Nietzsche on the Singularity – with Kevin Hill

After getting in a fantastic interview with Professor William O. Stephens, I was connected to the website, where I bumped into a number of other thinkers I knew I’d want to catch up with. After reading some of the work of Prof. Kevin Hill of Portland State University in Oregon.
When given the opportunity to ask about Nietzsche’s thoughts on the progression towards non-biological intelligence, I knew the two most important questions I’d had in mind, and Prof. Hill was nice enough to go into some exciting detail:

One: “Will to Power” and Intelligence Expansion

If Nietzsche had known of the idea of Artificial General Intelligence (an intelligence trillions of times more capable than human intelligence), would he have deemed it to be the proper course of things to have this “AGI” expand across the universe, gobbling up all matter and transforming it into “computational substrate”? It seems as though this is a VERY serious and real application of the idea of “Will to Power” carried out on a scale far beyond what we as a race might ever be capable of doing. (Maybe I am wrong in this assumption – would Nietzsche have seen this expansion as just/proper/right?)
If the first question were “would he regard this as illustrating the notion of the will to power” I would say yes, but if the question were “would he regard this as good?” I don’t see how he would have any opinion about it at all. His concern is limited to what can promote human excellence and fulfillment, and the question doesn’t seem to be about that. In general, the assumption of the question is that Nietzsche has some sort of concern with intellectual ability as an end in it self, and I don’t see any evidence of that. Rather, he is interested in promoting certain intellectual attitudes as one aspect of a range of attitudes he would like to encourage among those human beings he regards as promising.

Two: “Self-Overcoming” and Human Enhancement

Nietzsche’s philosophy leans very much into the idea of self-overcoming and development of self and culture. If he were alive today, would we suspect that he would be a firm supporter of enhancing our physical and cognitive abilities by a merger with machine (computers)? Why or why not?
The answer here is related to the first. He’s not really concerned with bringing about certain capacities by any means necessary as such. He’s interested in encouraging the development of certain kinds of human beings. Here’s an analogy that probably would make sense to you given your background and interests. Suppose you were a martial arts instructor who had a certain conception of what the ideal martial arts participant would look like and how best to train them. Someone approaches you with their design for a laser gun which, with the touch of a button, would instantly annihilate a martial arts opponent from any distance. They ask you if, as a martial arts instructor, you support this development. In a sense the proper reaction would be “what does this have to do with me?” It might be an amazing thing to be able to do this, and it might have military applications, but it would be irrelevant to the further development of martial arts, and the fact that in a sense it serves the apparent goal of defeating an opponent in combat and does so with vastly more efficiency than learning how to be a good martial artist, it’s basically irrelevant to what you do. Because what you do is not really about that. Similarly, if someone was expressing an interest in martial arts training with you and then said they were on the fence about it because it would be simpler to just buy a gun, you wouldn’t likely respond by saying “silly me! Why didn’t I think of that? We can skip these classes altogether!”
That doesn’t mean that he would be opposed to the development of such capacities because they would be unfair or unnatural. It would depend upon what the particular capacity was and what its point was. I think that you may also find it helpful to think of Nietzsche’s interest as more like an artist’s interest in beauty. Enhancing certain capacities in a person might make them more beautiful, but it’s not automatically true that enhancing a capacity we value for practical reasons makes them more attractive. Here the talk about “power” is misleading on his part. What he’s interested in is encouraging healthy, cheerful, creative forms of human life and activity, and discouraging (for various reasons) attitudes stemming from and promoting decadent, depressed, unimaginative and (in a certain sense) destructive people. Enhancing capacities as an end in itself is not the point; enhancing capacities insofar as they serve the goal of producing the kinds of people Nietzsche wants to encourage, is.
There’s a further question one could ask, along the lines of: if it were possible to undergo surgery or take a pill that would effortlessly make you just like the sort of person he wants to encourage, well, what would he think of that? I don’t think he would be any more favorably disposed to that either, because he thinks the kinds of activities that promote “strength” have value, and this would be more like the gun analogy than one might think. Would martial arts be *better* if we could eliminate the whole engaging in martial arts itself aspect entirely, if a pill could make a person the sort of person who would win at martial arts? Only if the purpose of the sport was a mere means to the efficient developing of certain capacities. But that would be to misunderstand why martial arts is cool, right?
But in a sense all of this is missing the point. What Nietzsche wants is ultimately a certain kind of ethical being. What he wants is to promote *nobility*. He doesn’t want to promote being fast or smart etc. as ends in themselves. The relevance of “strength”, “power” etc. is that he thinks that only people who are psychologically strong are apt to develop the psychological profile needed for becoming noble.
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Questions we might be seen to be left with to juggle on our own might be:

– Is it possible for an integration with machines (or a pill for that matter) not eliminate the need of self development and self-overcoming, but to further our volition, further our memory, further our ethical self-analysis, our empathy, or any great number of capacities that might in fact add to what it is to be “noble” and “strong,” not merely “smarter” or “more capable”?
– If Nietzsche’s mission was to bring out excellence and fulfillment in human life, might be suppose that he would be a promoter of such “flourishing” or all sentient, volitional, rational beings? Might this include enhanced humans, or entire super-intelligent, conscious, borderline-omnipotent machines?
Food for thought as always, and a grand “Thank You” for Prof. Hill to take the time to discuss.
-Daniel Faggella