Nick Bostrom (2004)

Larry King: With me tonight is a very special guest. One year ago, Albert was a golden retriever dog much like any other. Then he was uploaded to a computer, and now he has been given a set of remarkable cognitive enhancements that enable him to reason and speak. Thanks for joining us, Albert.

Albert: I’m so excited to be here! So many people watching out there… Thanks for having me on your show, Larry!

Larry King: It is my privilege. You have become an overnight celebrity and your time, I understand, is in great demand. Everyone wants to talk to you.

Albert: It’s amazing. There are so many friendly people. I wish I could get to know everybody personally.

Larry King: Tell me, how did it feel when you first woke up after the enhancements had been installed.

Albert: It actually happened in stages. You see they had to tweak the upgrades before they started to really work – that took a couple of months, I’m told – and then I had to start learning. The upgrades gave me the capacity to learn, but at that point I was still an empty dinner bowl. Like a newborn with a fully matured brain but without any knowledge stored in it. So they started me on an intensive training program, and I was learning language and all sorts of things. This has lasted only a month on your time, but since I was running on a very fast computer cluster, it was the equivalent of over ten years of my subjective time. They used to say that a dog year is seven human years, but at that rate a dog year would be more like, eh, let’s see, I guess about a hundred and fifty human years – I’m not very good at arithmetic!

Larry King. So in subjective terms, you have had your upgrades for about ten years?

Albert. That’s right.

Larry King: What was the training program like?

Albert: Oh, it was lots of fun! Much of the time I was doing recorded exercise tapes, which to be honest were a little bit boring sometime – that was the doggy part as they say. But I would also get personal coaching where they would have a large room full of teachers who would ask me questions and work with me. These people were so nice, and I got to know them all quite well. Since my subjective time was so much faster than theirs, I had several dozens of private tutors at any one time. How’s that for a teacher-to-student ratio!

Larry King: What did you learn beside English?

Albert: Oh, the usual things that kids learn in school. Lots of other things too – I started at a pre-Kindergarten level you know. I didn’t know anything at the start. But I didn’t study all the time!

Larry King: Did you ever feel isolated?

Albert: Well, sometimes when I wanted to simply spend time with my friends, they would slow down my clock speed so that my subjective time would be the same as theirs. This is what I really like. You can’t really just hang out with someone when you have to wait several minutes for their replies, so I would have them slow me down. And this is not very nice of me because the cluster costs them something like forty thousand dollars an hour. I would take these long play breaks every day, wasting their valuable computer time! But Dr. Cole is such a wonderful, fine person, the best scientist in the world, and such a great friend; he would never complain.

Another of my sins is that once I had learnt a trick, I would just want to keep doing it. I just wouldn’t let go, because I felt that I had accomplished something. They would have to cajole me to embark (em-BARK!) on a new challenge. Poor Dr. Cole!

Larry King: There are some who say that you are not really conscious and that you don’t have a soul. What do you say to those people?

Albert: Well, it certainly seems to me as if I’m conscious! You mean seeing color and feeling happy and feeling tired – yes, I can vouch for all of that. But I guess they would say it is just a computer saying these things. How can I show them that I’m conscious when I can’t take them inside my mind and let them see things from my perspective?

Larry King: Do you feel insulted when people say these things?

Albert: A little. I trust them when they say they are conscious, so why should they not trust me?

Larry King: Do you think of yourself as human?

Albert: In some ways yes, in some ways no. I mean, I’m a dog. I still have memories of my life before the uplift – although they are rather vague, they are still a part of me. On the other hand, cognitively I’m much more like a human than an ordinary dog.

Larry King: You are a unique kind of being.

Albert: Thanks. So are you, Larry.

Larry King: I was going to ask you about identity. Do you feel you are the same person now as you were before the uplift?

Albert: All I can say is that I remember some of the things before the uplift, and I think emotionally too I am in some respect the same as I was then. But I have changed so much. I tend not to think too much about personal identity because it's all so confusing!

Larry King: You are the first animal that has been uplifted to a human-level. Do you hope that the researchers will uplift another animal so that you will have a companion?

Albert: So long as it is not a cat! Just kidding, some of my best friends are cats. But seriously, I think it would be great if there were more uplifted animals around. And there will probably be some soon – they are working on several apes at the moment. But I’m also well aware that there are some serious issues here.

Larry King: You mean something could go wrong?

Albert: The reason Dr. Cole picked a golden retriever for the first full-scale experiment is that we tend to be a friendly bunch. This was one of their precautions. Another precaution is that they only let me develop to a human-level. But they think it is possible to go much further – the same kinds of cognitive enhancement that I got, well, if they had given me more of them… who knows what might have happened? Intelligence is the most dangerous thing in the universe. So it is very important that this is done carefully, in small incremental steps. When I beat Dr. Cole at chess, he was worried that he had gone too far and was considering shutting down the whole cluster! Dr. Cole is a very strong player and once won a statewide championship. What had happened was that one of the research assistants had talked me into playing a practical joke on the maestro and had given me access to a computer chess program. Luckily, he spilled the beans before it was too late. I felt so bad afterwards!

