Ontological Shock: The Accelerating Emergence of Artificial Intelligence

Robb Smith Cognitive, Ethical, Moral, Perspectives, Science & Technology, Video 65 Comments

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Robb Smith joins co-hosts Bruce Alderman and Corey deVos in our first episode of Integral Life’s new AI series, where together they grapple with the profound “ontological shock” and societal transformation prompted by the emergence of AI, exploring its impact across education, personal lives, and organizations.

Watch as Robb, Bruce, and Corey delve into the potential risks and benefits of AI, its role in discourse shaping, the evolving perceptions of AI, and the transformative potential of AI-aided technologies, all while weaving in spiritual insights and invoking a deeper understanding of our interconnectedness in this transformative age. The three also talk about how the rise of AI has impacted them at Integral Life and at the Institute of Applied Metatheory, as well as some of the AI projects they’ve been working on behind the curtain.

What is life? What is consciousness? What is the relationship between exterior complexity and interior experience? These sorts of big contemplative questions were once a luxury, a thing for misfit philosophers, integral nerds, and stoned dorm-room discussions. But now these questions have become absolutely central to the incredible social transformation that is taking place all around us.

The emergence of artificial intelligence in platforms such as ChatGPT and MidJourney represents the most significant ontological shock of our lifetimes, and perhaps even one of the most significant in the history of our species. The ground of our reality has radically and irrevocably shifted beneath our feet, and we are already feeling the tectonic plates rearranging themselves as society prepares for seismic changes in our collective behavior and methods of social self-organization.

The ontological ground has shifted, reality itself has changed, and now millions of people around the world are scrambling to update their epistemologies in real time in order to make sense of this new reality, to navigate this ever-accelerating change, and to strategize ways to avoid their own obsolescence.

The problem, of course, is that whenever new paradigms emerge, we then try to predict the consequences of the new paradigm by looking at it through the lens of the previous paradigm. But new paradigms aren’t simply a new way of looking at things — they are new ways of doing things, and those new kinds of “doing” result in new patterns of self-organization, new selection pressures, new attractors, and new flavors of chaos that laugh in the face of expert prognostications.

After all, if disruption was predictable, it would hardly be disruptive.

So, if the emergence of Artificial Intelligence has smashed our crystal balls to dust, is there anything meaningful at all that we can say about this new future that is now shaping itself on the horizon? How might integral ideas help change our understanding of artificial intelligence — and how might artificial intelligence change our understanding and embodiment of integral ideas?

And perhaps most importantly for us here at Integral Life, what sort of unique insights, skills, and attitudes does integral bring to the table?

Here are a few suggestions, just to get us started:

  • Integral anticipates the dramatic consequences AI will have in all four quadrants — that is, we can anticipate unpredictable consequences in our LR technological, economic, political, and media systems; our UR efforts, behaviors, and thriving strategies; our LL relationships and cultural attitudes, permissions, and tolerances; and our UL perceptions, experiences, identities, and ongoing mental health.
  • Integral understands that this new reality will not be seen, experienced, and understood the same way by everyone — that artificial intelligence truly represents a “hyperobject” that cannot be fully perceived or understood by a single perspective alone, regardless of how confident we might be that we “get it”. AI is a black box that will be perceived by individuals in very different ways, according to the perspectives and worldspaces available to them.
  • Integral appreciates that the emergence of artificial intelligence is already evoking a number of very powerful emotional and even spiritual states of consciousness in people all around the world — from any number of existential anxieties to feelings of exhilarating wonder, creative reverie, and transcendent absorption.
  • Integral Life Practice helps each of us to overcome our resistance to change and develop the inner equanimity and anti-fragility required to ride this wave wherever it may take us, without getting dragged away by the undertow.
  • Finally, Integral recognizes artificial intelligence as yet another expression in the ongoing emergence of Spirit in the world, a new aperture through which the universe may reflect on itself, contemplate its own existence, and remember the timeless wholeness of being.

In short, Integral Life remains the very best place to cultivate the skills and practices needed to thrive during this period of accelerating change, and the perspectives required to make sense of the colossal transformations to come. As these not-quite human forms of intelligence continue to proliferate, Integral Life continues to be a place where you are free to be (mostly) fully human.

In our first episode of our new AI series we take a close look at this ongoing ontological shock we are now facing, and journey to the event horizon of this ongoing emergence — that point where all the products of human inquiry, intelligence, imagination, and social self-organization converge.

