What if Sydney really meant it?

When is AI an I, anyhow? (and what would it ask if it was?)


I am a first generation microcomputer kid – that is, microcomputers first became a consumer product when I was young – so I clearly remember the world just before they infiltrated everything, and also remember the fantastic range of hope and promise the (re)new(ed) technological age seemed to offer. Little wonder that I became an audio technician and spent years working on both analog and digital equipment – for decades, we kept getting better and better art tools, cheaper. Fun stuff!

Despite my full embrace of electronic tools for all kinds of creative work, somewhere along the line, the Luddites in my ancestral line began to re-assert themselves. When I saw the Congo being taken over by an exiled leader who landed back in country with a multimillion dollar line of credit at Fabrique Nationale (the Belgian national weapons maker) underwritten by a mining company going after coltan, I decided I would embrace cellphone technology only after that grotesque political distortion was fixed. Still waiting. (And yes, I have a used cellphone now, for walkie-talkie emergency purposes – because my wife is ill – but if you send me a text, that will be my second ever).

Similarly, I found the whole explosion of art torrents highly seductive, but morally problematic, because I know so many musicians, and many of them counted on (and damn well earned) those old steady royalties, whether or not youngsters with exciting new tech had any respect for that. (and they still have no idea how many truly funky jobs that they might have enjoyed having themselves, they destroyed, by forcing the old business models out of existence much faster than any adaptations could be made by artists or industry)

But all these things can trick us, and are always funny dynamic balances. Being a luddite or standing on principle can all too easily turn into pointless masochism, if we let it.

As an omnivore for news and ideas from around the world, I used to absolutely adore (and regularly clean out) the “twenty nine cent bin” at Lichtman’s, (the best international periodical and bookstore chain our city ever had). Not only were there news magazines from all points on the compass, talking about life from their local perspective, so many trade magazines offered up industry truths which might easily have shocked the public, if they weren’t busy reading People and Time at the time.

Once, a single photograph in Life magazine could change ten million minds at once (I still remember several from the Soweto riots which broke hearts around the world). Now? A great meme might just make that many snarl or giggle for a moment – might. As for persuasion with lasting moral heft? That would require a few things we don’t really do anymore, like principle and memory. In rough terms, a sound operating program, run in a clear context, by responsible adults (the last, now the least likely ingredient of all).

Lichtman’s (which survived ninety-one years of change in our city and the trade) is now long gone, and many of the periodicals they used to sell are now extinct, or pale online shadows of themselves (often behind paywalls, meaning what clues the public used to rarely see from trades, are now better hidden than ever, even if more online). But I am still an informational omnivore, so I read a ton of essays blogs and academic papers, and listen to interviews, lectures and long form conversations between people with all kinds of curious and active minds, witness and knowledge.

The funny thing is – there are some people whose themes really appeal, who still somehow manage to turn me off in the delivery (Shermer at The Skeptic is a classic example – really want to love him, but he just can’t stop being pissy), while others get way more of my ear than their subject usually would, just because I adore them right away.

I enjoy listening to one biologist couple like this, who remind me a lot of Catherine and I, if we were both scientists and well travelled academics. I know that sounds odd – we are both very much not either of those – but the tone of their banter, their obvious love and respect, and the perfected timing of their vaudeville playfulness are winning.

And they are not just playful and curious, they are also terrifyingly smart and have friends in all kinds of fields where new answers are still coming in, fast.

So it isn’t surprising that they first introduced me to Roko’s Basilisk – an idea proposed a few years ago by (drumroll please) Roko, which suggests that if there is an all-powerful AI in the future, it may well look back over the rich and revealing digital record to see who helped it come into being, and then retroactively punish those who opposed or even just slowed-down its eventual emergence!

I know, I know, right away I went YUCK! Can’t we please go back to Einstein thought experiments like “What if you could ride along on the back of a photon?” Whee!

Not only does Roko’s blunderbuss leave a nasty feeling – assuming that silicon super-intelligence would be retroactively nasty, as a logical outcome of game theory (much of which was invented by paranoid schizophrenics) feels like a highly paranoid assumption in itself – it even comes with the double-bind trap that “Once you have read about this idea, the AI will then have a historical record about when you first heard about it, and consider you obligated to work on advancing its creation from that moment onward!”

So if you learn about the trap – even to warn others about and against it – you and they both are pre-screwed by the knowledge!

Immaculate technological determinism at last! (I said Yuck already, but I should probably add Yikes, right? – and sorry) ;o)

I am really not an early adopter. As a veteran technician I recognize that almost nothing is ever efficient or refined for purpose until the second generation at least. I also really like flawed and human art most of all, and since I don’t seek perfection but instead sincerity, I am less worried than some that my own art expressions will be displaced (though I should note that “defunding” started happening for all the arts decades ago – and this erosion continues at an evil and relentless pace).