Larry King: If Dr. Cole had shut down the computer cluster, you would have been killed?

Albert: Well, there would have been a backup, but what I’m saying is that there are dimensions to what we are doing here that I don’t understand, that nobody really understands. It would be nice to uplift more animals, but the first and most important requirement is that we proceed carefully. I’m so glad that Dr. Cole is heading this effort because not only is he a great scientist but he is also very conscientious and humble about the limitations of our current knowledge. But as you know, there are other efforts underway in other countries, and although we have some lead-time, eventually somebody else will do it if we don’t. That’s why the President has decided that the U.S. must be the first country to develop these new forms of enhanced intelligence. So there is a great deal of pressure on Dr. Cole to move to the next level.

Larry King: This is fascinating. We’ll be right back after this message from our sponsors. Don’t go away!


Larry King: We’re back – with us is Albert, the dog who has been uplifted to a human-level. Albert, what do you think when you see an advertisement for dog food like the one that was just shown?

Albert: I think, “I’d like some of that!”

Larry King: As an upload – I mean the pictures we see of you are computer-generated, you don’t have a real body – do you miss eating real food?

Albert: Larry, I appreciate a softball question. In a word, ABSO-TOTALLY-LUTELY-WOOF-YES. In the beginning it was almost unbearable. Then they fixed my hypothalamus so I don’t feel hunger, which helped a bit. But I still get nostalgic when I think about Purina Puppy Chow. And before you ask the next question, I was neutered as a puppy so that has not been an issue for me.

Larry King: Considering what you have had to give up, has it been worth it?

Albert: I’m so grateful for the opportunity I have been given. And you know what, one of these days they will probably try to give me back my sense of taste and smell, which would be great.

Larry King: Do you worry about the future?

Albert: I trust Dr. Cole. He has a lot of pressure on him, but I know that he would never do anything that was harmful to me or without my consent. When we experiment, we always make frequent backup copies, and if anything appears not be quite right, we just reverse the most recent changes and start over.

Larry King: You are never afraid?

Albert: I have a set of emergency buttons that I could press at any time, including one that blocks fear and anxiety attacks. Luckily, I haven’t had to use it but it is always good to know that the option exists.

Larry King: What are your plans for the future?

Albert: I take one day at a time. I enjoy learning new things, playing games and talking with my friends. I just love being alive and savoring every new experience. It is so exciting and so much fun! I love it all so much, I wish it will never end!

Larry King: Do you even wonder about how you came to be so lucky?

Albert: Yes, I once asked Dr. Cole about that, and he said there was no scientific answer. Then I asked if there was an unscientific answer? And he said: “Well, there will be if you make one up”.

So then I went away and thought about that for while. I thought about Laika, the unlucky dog that they sent up into space, and all the other dogs that never became famous. I thought about the rabbits in the animal labs, the pet rabbits, and the rabbits in the wild. Then I thought about the foxes that ate the rabbits and the hounds that hunted the foxes. Then I thought about all the humans, and how some had been kings and some had been slaves; how some had had families and loved ones, and how some had died alone in the cold. And again I asked myself, how come I had been a lucky one? But I couldn’t think of any answer. Not even an unscientific one.

Larry King: (pause) Do feel that you have a mission?

Albert: I want everyone to be the lucky one.

Larry King: We’ll be right back. Don’t go away!


Larry King: I’m here with Albert, the uplifted Golden Retriever. Albert, you were created as part of an experiment. I mean, you existed before, but you were given the cognitive enhancements as part of a research project. Do you ever feel that you are being used?

Albert: I started out as just an ordinary dog, an orphan in fact. Of course at that stage I didn’t have a choice and I didn’t have the capacity to choose. You could say that they used me, but they took good care of me and they didn’t cause me any suffering.

As my mind began to grow, they increasingly involved me in what they were doing. They asked if I was ok with what they were planning to do, and I was happy to go along with it. Now Dr. Cole has given me an absolute veto right over any experiment, and he insists that everybody recognize me as a person with the same rights as a human being. Fancy that! Last week he almost fired one of the new research assistants because she used the pronoun “it” to refer to me. I pleaded with Dr. Cole and she got to keep her job, and now we are best friends. She is such a nice person once you get to know her; I really like her very much.

So no, I don’t feel like I’m being used, but I do hope that I can be useful to someone. That’s not a bad thing, is it?

Larry King: You are a kind person.

Albert: But it’s so easy when one is surrounded by wonderful friends who bring out the best in one!

