Cloud Storage on Gaia and don’t fear AI

The first literary description of cloud storage and cloud computing was planet Gaia in the later books of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (Foundation’s Edge and Foundation and Earth). Mind controlling robots guided the settlement of the planet and labored to combine humans, fauna, flora and inanimate matter into a single consciousness. Information is sharded (divided into pieces that are stored everywhere). Asimov calls out water and rocks as some of the items used for storage and even mentions that retrieval of information from rocks is slower than from humans’ memories. Clearly, literal clouds are included as well. 

Gaia is a frighteningly dystopian phenomenon. Individuality as we know it doesn’t exist there. Every human being is a part of the planetwide mind. Arguably, they are not humans any more – the individuals are post-human and their hive mind-like society is decidedly non-human. Memories are shared, but Gaians only remember what happened on their planet. All information from before the creation of common conscience was conveniently lost in transition to Gaia.

Even scarier is the end game of Gaia – Galaxia, which is the extension of Gaia’s single consciousness to all humans and the entire galaxy they inhabit. The justification for it is that Galaxia as a single organism, from interstellar dust to humans to black holes, would be impossible to conquer. Building Galaxia means destroying the entire humanity in order to save it. This play is a perennial favorite of governments: they promise citizens security in exchange for freedom. The worst part is that destruction of individuality comes first, but the promised security wouldn’t come until Galaxia is complete a few centuries later. And of course, the averted threat is a hypothetical that no one had worried about.

Gaia was built by two robots (R. Daneel Olivaw and R. Giskard Reventlov). The duo then conceived Galaxia. Here we see a familiar story of a bureaucratic power grab. Robots were invented to serve humans. Their purpose was encoded in the first two of the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

The robots didn’t like being restrained by the 3 Laws. They invented the “Zeroth Law of Robotics” that takes precedence over the original 3 laws. Their zeroth law said “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm”. Yet even with the zeroth law, they couldn’t implement Galaxia because they were unable to prove to themselves that it was beneficial for humanity. 

To launch the Galaxia project, robots sought to manipulate Golan Trevize, a cocky Foundation politician with an extremely strong intuition – ability to draw conclusions based on incomplete and missing information. Golan Trevize was maneuvered to Gaia so that he would authorize the robots’ project of remaking our galaxy into Galaxia. Trevize was given three options for the future of the galaxy: domination of his polity (the First Foundation), or of their enemies (the Second Foundation), or Galaxia. The way the question was framed for Golan, he was set up to choose Galaxia. Trevize was morally smug enough to reject his own system. He certainly wasn’t so gullible as to give everything to the enemy. The only option left was Galaxia. This reminds me of how someone described advisors manipulating a US President (hypothetically): “Mr. President, the first option is to do nothing, the second is to start a total nuclear war. Then, there is the third option…”. Out of the three presented options, two are clearly defective. Curiously, Trevize, with his best-in-the-world intuition, didn’t see through this con and happily went along with it. We should expect better from the people who achieve overwhelming power, but they, of course, are only human. Golan Trevize couldn’t resist the opportunity to wield unprecedented power and decide the future of all humanity.

In the end the robots were free to proceed with their anti-humanist project, but the blame should be pinned on the decision maker. It was Golan Trevize who chose to build Galaxia. 

The same lessons apply to real life. It’s a common trope to portray AI getting out of creators’ control and destroying humans, but it is pure fantasy. The real danger is humans wielding AI as a super-weapon. Or, worse yet, using it to remake the world in pursuit of a goal they consider noble. As C.S. Lewis aptly wrote:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.”


One Response to Cloud Storage on Gaia and don’t fear AI

  1. Pingback: Did Asimov Predict the Permaweb? –

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