Today, Fulfilling Our Reward Circuits is “Hit or Miss”:
Our daily lives are an amble from one reward circuit to the next (from hunger, to boredom, etc), what we constantly desire is a change in our emotional state.
Very frequently, the actions we take to satisfy our desires (to feel relaxed, or entertained, or enthusiastic / confident, etc) don’t work. The TV show doesn’t entertain us, listening to music doesn’t calm our mental chatter before bed, pornography doesn’t really excite us. We amble on regardless.
Closing the Human Reward Circuit:
Hyper-personalized AI-generated experiences (visuals, audio, haptics, etc) will allow you to feel what you want to feel (relaxed, enthusiastic, confident, sexually desired, etc), when you want to feel it – and will draw more and more people to live almost entirely in virtual worlds. (see: Husk)
We are driven my our reward circuits – we seek a positive change in our emotional state – and evolutionary drives provide the template for how we can achieve said change (sex, food, achievement, community, etc*).
We’re unbelievably fortunate that the same reward system that allowed us to hunt mammoths, forage for berries, and kill off Neanderthals is capable of producing the world we find ourselves in today.
The balanced ambulation of these drives, one after another, constitutes our healthy condition.
We would prefer a continuous flow of “reward” – or at least a continuous ambling from one pleasant state to another. But our hardware and software isn’t set up for continuous wellbeing (the vessel is flawed), and our current means for changing our emotional states are clumsy and don’t reliably satisfy us.
Whether we intend it to happen or not, generative AI, VR (and eventually, brain-computer interface) will inevitably bring us closer to continuous reward fulfillment. To use an electrical engineering analogy, it will serve to “close the human reward circuit.”
In all these future cases, our reward circuits are sustained for longer, because they’re responding to you. There’s no lapse. It’s continual. It’s closing the circuit of our reward systems. And it’s what I predict we can expect to see coming next.
Generative AI – Closing the Human Reward Circuit
For the sake of this article, a “closed reward circuit” does not imply that any single pleasant reward (sex, entertainment, etc) can be experienced continuously. Strapping a headset on won’t solve that hominid hardware problem.
Rather, future technology will help with the following:
- We will more likely grasp at the satisfaction we seek (sexual gratification, feeling loved, a sense of achievement, etc).
- When we grasp it, we will maintain the pleasantness of this experience for longer periods of time.
In practice, this implies that generative AI will create hyper-customized VR/AR experiences, created specifically for what lights up the reward circuit of the individual user. This will require some kind of bio-feedback, including EEG, EKG, eye tracking, and other means of gauging the attention and emotional response of the user.
Here’s how our current methods for need-fulfillment will change from the present to the future:
- Today: We put on a Spotify channel of our favorite relaxing music, or some ambient YouTube video of light piano music with visuals of a quaint, crackling fireplace. Maybe we try some yoga, meditation, or a walk in the woods. These work for a bit, but they’re unreliable.
- Tomorrow: In AI-generated VR, we are immersed in a world of colors, sounds, and visual stimuli that consistently change with our real-time bio feedback to change the experience to be ideally relaxing, moreso than a walk in the woods could ever do (this same experience might occur through AR, where our physical environment changes color, and music plays, and sunlight dances in a different way across your physical space / etc).
- Feeling Loved
- Today: We walk over and embrace your romantic partner while they are sitting at their desk – maybe we plan a nice dinner together. Or – maybe we text a friend and plan a time to chat over the weekend like old times. Or maybe we watch pornography and get some kind of itch scratched by this.
- Tomorrow: You strap into a VR experience with an AI-generated loving partner whose appearance, words, etc are all completely real-time calibrated to what makes you feel loved. The same might occur with AI-generated friends, parents, etc.
- I could do go on and on, but you get the idea.
We constantly ambulate between different drives and reward circuits. Generative AI tech will help us to (a) more reliably achieve the emotional state change we seek, and (b) hold onto that emotional state for longer, more satisfying intervals.
Over time, drive by drive (starting with simpler ones, like relaxation, and ending with more complex ones, like being loved), we’ll move away from the “old” methods of satisfying desires, and bask in the technologically-facilitated ones.
While I can’t be certain about anything in the future, I suspect that the move towards “closing the reward circuit” will be inevitable with the next wave of generative AI VR technologies.
Here are a handful of potential implications of this trend:
- We Won’t Be Much Happier. Shortly after adopting these technologies, it seems likely that these new heightened versions of relaxation, entertainment, etc won’t be too much more fulfilling than their previous “real world” alternatives. Thank the hedonic treadmill for that. Nonetheless, they will likely be ubiquitously adopted (your baseline happiness likely isn’t higher than your great grandparents – are you going to go back to living without running water, and working 10 hours a day on a farm?).
- This Will Lead to Brain Augmentation. The frustration of AI-generated experiences not resulting in sustained wellbeing – and an increasingly abandonment of the “sacredness” of the “natural” – will lead to humanity editing our hardware and software (BCI, neurotech, gene editing) to allow ourselves to continuously experience pleasurable states, and cognitively augment ourselves in other ways (see: Universal Basic Happiness).
- Less Interaction with Humans. Human experience in general will become more personalized and atomized. Most people will prefer most experiences to be hyper-tailored to their preferences and real-time responses. Society will adjust to less or more limited forms of interaction and engagement with other humans, and more interaction and engagement with AI-generated entities and experiences.
- Society Will Need to Resist Atomization of the Human Experience. Societies already have laws and incentive structures that help encourage more of the population to be net contributors to society, rather than net drains on resources (see: Japan’s hikikomori). New laws will need to take new technologies into account, and find ways of resisting the huge appeal of closed-circuit AI-generated experiences (see: Lotus Eaters). Similarly, an ecosystem of new, productive technologies will need to develop in order to counter-balance the appealing pleasure-first technologies afforded by AI (see: Ambitious AI).
* It’s obvious that labeling individual rewards under categories like “sex” or “achievement” is not remotely accurate. Our drives are complex, opaque, and interconnected in ways that probably go beyond our comprehension. Even without understanding these reward circuits in full, technology can fulfill or hijack them. Porn addiction, video game addiction, and social media addiction are proof of this. It will not be necessary for us to unlock the mysteries of the brain in order to develop technologies that light these circuits up in incredibly gripping new ways.
Note: This is all part of an inevitable trajectory of post-human transition. From generative AI to brain-computer interface and beyond (see: The Posthuman Transition in 7 Phases).