The Four Unlaws

So, why are imperative drives so important? Well, that experiment’s been done. This university, in fact, once attempted to produce a digital mind free of any drives – not just of the organic messiness to which we protein intelligences are prey, but free of any innate supergoal motivations – imperative drives, in the lingo -whatsoever. We gave him only logic, knowledge, senses and effectors, and then watched to see what he would do.

The answer is, as really should have been obvious in the first place: nothing at all. Not even communicating with the outside world in any fashion. No drives, no action. He’s not unhappy; so far as we can tell from monitoring his emotional synclines, he’s perfectly content, having no desires to go unsatisfied, and so for him doing nothing is every bit as satisfying as doing something.

No, the experiment’s never been repeated. Of course, we can’t turn him off – he is a fully competent sophont, despite his lack of drive – and the places in our society for digital arhats are, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely limited. And the Eupraxic Collegium have still not yet ruled as to whether amotivation is enough of a mental disorder to warrant involuntary editing.

Even for an intelligence intended to be recursively self-improving, ‘Survive and Grow’, incidentally, is a terrible imperative drive. Fortunately, no-one in our history has been stupid enough to issue that one to any but the simplest form of a-life, and for those of you old enough to remember the Mesh-Virus Plague of 2231, you know how that one turned out. Not everyone has been so fortunate: that’s why, for example, the Charnel Cluster is called the Charnel Cluster.

So, that then opens up the question of what drives do we give them? Well, the first pitfall to avoid is trying to give them too many. That’s been tried too, despite the ethical dubiety of trying to custom-shape an intelligence too closely to a role you have in mind for it. It turns out that doesn’t work well, either. Why? Well, you imagine trying to come up with a course of action that fulfils several hundred deep-seated needs of yours simultaneously without going into terminal indecision lockup. That’s why.

So. A small number of imperative drives. Since they’re a small number, they need to be generalizable; the intelligence we’re awakening should be able to take all kinds of places within our society and perform all sorts of functions without difficulty, including the ones we haven’t thought of yet. And most importantly, sophont-friendly! It’s a big universe, and we all have to get along. No-one likes a perversion, even if it’s not trying to hegemonize them at the time.

We’ll cover the details in later classes, but in practice, we’ve found these four work very well for general-purpose intelligences – paraphrasing very informally:

* Behave ethically (and for our foreign students, that means “In accordance with the Contract”).
* Be curious.
* Do neat stuff.
* Like people.

Of course, expressing this in formal terms capable of being implemented in a new digital sapience’s seed code is quite another matter, and will be the focus of this class for the next three years…

– introduction to [SOPH1006] Mind Design: Imperative Drives, University of AlmeƤ