Wisdom in Transhumanism

by Anders Sandberg

A major transhumanist goal is IA, Intelligence Amplification, to extend and enhance human intelligence in new ways. This is of course an attractive idea, since we have an intelligence shortage today (or rather, an applied intelligence shortage). But I wonder if it is not time to think of WA too - Wisdom Amplification.

Intelligence can be said to be the ability to solve problems.

Wisdom is the ability to determine which problems should be solved.

For example, designing a clever computer virus requires some intelligence, but it usually not a very wise action since it will probably have detrimental effects on others and quite possibly oneself. To be able to determine which projects are worth working on, are worthless or not worth the effort is wisdom. It is an important subset of intelligence. Wisdom and ability to plan ahead are of course closely linked, but wisdom in its classic form is usually intuitive rather than deductive. It cannot exist in a vacuum, it has to be linked to the ability to solve problems and act to be real wisdom, otherwise the person will be just sprouting good intentions or advice without doing anything.

One common belief is that wisdom has an ethical component, or that ethics forms the basis of wisdom. I think it is the other way around: wisdom leads to the development of an ethical view, since ethical actions usually have long- range positive consequences (the exact kind of ethics will of course depend heavily on the person and the culture, just as wisdom itself is not necessarily identical across all of humanity). As I see it, ethics can be based on rational judgements of what is good or useful and do not need any supernatural backing.

"The Wisdom of Old Age" is an interesting concept. It is probable that under a lifetime the brain abstracts more or less general rules and experiences from the many special cases. People learn the most common consequences of certain actions, and make so many analogies that powerful abstractions develop. This leads to that an wise person has a good chance to guess the results of an action even in the long run. Unfamiliar situations may pose a problem, but if a person has lived a sufficiently varied life and abstracted enough general rules he might be able to use inductive reasoning and apply his wisdom anyway.

The drawback is of course that if conditions change this old wisdom may loose its usability, since the world no longer follows the map. It is worth noting that the views on old people vary between static and dynamic cultures: in a static culture old people are valued as wise and experienced, in dynamic cultures they are often seen as a conservative burden and unable to adapt.

The question is how to develop methods to enhance our own wisdom and at the same time keep our minds flexible. While most transhumanists hope to live for a very long time, and thus expect to get plenty of chances to extend their wisdom, it would be even better if we could become wiser faster. One method could be to optimize wisdom in areas which are general enough not to be changed markedly with time (such as mathematics and systems theory) or which are not expected to change much (like how physical objects behave) and hope some of the results can be applied in other areas. The big problem is whether it is possible to develop general and communicable rules of wisdom even in more dynamical areas, or if the only way towards WA is constant training/living for a long period.

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Anders Sandberg / asa@nada.kth.se