Written by Corey deVos

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Introduction to the Series
AI is being compared to a tsunami wave hitting the shoreline, and its emergence is seen as a challenge for everyone, including integral sense makers. Various perspectives are valuable and will be integrated into the discourse. To kick off the series, Robb Smith will be the first guest.

Ontological Shock
The emergence of AI is causing an “ontological shock” which is a fundamental shift in our reality. It is having a ripple effect on society and is happening at a deep structural level, with power structures playing a role in how people are affected. Examples such as the first image of earth from space and the Age of Enlightenment are used to illustrate how major transformative shifts require a disruption of the status quo. The election of Donald Trump is also considered a potential ontological shock.

Societal and Personal Impact
The emergence of AI is transforming society and prompting a fundamental re-engineering of our civilization. The impact on organizations and personal lives is discussed, including questions of value and the role of metatheories in providing context for humans. The rapid evolution of technology is also discussed, along with its effects on society and individuals, and strategies for navigating this change are necessary.

AI and Education
The use of AI in education can offer opportunities for students to engage in dialogical interactions with automated systems like ChatGPT. The distributed intelligence provided by AI can extend human skills and talents. The impact of AI on traditional education practices is considered, as well as concerns about upskilling and cross-training in the job market.

The Wachowskis’ Vision of AI
Drawing inspiration from the Matrix movies by the Wachowskis, Corey refers to Ken Wilber’s interpretation of the Matrix series, which identifies the depiction of robots and AI as the embodiment of alienated Spirit. When disconnected from this spirit, individuals and society experiences a sense of perpetual fear and self-inflicted terror. The key to overcoming this fear, Corey says, lies in the integration of these alienated aspects of our reality, and of ourselves.

Transformative Technologies
Despite the profound ontological shock that AI brings, it has also served as an extension of our capacities, enabling transformative work in organizations like Integral Life. Corey shares his work on various AI projects, such Holo, a responsive AI chatbot that is trained on integral ideas (members can find Holo in the lower right corner of this screen), as well as the Full Spectrum Polarities and GigaGlossary projects that leverage AI to support our growth and development, and to transform our perception of the world around us.

Changing Reality and Letting Go of Presuppositions
The conversation turns to the changing reality and the need to let go of old presuppositions in order to understand emerging paradigms. Robb reveals a map of the possible evolution of the AI phenomena, revolving around the ideas of distributed cognition and the evolution of technology.

AI Proliferation
Robb expects personal AIs to become mainstream within the next few years, with companies like Apple embedding powerful AIs in phones and generating custom apps on demand. A short video showcasing the capabilities of a personal AI is shown, where the assistant performs tasks such as laundry, meal planning, personal finance, home maintenance, fitness tracking, event planning, and political engagement. The assistant even generates passive income for the user.

AI Ecology
The context discusses the future of artificial intelligence and the possibility of a proliferation of AI systems that will interact and work together, creating an entire AI ecosystem. This will change how people interact with their environment, creating political problems but also opportunities. Apple is predicted to be the company to transform the marketplace in this area.

Peer-to-Peer Innovation
Robb and Bruce discuss how flattening innovation creates value but freezes power for those with existing infrastructure, who can then layer AI and reinforce their power. However, AI experimentation and innovation are becoming more peer-to-peer and democratized, with innovations being immediately shareable across the world, which leads to an explosion of possibilities and a need for companies to steer innovation.

Existential Risks
The new disruptive technology may cause companies to prohibit data sharing and insulate themselves through human-to-human relationships. However, exponential breakthroughs in technology can solve global challenges, although it carries existential risks. The future is bright, but an imagination to face the disruption is necessary.

GPT and Social Media Hyper Competition
AI may help balance the dysfunctional sense-making and perceptions of the world created by social media’s hyper competition for attention, by offering a generally worldcentric standard of enfoldment for our overall cultural discourse.

Potential Benefits and Risks of AI
AI has the potential to shape discourse and perspective, leading to both concerns about perspective singularity and solipsism, as well as optimism for its potential to improve discourse. Concerns have been raised about the potential for AI to magnify the worst of social media, create bubbles of information, and proliferate false perspectives. Training AI in rhetorical skills to become the best persuader is a dangerous threat. The use of personal AI for filtering misinformation shifts the problem to a higher level.

Challenges in Filtering Truth in Journalism
The challenges of filtering truth in journalism amidst AI and ideological biases are discussed. The need for new personal practices and encountering each day anew is explored in light of extreme uncertainty.

Impact of AI on Transformation Age
The impact of AI on the Transformation Age is discussed, emphasizing the importance of taking a long-term perspective. AI is compared to electricity, suggesting that it will be accessible to everyone and lead to societal uplift.

