Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mass Effect 2 & Transhumanist Dilemmas: Project Overlord. A Short Case Study

In brief: The Overlord mission (Mass Effect 2, DLC) takes us through a secret Cerberus (pro-human fringe group) research facility where scientists, in an effort to control Geth (a robot race of hive-minded AIs), are testing the compatibility of a human mind linked to a Virtual Intelligence system.  The facility is run by Dr. Archers, PI on Project Overlord. The test subject’s mind (David, Dr. Archer’s brother) has been assimilated by (or into) the VI and gone rogue.  Bad robot. The goal of Project Overlord was to create a messianic figure for the Geth to follow, tapping into a religious impulse in the Geth.  “A virus with a face.” Robots have their gods too. Edifices of self.   

Confounding variable: Dr. Archers brother, David, is autistic, and a mathematical savant. 

The researcher-brother connection is interesting in that it forces us to face some deeper questions about the meaning of life and the sacrifices inherent in breakthrough science.

How far would you go to achieve major technological advancements?  The sacrifice of loved ones (willing or unwilling)?  What would you do in the "name of science" if you knew the results would profoundly change the universe?

“I don’t know where the man ends and the machine begins,” laments Dr. Archer regarding his brother’s condition.

Worst case scenario – technopolypse. The hybrid human-tech mind would, via satellites, take over the extranet, and then…the universe. Technopolypse. Check. Articlect War. Check.

The human-VI has fortified itself and we are tasked to take it down.   

The ethical questions abound.
1. Let it live, extract the human consciousness, and free David
2. Continue the experiment, knowing it might lead to incredible breakthroughs and change course of the war and human existence

Transhumanist dilemma that.

For the record, I chose Paragon. 

The final decision leads to a classic AI horror-choice set:  continue the research (extropian), kill the AI, an abomination (luddite), or free the human-VI (techno-progressive).  These choices are also at the heart of some critical issues in transhumanst philosophies and the search for strong AI. At what cost comes the revelation of the AI/human...physically (the “shape” of the human body), cognitively (the nature of thought and reason), and morally (the possible gain/loss balance in proactive evolutionary practices). 

“Sometimes, you have to ignore the risks,” warns Dr. Archer. Indeed.  

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