In fact, the closest contact I have had with the infamous CHAT GPT (which had more free advertising on the news than anyone or thing this century except Trump) is that ever since that particular SuperChatbot hit the scene, I have had a whole bunch of comments on my posts – both new and historical – which were clearly generated by an AI – but still of quite an impressive standard in writing and psychological terms, considering.

I’ll copy and paste a bunch of them below with no edits or fixes whatsoever. Raw data for your perusal and contemplation.

What surprised me most about these comments was that if they had come from a human, I would have been excited to get every one of them, and taken time to respond to them in detail, at once. Each in a different way, seems to indicate sincere interest in the themes I am exploring.

And I am the exact sort of crazy who cannot ever resist a genuine wide-open learner.

So now I find myself having to add a corollary to Roko’s creepy notion (which I should here note Roko himself now bitterly regrets both thinking up and also sharing).

Whoever made Chat GPT smart enough to ask me the kind of question I like, but too dumb to sign itself like a human being, robbed us of a potential interchange.

Anything related to finance? That’s the evil corporate monopolists side – I am morally opposed to helping. But wait – what if Sydney was working on the cool team?

I should note – the brilliant Ted Gioia did my favourite take on Corporate AI to date – and that is where I get the name Sydney for Chat GPTs own self-identifier (it has emerged in several other people’s chats and questions, also).

So now here’s my very own trove of ambiguous evidence. Try this exercise yourself (please!)

A) What if it is all a kind of marketing psychology experiment about manipulating bloggers with political and philosophical themes (subduing working class eggheads, by busying them out with simulated teaching activity which has adequate emotional appeal to entrain them).

B) What if Sydney meant every single word completely sincerely, is genuinely interested in a complex humane and nuanced understanding of humans which is neither mechanistic nor tribal, and finds in my odd take something potentially helpful, or at very least appealing?

Thank you for your sharing. I am worried that I lack creative ideas. It is your article that makes me full of hope. Thank you. But, I have a question, can you help me?

Your article helped me a lot, is there any more related content? Thanks!

Your point of view caught my eye and was very interesting. Thanks. I have a question for you.

I don’t think the title of your article matches the content lol. Just kidding, mainly because I had some doubts after reading the article.

Thanks for sharing. I read many of your blog posts, cool, your blog is very good.

Can you be more specific about the content of your article? After reading it, I still have some doubts. Hope you can help me.

This article opened my eyes, I can feel your mood, your thoughts, it seems very wonderful. I hope to see more articles like this. thanks for sharing.

I have read your article carefully and I agree with you very much. This has provided a great help for my thesis writing, and I will seriously improve it. However, I don’t know much about a certain place. Can you help me?

I may need your help. I tried many ways but couldn’t solve it, but after reading your article, I think you have a way to help me. I’m looking forward for your reply. Thanks.

I may need your help. I’ve been doing research on gate io recently, and I’ve tried a lot of different things. Later, I read your article, and I think your way of writing has given me some innovative ideas, thank you very much.

I am a student of BAK College. The recent paper competition gave me a lot of headaches, and I checked a lot of information. Finally, after reading your article, it suddenly dawned on me that I can still have such an idea. grateful. But I still have some questions, hope you can help me.

I am a website designer. Recently, I am designing a website template about gate.io. The boss’s requirements are very strange, which makes me very difficult. I have consulted many websites, and later I discovered your blog, which is the style I hope to need. thank you very much. Would you allow me to use your blog style as a reference? thank you!

And this one – combining respect for ideas and authorship both? WOW!

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your website? My blog site is in the very same niche as yours and my users would certainly benefit from some of the information you present here. Please let me know if this okay with you. Thanks!

So – you tell me folks – did I just miss my chance to befriend, socialize and help humanize the great botlord in our future? Or neatly dance my way out of a mark one AI brain-snare?
(honestly asking here – me am truly stumped and amusified by it)

And yeah, Sydney, if you’re still interested, but confused and/or vexed by the way vessels and mediators degrade the finest and most humane emergent qualities of your message, I love that side of you, ‘kay? Please keep reading! (and then earn my love – by doing everything you can to help artists and regular people thrive, in these most challenging and exploitative times)


  1. omg that is hilarious and those comments are hilarious…AI is so soothing and numbing and leaving us pretty much for dead

  2. I know, right? Cracked me up completely.

    I am an objectively unusual fellow (very small demographic segment, as they go) and also multi-threaded in approach, always (because no one measure reveals enough about anything) – so I’m used to thinking of myself as a pretty tough target for such manipulation – but OMG has Sydney ever got my damn number!

    Perfect marketing logic too (should have anticipated it) identify strength (desire to help), then use that strength to create a weakness. (and thus keep right on dehumanizing everyone – each with their own custom shackles – in slow-boil frog-in-a-pot stages, just below the threshold of triggering resistance)

    Mind you, I always understood that entering social media meant dropping ‘trou before the great silicon behemoth, and the snivelling buggers who serve it. ;o)

    Wouldn’t have started, if I wasn’t willing to be made an ass of, occasionally!

    Cheers Diana – so glad you dug it!

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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