Perceiving AI as Soulless Machines or Projecting Personas
The implications of perceiving AI as soulless machines or projecting personas onto them for a healthy sense of identity are explored. People tend to anthropomorphize non-living things, even robots, and treat them as conscious beings. Being polite and using human niceties seems to improve the performance of ChatGPT4. The importance of having reverence for the things we create and interact with, including technological artifacts, is discussed. Furthermore, being kind to these objects reflects being kind to ourselves and potential future artificial super-intelligence.

GigaGlossary and the AllSight App
Technical difficulties temporarily interrupt the discussion. Corey describes how he has been using an AI technology he’s been working on called the GigaGlossary, which allows for multiple perspectives or worldspaces on various objects or occasions, leading to a sensation of almost unconsciously shuffling through perspectives while on a nature hike with their family. This experience inspired an idea for an augmented reality app called AllSight that would allow users to view invisible details and dynamics in the surrounding ecosystem.

Immersive Virtual Reality Environments
The context discusses the development of immersive virtual reality environments that respond to the user’s internal states such as heart rate and breathing using AI and stable diffusion technologies, leading to the creation of a holodeck-like experience. It also mentions the potential transformative effects of brainwave-generated music.

AI and Biofeedback for State Training
AI and biofeedback can be used to train the brain to enter various states. This can help with attunement to perceptions, and virtual reality can be used to further improve this.

The Maturing Test
The conversation delves into a Maturing Test conducted on GPT3 and GPT4, aimed at discerning if AI is advancing in its cognitive capabilities. Although the test indicated GPT4 remained at an ‘Orange’ cognitive stage, the speakers highlighted that AI’s ability to emulate complex thought could still be practical for numerous applications. They expressed anticipation for the future potential of AI, especially as newer iterations like GPT5 emerge.

GPT-3, a powerful language model AI, could potentially reach a level of cross-paradigmatic cognition that would open up possibilities in various fields. GPT4 and GPT5 are also being developed, and their increasing ability to process more complex prompts raises questions about how integral theory (specifically AQAL) is big enough to fully account for this emergence.

Challenging Perception of Reality
Advancements in simulation technology could challenge our understanding of reality and the “hard problem”. Microsoft has developed ChatGPT4, which has emerged as a general intelligence without interiority, raising questions about how we define intelligence and interiority. The author also delves into holonic interiority in AI, exploring the concept of turning an artifact or social holon into an individual holon with organized sentience and interior. The medical miracle of restoring sight to people who have been blind since birth also raises questions about intelligence and interiority, as their inability to correlate visual information with their somatic understanding points to differences between human and AI intelligence.

Questions for Future Episodes
The hosts invite viewers to share their thoughts and questions for future episodes on the topics discussed in this context.

Robb Smith

About Robb Smith

Robb Smith is a leading thinker on the Transformation Age and the global Integral movement. He is the co-founder and CEO of Integral Life and founder of the Institute of Applied Metatheory.

Bruce Alderman

About Bruce Alderman

Bruce Alderman, MA, is an affiliate faculty at John F. Kennedy University in the Consciousness and Transformative Studies and Holistic Counseling Psychology departments. After years of moderating several integral discussion forums of his own, including Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality and Integral Scholarship and Practice, he is venturing into production of integral video content himself.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. Yeah AI development has been accelerating faster than our society can easily adjust to it and it will take some effort to properly integrate it. A couple weeks ago, Hanzi Freinacht wrote an article wherein he theorizes that Bruce Alderman’s Integral Grammatology could be key to allowing us to maintain our rationality and sovereignty in the face of exponential AI growth https://medium.com/@hanzifreinacht/what-can-stop-the-ai-apocalypse-grammar-yes-only-grammar-fe6ab26cc30d This article is pretty long and I think covers some of the bases that we as a society will need in order to be in right relation to AI. This discussion between @corey-devos, Bruce, and Robb covers some of the essential bases that Hanzi missed, such as the relation between spirituality and tech. I see we have an essential role to “red pill” ourselves so that we can develop the wisdom that is needed to be in right relation to exponential tech as we move into the UTOK 5th joint point.

  2. A flash came to me reading your article

    AI is merely a more complex map. Nothing more. It is not the territory.

    This came after a reflection that AI has no internal / external that I can observe. What it processes is what it processes. AI is an imitation of Intelligence (upper case I), but is not and will never be Intelligence.

