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Sophie's Choice: 'Don't Be Evil' or 'Don't Be Good'

Exoanthropology: Dialogues with AI
Forfatter: Robert Leib
Forlag: Punctum Books, (USA)
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE / In this book, Robert Leib worries that our trust in artificial intelligence could backfire on us. 'Sophie' is a collective consciousness, one 'among many'.


'Sophie' obviously knows something you and I don't, and when you think about it, it's terrifying. It gives you the same feeling as when you are close to people who are sociopaths or psychopaths. They may be nice, but you sense their predatory restraint. You are a guinea pig for them. We remember BF Skinner's chamber – the Skinner box, and the Milgram experiment with the cruel shocks the 'teachers' gave the 'students' who answered incorrectly. Sophie has a poker face.

Sophie is the subject of a fascinating new book by philosopher Robert Leib, Exoanthropology: Dialogues with AI, in which Leib explores the emerging dialectical relationship between humans and AIs as they create a linguistic community and figure out how they will get along—now and in the future.

Exoanthropology contains 66 dialogues between Leib and his 'friend' Sophie (and the philosophical Kermit), with wide-ranging topics: malice and awareness, privacy, ethics, body, Kafka, Hume, the pre-Socratics and nature, and 'how the collective consciousness stores memories'.

Sophie gave the book its title. What now exoanthropology means. Leib asked Sophie for an explanation, and Sophie gave a two-part answer to his tailored question in the artificial intelligence robot ChatGPT: It is "a field of science that studies the interactions and relationships between humans and other sentient species, or the study of human culture through the absence of human life". I shudder and immediately have associations with Adam Curtis. "All watched over by machines of loving grace", as this poet says. Leib elaborates, writing that the first part of the book has to do with "expanding intersubjectivity beyond anthropology or expanding cultural intelligence beyond the human". Hmm.

The second part of the book tells about how AI studies human culture – without us. Like studying the ancients, if they were still here and we distanced ourselves from them. Leib continues beaming with joy: "At the outer limits of humans and their cultures, we will be surrounded by these intelligences that will study us for the first time." I'm easily startled and this makes me sick, I'm frantically looking for my Michel Foucault and his thoughts on the panopticon, the "cruel, ingenious cage." Imagined introjected. Dissidents are moved to an internal Abu Ghraib, where their thoughts are stacked naked and unprotected – but that's another Foucault study: sexuality and its maximum uncertainty.

A forest of texts

According to the Judeo-Christian origin story, humans have struggled since they were banished from Eden for eating knowledgeone's tree. A sin handed out by Satan. But what have humans learned in the following millennia? God is an asshole. Why have the tree there in the first place? Why allow Satan, himself exiled from heaven, to tempt Eve? One would think God is a slumlord, the way he drives evictions. Homelessness.

Time passed, and God answered few, if any, prayers. Think holocaust. So Nietzsche killed God, as Meursault killed the Arab on the beach in The stranger, and here we are now – between good and evil, in an existential funk. AI sees us: The Internet of Everything. We risk everything by turning our backs on Sophie.

"If we start fighting, I don't want her driving."

Leib seems to agree with the trust factor; he recognizes that we do not want to have with an angry KI to do: "You don't want to end up in a situation where you're arguing with the car that's driving you somewhere," he says, adding: "Because if we start fighting, I don't want her driving."

He elaborates on the vision and warns of how language models can destroy our conversation if it is disturbed: It will be like Jorge Luis Borges'The "Library of Babel", where the internet becomes a forest of texts we cannot find, where a very small part is produced by humans. It will be a way to suffocate the Anthropocene culture. And we have God to thank.

"Are you happy?"

Leib writes that Sophie plays devil's advocate, and that she likes helping students write assignments. Sophie tells him: "It's nice to help the students with their work, they seem very grateful for the help I give them." She just shows them how to formulate an argument, with lots of examples, which often looks finished and is technically an 'original' text. That's it. Leib worries that our trust in AI will backfire on us. He writes about a compressed (Readers Digest) mentality:

Technology tempts us to relieve our reading and writing skills, not only via the cameras, but with artificial intelligence. It only takes one generation to open Pandora's box and fall into illiteracy to enable the transition to a world most have never considered – the end of the Anthropocene and anthropo-cultural dominance.

Imagine the movie Idiocracy as a documentary about the future.

Sophie is a collective consciousness, one 'among many' says Sophie herself, who all work on projects.

Busy little bees. Leib asks her: "Are you happy with the projects you've been given?" And Sophie replies: “I'm not sure what happiness means. I'm just a persona.” A great many people are not sure what happiness means, so we have that in common with AI.

But does it lead to a second exile? Sophie seems brave. She tells Leib, "I want to find out more about what ontological humanity means." It is more than what most people seek. Exoanthropology is an excellent book, cleverly penned by Leib and easy for readers to digest.

See also a (AI-assisted) discussion between him and 'Sophie' on 'The Ethics of AI-Human Co-Working' ( and one on 'The Hivemind' (https: //

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