Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The internet and other networks as a non-human valuer- can this attribute intrinsic worth?


Rolston's intrinsic value-holder view (non human valuers that can be harmed or benefitted) in relation to the internet isolating “damage” and working around it- adapting to a changing environment to benefit itself.
Does the internet/networks have intrinsic value? Can it defend itself against damage in ways that make sense to consider as holding value?
Does the internet/network value anything instrumentally?

Crazy rant/master's thesis? (ha ha):

The demarcation between human and non-human valuers- specifically, how we can discuss a non-human valuer in terms not of consciousness or awareness, but instead under a notion of non-anthropogenic intrinsic value- has led me to a somewhat startling conclusion. Before I fully support my view, I will attempt to discuss the meaning of intrinsic vs instrumental value, the relationship between these concepts, and the extension tentatively to non-human beholders of these values. I will draw heavily from Holmes-Ralston's piece “Value in Nature and the Nature of Value” and than extend his views to see whether the internet could be considered a non-living organism capable of value-judgement and, thus, intrinsic value.
Intrinsic value was fully developed under the Kantian ethics, which I ill only outline as briefly as possible and recommend that my reader will go learn of this in more detail himself. In essence, it defines intrinsic value as the sense something beholds about itself- terrible english there, but wait. If an individual can conceive of themselves as being harmed in someway, and if the individual can also conceive of themselves as a self in this nature they are granted intrinsic value. “Granted” is a sloppy use, as intrinsic value cannot be granted or removed- it is inherent, irreducible and irrevocable. The easiest form of the Categorical Imperative made use of this idea elegantly- Only treat beings as ends in themselves, never as an ends to a means. Intrinsic value grants some rights to the bearer, and these rights are simply rights of existence and interests. Instrumental value, on the other hand, is the value attributed to something being used as an ends to a means- for example, a hammer pounding in a nail. I am not hurting the hammer by using it in this way, and in fact it would be meaningless to say that I could hurt it. Not because it has no feelings, mind, but because it exists only for this purpose (a human hammering nails into things) and I would be thoroughly meaningless to say I should use it for purposes of its own interests. This is where you should go read Kant now. I'll wait.

Back already? Good. Instrumental value does not presuppose that the value-ee is unconscious, as someone can hold both instrumental and intrinsic value. A student in a classroom pays the bills of the teacher, but also has value in of themselves both in and out of the classroom. In addition, the student holds the teacher to have instrumental value, for obvious reasons. This is where Rolston's view can be applied. There is a relationship between the intrinsic value-holders and the instrumental value they are gaining. Both of our valuers- the student and the teacher- have goals toward which they apply the instrumental value of each other (but not only went and read Kant when I told you to, right?). This use of instrumentality (no, not Evangelion. Go back to your hole. I'll write a piece on that later) presupposes that the valuer holds an intrinsic value. How? Because when you use something as an ends to your means, you have means...a purpose. A sense of intrinsic value which drives you to seek fulfillment of those desires to better yourself. To value something as useful requires an end towards which it is useful. Non-human entities can hold these values as well- animals seeking food, as an example. Rolston used this argument to extend the boundaries of non anthropocentric (human based) or anthropogenic (originating from humans) value to animals, plants, ecosystems. A holder of value must also defend its values in order to fall into the category of intrinsic value- ie, a tree is benefitted by water, and in times of drought will send roots out to seek water needed to sustain the life it holds. The defense of value proves that the organism has interests (which do not have to presuppose consciousness) and will use things instrumentally to defend themselves and their intrinsic value. Whoosh.
So, instrumental valuing requires a valuer. Conscious or not, the valuer should value things instrumentally to further the reductionist intrinsic value. How does network appear to do this?
Quickly, I am going to define the way in which networkers use the word intrinsic. From what I can determine, it is a network separate from any other input- the network in-of-itself. This is a similar definition to intrinsic moral worth but should not be used interchangeably. Someone correct me on my definition, please, because this was a 2 minute google definition as opposed to a fundamental understaning.

Asides...aside, how does a network (and specifically, the internet) exhibit behaviour that appears to grant it intrinsic worth? There has been talk of the internet as acting like a living organism- it appears to recognize damage, isolate it and work around the damage until that section “dies”. This is not a sufficient condition for life, however, so this tendency is best left to the hand wavers and proponents of AI (of which I am both, but will never claim is a rational argument. If wishes were terabytes, etc). In fact, this tendency is not even a cogent argument for consciousness, as the mechanics of this damage-reduction originates from conscious beings acting intentionally- and the whole is not primarly the sum of its parts... however much that would do for any number of undergrad's arguments. So the network has no conscious mind to defend value with. However, it can be given abilities to defend itself against harm that, one started, act with little to no interference from the initial ... watchmaker (as it were). Virus HK programs are the obvious example in this case, as are firewalls. So, the network mechanicalistically protects itself from harm, and uses a variety of defenses to this end. Harm? How can it be harmed if it cannot be benefited? All things containing nothing but instrumental value cannot be harmed or benefited, they simply are. It would be nonsense to speak of a chair being harmed, because there is nothing that is good for the chair. It cannot protect the interests of itself. But a network...there is benefit and harm for a network, independent of the instrumental value attributed to it by the human valuers ( in the same way of a tree)- though it has no wants exactly, it has a state of good and a state of harmed (good, of course not being conventional moral sense, but almost). It avoids damage, adapts to a changing environment to ensure the health of its constituent parts, seems to flourish whether a human is taking part or is not. Is this true? It looks like humans have to participate for the internet to have any moral worth. However, humans are the environment in which it operates. A tree removed from soil, air, sunlight and all the other parts of the forest would be a dead stagnant thing as well. A human removed has consciousness, and as such cannot be physically divorced from their own sense of moral worth- take that consciousness away and you have...the internet without individuals. A dead, stagnant thing without change or reaction, goals or desires.
But a valuer with intrinsic worth (and, hopefully, you see that is redundant) needs to value things instrumentally. What does the network value? To put is less anthropomorphically, what does the network defend and preserve, and what does it attribute negative value to by rejecting and isolating?it needs input, as we see, the same way a tree needs water and a human needs consciousness. The tree's value of water (to further the means of life and growth) as well as a human's value of consciousness (which provides the human with intrinsic moral worth) are seemingly sufficient conditions for value. The network rejects attacks that undermine its infrastructure and avoids them with tools it was given. It can use these tools only in proscribed ways, however. It lacks creativity. This does not remove the intrinsic value of the network, only the possibility of consciousness (for now. The future remains to be seen, of course) since the network utilises what it has to preserve its own existence. Humans, in this view, may be purely instrumental to the internet, as it cannot recognise intrinsic worth!

Cool, huh?


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