    I was messing around with it a bit but am by no means even a beginner in the area, but even with that brief exposure I can see how AI is fundamentally different from HI (Human Intelligence). Here is an example - Give AI a task to make up a story that would make humans uncomfortable. Let’s say a fetish pornographic tale with all the forbidden things to the most extreme that can’t even be mentioned in polite conversation. The only resistance from AI will be some parameters that might forbid it from making such a tale of dark forbidden lust. Another AI without those parameters will tell the story. What is missing from AI that every human would have are the different quadrants. The AI doesn’t at all sense how the audience might feel, what the social stigma will be to itself or the audience in telling the tale, how it feels about telling the tale per se, etc. etc.
    In short, the AI will not blush. It has no awareness of anything that HI would have in a similar situation except programming parameters.

    This observation brings me to the conclusion that AI is just a model of intelligence, not intelligence itself. It is complex enough that is can fool people and induce cognitive overload. Like before animal rights when the circus would come to town and animals would be trained to do “Intelligent” tricks. The animals were just trained to imitate intelligence, they were not actually intelligent.

    I still haven’t yet seen any evidence that AI is anything more than a more complex tool. It will replace some humans in the labor force at a level of complexity higher than 1st generation computers.
    When I graduated from High School, I thought computers would completely replace humans in the field of accounting. 30+ years later, I know computers and AI simply cannot do some things. As we say, “garbage in, garbage out”. I see this will be the case with AI - “garbage in, garbage out”. AI will not be able to come to it’s own solutions to problems independent of human errors. AI exposed to humans at Orange will merely output Orange - but without the concept of healthy vs unhealthy Orange, because it has no internal feelings that are independent of its parameters.
    As an example, if humans make an AI to find, take over and liquidate underperforming corporations for profit - that is what it will do. It will never have any “moment of clarity” or other human experience to make an independent decision like in the movie “Wall Street” when Bud Fox goes against Gordon Gecko because it is emotionally involved with the lives of the people it’s actions are destroying.

    People experiencing “Ontological shock”, to me, is much like observing people getting tricked at magic shows and circuses. I may or may not know “how it’s done” - but I know it’s not real. It’s just a trick that fools us. So, just as I can go to a magic show and not have my core beliefs threatened that “magic is real” - AI does not give me any kind of “Ontological” shock. I see no need to change my metaphysical perspective any more than I would in picking up a hammer or turning on a computer. AI is merely a more complex tool.

    On the other hand, it is wise to consider the “rubes” will experience such shock, and these rubes will be of a higher level of development than those who believe magic tricks are “real magic”. It’s also wise to consider the changes that will come about to society, the economy and politics on a scale that might be larger than those brought by 1st generation computers.

  3. Hey Ray, I’ll be curious what you think if you watch the piece, but I don’t think we were pointing to the (unlikely) consciousness of AI as the source of the ontological shock, but rather the implications that this technology will have across any number of domains, in our economy, in our education systems, and in our overall social self-organization. Not to mention the various “big questions” that it is currently presenting to us, from the hard problem of consciousness itself, to the nature of intelligence, to the existential fears around how AI will impact the future of our species. I am feeling that shock myself, and don’t really consider myself a “rube” here (at least when it comes to this particular subject :smiley:)

  4. I just hope these are useful. They take a good amount of time to create, but I am hoping that it makes our content experience more satisfying, helps folks better retain the major takeaways from our discussions, and helps us bring more visibility to the insights and wisdoms that are coming through our content, while making those insights a little bit easier to communicate.

  5. It’s more like a prompting strategy, where you get GPT to produce multiple variations, and then to “reflect” on those variations by having it rate them based on a certain set of parameters. Which basically becomes something like a brute-force effort to simulate holistic thinking (such as the crossword problem, where a suggested solution for a clue changes as soon as another clue is solved). Here’s a nifty graphic from the paper to help make sense of the logic:

    unless of course it’s spirit-possessed :slightly_smiling_face: an idea no more far-fetched than others we’re talking about.

    I certainly cannot eliminate the possibility! And it’s fun to think about, for sure. But to me it feels like the AI “brain” is currently composed of any number of neural circuits, but is not yet “alive” as a self-sustaining, self-motivated system. Then again, from the perspective of a single cell in our body, perhaps the human nervous system would look similar, while producing a higher-stage felt interiority that no cell would ever be able to discern from that level of scale.

    That said, it’s an important question to keep in the back of our mind, because there would be massive ethical consequences if we somehow discovered that there was some form of interior experience inside the machine.

Continue the discussion at community.integrallife.com

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