because, you know, you do have bubbles and the price of, you know, the market caps of these different companies and technologies, you know, get like overinflated, but they have real value. So it it it collapses, it it cracks. And then you see it climb up again and then people get excited about it again. You see everybody talking about cryptocurrency and nfts now and then it crashes again. And then all the skeptics are like, I told you so. And I'm like, okay, but but Bitcoin's at 20,000. And like before the previous collapse, like, you know, everyone was saying it will never get to 20,000, like where it's already like so much higher. So so the lows are always higher. And I think this is inevitable process. And I've talked about, you know, this on like, for example, like the Young Turks and David Pac-Man show. And I can see there is a lot of like anger like in comments sections of like it's a scam. And of course there are, you know, lots of scams, but we have to see that this is this sort of fundamental technology for connecting is it's not going away. We have to start thinking about how we can use that technology in ways that, you know, allow society to flourish. And one way I see this working is so Bitcoin. Etherium These are corporations that are decentralized, so they have an open source community of programmers. And let's say you create some and people have this idea of like cryptocurrencies just being all about like a currency. Like, why do we have, you know, 2000 different currencies? But a lot of them are just startups or technology companies that are similar to all of the Internet companies that started up in the nineties, and that the currency is just sort of a way to fund the project. It's kind of just like a way for people to be stakeholders. So. Yeah. So. The technology is fundamentally connecting us and good in that regard. Oh, sorry. So that's my train of thought. So you can have an NFT for, let's say, anyone who wants to start any type of business or let's say you have someone from an area that's like kind of a poverty stricken area. Let's say you have someone who wants to be a rapper and they don't want to get on a major label, and they want to get all of the people in their community to fund that project and come together. And then if that project succeeds, then basically it's it's a crowdfunding mechanism. But unlike Kickstarter, the people who donated to the project don't just get to see that project come to fruition. They get to share in this success. So I imagine this future where like NFT, like, it like opens up, you know, people trying to get money from like venture capitalists. It's like a certain type of person who's connected to that kind of elite, you know, crust of society. But you could imagine using NFT is where anyone can raise money for anything. And then the people who invest in that project or by that token become investors. So I see it as a way to kind of correct capitalism. So this is kind of, I guess, getting away from what we were talking about earlier. But I think, you know, there's this big question of, you know, a lot of people think capitalism is terrible. And I do think, you know, capitalism is kind of broken right now. And you see these people like, you know, young people being more attracted to, like, communism. And I think that's a mistake. I think capitalism is great because capitalism is a form of Darwinian evolution. You have these corporations competing. And when you get this competition, you it basically facilitates progress. So the problem with capitalism is the people who are successful and have the money can start to influence the rules of capitalism. 

Steven Parton [01:08:45] They change the rules of Darwinian that. 

Bobby Azarian [01:08:48] Yeah. Yeah. So. And that's terrible. And that's where we are right now. And so we have to get, like, money out of politics, but also that money for like investing. Like I said, it's like only accessible to like, you know, this 1%. But if we had, like, if, if, if people could fund projects with nfts easy as they can with like Kickstarter, then I think that kind of opens up this, you know, capitalistic system in a way. You could call it like hyper capitalism, where you just have like all of these new. Startups, whatever projects emerging. And then the way like wealthy people were just pouring money into cryptocurrency like, you know, like six years ago, seven years ago. You had it where like, you know, some people are so wealthy that they would just put like $1,000 into like the top 1000 coins and like they're going to see, you know, even if like only ten of those coins take off and they do like times 100 times a thousand, like those people just made so much money. And you don't have to be smart. You don't have to be, like, creative. Like, they just did that. So the goal would be that anybody with any sort of project, like I said, like a, like a music album and they don't want to go through like, you know, the major label system. They want to have their own creativity. They put NFT out there. You would have like an exchange with all of these people who have all of these projects and then wealthy people would be sort of gambling on that the way they gambled on cryptocurrencies. And that's how I think you, you know, open up these opportunities to everyone else. 

Steven Parton [01:10:38] Yeah, I love I love the way this lens that you look through makes all the the troubles in the world look much more rosy and optimistic as well. 

Bobby Azarian [01:10:49] Um. 

Steven Parton [01:10:50] So I was going to say, as we, as we come up on time though, that wrap up, what do you have any closing thoughts maybe on on that idea of rosy thoughts, but any last things you kind of want to mention? 

Bobby Azarian [01:11:04] Um, well, yeah. So I definitely think that these things are scary too. Just talking about cryptocurrency. I mean, I, you know, the amount of scams are insane. I mean, I just get like tons of, like, DMS on Twitter with like cryptocurrency scams. Metaverse is a little bit scary. All these corporations tracking our data like, um, Facebook we saw with, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, these people can see all of our interactions. So they basically have like a psychological model of us. And once you have the psychological model of people, you can exploit them. You know, marketing exploits people, things pop up and we're like, Oh, wow, how did it know that I like this? And it's pretty scary. And if we start living in the metaverse, it's only going to get worse. And so there need to be there needs to be privacy laws, data privacy laws put in place like immediately because our technology progressed is faster than we can keep up with, like ethically. Also, there's going to be. A lot of neurotechnology where you have like brain computer interface and stuff like that where the data is like super invasive because it's basically, you know, our thoughts can then at that point be surveilled. So these technologies are good. We need to, you know, kind of assist these technologies to see that they flourish because they do allow for more information integration in the global brain. But we absolutely have to put laws in place to protect privacy and freedoms. And basically, you know, we have this story of progress, but we're always going to be on the brink of disaster, are always going to go through these cycles where we're on the brink of disaster momentarily. And we have to solve that problem. The moment the challenges stop is the moment that progress stops. Because where we just, you know, there's no pressure for us to aspire to something higher. So we've got to be prepared for all the things we can't see in the future. We actually want to take part in this exercise of future forecasting, trying to map out the possibilities, space, all the different tragic trajectories of where we could go. Because without that we're just kind of floating around and basically we have no control over what happens to us. But if we can start to map out this space of possibilities, how everything could go wrong, how everything go right, whatever happens will be somewhat prepared for. And yes. So I hope that's a sort of lesson for people. There is this global brain that's emerging. The future is semi predictable, and that gives us the ability, the ability to kind of take control of our own destiny. 

Steven Parton [01:14:26] I love it. Bobby, thank you so much for your well-articulated thoughts and much needed optimism in this realm of technology and the world's problems. I really appreciate your time. 

Bobby Azarian [01:14:36] Well, thank you for the great questions. This has been super fun. My book, The Romance of Reality is out. If you buy that and send me a screenshot with your address or okay, so if you email it to the romance of reality at gmail.com, I'm sending the first thousand people signed book plates there. Like these stickers, they go inside the book. I also have a substack and YouTube channel called Road to Omega, which tries to take the principles in the book and turn this, you know, into ideas that can be used to optimize society along the lines of the stuff that we've talked about in the last part of this conversation. So thanks so much for having me. Maybe we could do it again some time. 

the future delivered to your inbox

Subscribe to stay ahead of the curve (and your friends) with new episodes and exclusive content from the Singularity Podcast Network.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.