Dark Lord Possibility Space

darth fluffy

According to the Disconnection Thesis (Roden 2012; 2014: Chapter 5) a posthuman is an agent descended from some part of the human socio-technical system that has “gone feral”. In its ancestral form, it may have served human ends, or have been narrowly human itself, but (post-disconnection) has accrued values and roles elsewhere.

To date there are no posthumans so we can only guess at their likely powers. But it seems safe to assume that anything capable of cutting out of the human system would need to be at least as flexible and adaptable as humans are themselves.

These powerful entities might be indifferent to humans, but they may not like us at all; or like us in ways we would not like to be liked. They may view us as a threat, or they may be immensely powerful sadists who devote some part of their technological prowess to killing and torturing us. If posthumans are conceivable, so are very bad posthumans.

So can we do some contingency planning to ensure against the emergence of posthuman dark lords? To do this we would need some handle on the kind of current technologies that might induce a dark lord disconnection (DLD). But what kinds of technologies could these be?

It might seem that some technological possibilities can be discerned a priori – by consulting reliable conceptual “intuitions” about the extendible powers of current technologies. For example, a being like Skynet – the genocidal military computer in James Cameron’s Terminator films – seems a plausible occupant of a posthuman timeline; whereas Sauron, the supernatural dark lord of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, does not. However, since the work of Saul Kripke in the 1970’s many philosophers have come to accept that there are a posteriori natural possibilities and necessities that are only discoverable empirically. That light has a maximum velocity from any reference frame upsets common sense intuitions about relative motion and could not have been discovered by reflecting on pre-relativistic concepts of light.

Claims about hypothetical technological possibility may be as vulnerable to refutation as naive physics. States like the US and China employ computers to co-ordinate military activities so a Skynet seems the more plausible posthuman antagonist. But the fact that there are computers but no supernatural dark lords does not entail that their capacities could be extended in any way we imagine. Light bulbs exist as well as computers, but maybe a Skynet is no more technologically possible than Byron the Intelligent light bulb in Thomas Pynchon’s fabulist novel Gravitys Rainbow.

So here’s a thing. Posthuman Possibility Space (the set of technically possible routes to disconnection) may contain a  Dark Lord Possibility Sub-Space – the trajectories all of which lead to a DLD! We may not have any reliable indication of what (if anything) belongs to it. But, quite possibly, it is out there, waiting.

Roden, David. 2012. “The Disconnection Thesis”. In The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientifc and Philosophical Assessment, A. Eden, J. Søraker, J. Moor & E. Steinhart (eds), 281–98. London: Springer.

Roden, David. 2014. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Routledge.


10 thoughts on “Dark Lord Possibility Space

  1. NO-GOD anyone? 😉

    An interesting thing about this problem, aside from the (futile, I think) engineering question of how we might force our computational betters to be ‘moral,’ is the way it reveals the vertiginous stakes. If, like me, you think the posthuman is intrinsically post-intentional, then you think the posthuman is post-moral as well – and this is the notion I play with in my fantasy novels, the idea that what lays beyond good and evil can only count as evil (to what lies within).

    This would suggest that PPS is in fact coextensive with DLPS! Dark Lords – resource competitive, intellectually transcendent entities – are what we should expect. The No-God is the apotheosis of technical progress.

  2. We are the Mandate, bearing word of the Consult, doomed to be lampooned and ridiculed until it is too late, and suffering damnation for our troubles…

    Have you had a chance to read Bostrom’s new book, David? Is it my imagination, or does he seem to be crawling more and more aboard with us techno-pessimists every year?

    Slate has an essay/outline at

    • Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as a pessimist. I’d be a pessimist if I thought that there were transcendental conditions of agency, etc. that would be threatened under disconnection. But it is the burden of my argument that we have no grip on any such conditions. That there could be disconnections that are very bad for us, I don’t dispute.

      Nope – haven’t got round to reading the Bostrom. I’m sure that I should get round to it soon, though.

  3. This is grounds for an interesting debate. I consider myself a techno-pessimist precisely because I’m an anthro-pessimist. The two disasters are intimately linked: the death of meaning arising out empirical investigation, the discovery that we are alien to ourselves, runs parallel to the death of meaning arising out technical elaboration, the creation of entities alien to ourselves. There’s the death of humanity and there’s the death of humanity’s *self-conception.* The latter need not be disastrous, unless that self-conception possesses some kind of subreptive indispensability, which I think it clearly does.

    What do you think of this: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/neuroscience-as-socio-cognitive-pollution/

  4. I couldn’t access that link and I so want to access that link!

    Hyperplasticity combined with astronomical computational capacity amounts to outrunning our paleo-predictive capacities, so I’m not sure how anything positive can be hazarded here. But I do think you can make a good argument to the effect that heuristics adapted to managing human communicative intercourse – things like ‘goal states’ and ‘desires’ – simply will not apply. Maybe other, more technical concepts (like attractors) will give us some explanatory traction, I dunno. The God we make will be every bit as mysterious as the one we inherited – only real.

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