Larry King: So you have no resentments?

Albert:  Not really, no. Er, well, I do have one actually: my name. They named me Albert after Albert Einstein! It is so embarrassing. Why couldn’t they have chosen a proper name – like Fido, or Caro or something?

Larry King: Do you have any enemies?

Albert: Not among the people who know me, I don’t think. You read about some of those things they write in the newspapers, and there are a few people who write mean stuff, but I believe – and maybe I’m naïve, but I believe that these people who say those nasty things, they are afraid of me. I mean, not of me personally as I am now, but afraid of what they think I represent. They are afraid about what might happen next. Many people are very, very afraid. I sympathize with them, not just because it is a natural emotion, but because I actually think that they are half right.

Larry King: What half are they right about?

Albert: Look, they’ve taken a dog and made him human. It’s not going to stop there. The next step will be to make somebody – I don’t know whether that will be me or not – but somebody will be smarter than any human has ever been. This is uncharted territory. Hopefully it will all turn out great.

Larry King: What do you see as the greatest danger?

Albert: I wish Dr. Cole were here to answer that because he has thought a great deal about that question – it’s on his conscience constantly. But he has concluded that under the present circumstances, it is safer if the transition is made in his laboratory under his supervision than in one of the labs abroad. The only sensible course of action now, he says, is to proceed as slowly and carefully as possible while ensuring that we keep the lead over the rival labs. That hasn’t stopped him worrying though.

Larry King: Is Dr. Cole a father figure for you?

Albert: We are very close. Yes, he is like a father to me. In fact, he is probably closer to me than a lot of fathers are to their sons. As my mind has grown a bit, he says that I should start to think of him more as a friend and an equal. Well, it is very obvious that I am not my master’s intellectual equal! He says that if they install the new upgrades, I may surpass him. But he will always be a father to me and I wouldn’t want any upgrades if I could no longer be his puppy. He says that sons do surpass their fathers and that this doesn’t mean that the relationship ends, it just takes a different form.

Larry King: Who took the decision that you should come on this show tonight?

Albert: All major decisions are taken by the management board. I’ve been talking a lot about Dr. Cole, but it’s important to understand that this is a team effort. There are hundreds of scientists working on the project. The management board in turn answers to a bipartisan committee, which also includes representatives from the Administration and the Pentagon. This committee reached a decision that the project should go public, and as part of that I was asked if I would be willing to do some live interviews. Here I am!

Larry King: Why did they decide to go public?

Albert: Well, let me first say that I’m speaking only in a personal capacity. I’m certainly not an expert on the policy dimension. But I was told that I could talk openly about anything I wish, so long as I don’t reveal any technological secrets. In my view, the public has a right to know about this project. There has been so much talk about this in the media, and a lot of misinformation, so I guess our political masters felt that they needed to clear things up.

Larry King: There have been some strong public reactions. Dr. Cole has been compared to Frankenstein.

Albert: Exactly. Dr. Frankenstein worked in secret, and the results were not good. Now, I can understand why people who disagree with the project would make the Frankenstein analogy – to these people the whole thing smells like rotten fish! I wish they knew the personal integrity of Dr. Cole and the extreme efforts that the whole team is making to avoid creating a monster.

Larry King: Are you worried that people will reject you?

Albert: I trust that people will make the right decision. Obviously I have a personal stake in the continuation of the project. If they do shut it down, I hope that they would at least let me continue to exist in my current form. I tend to take one day at a time and not worry too much about the future, but I think it would be a terrible mistake to stop at this point, especially when there are those other labs out there going ahead anyway, probably with much less concern for safety than we have here.

Larry King: When we get back, Albert will be taking questions from callers.


Caller 1: Do you believe in God?

Albert: I’m drawn to polytheism, the view that there are many gods. Maybe it's like radio stations – there are many of them in the air but you can’t perceive them unless you have the right equipment. Some people perceive God, but others have their receiver tuned to a different wavelength and claim to perceive a different God.

Caller 1: It says in the Bible: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Are you not afraid that you will go to Hell?

Albert: I think we must follow our conscience and try to be as honest with ourselves as we can. But look, I’m only a dog, I’m a bit out of my depth here!

Caller 2: I really like Mr. Albert, but I think he is too trusting. The Government will just use him to get what it wants.

Albert: You might be right, but I think the default is that you start out trusting, and then if you are betrayed you become more cynical. I’ve been raised in a protected environment. I’m surrounded by super-nice people, and everybody is taking such good care of me. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just be friends?

Caller 3: I’m from the Upload Alliance, which advocates the right for all humans to upload. What do you think of the current ban on human uploading that deprives adult men and women of the right to decide for themselves whether they want to upload?

Albert: I could hardly object to that, being an upload myself! Now as you know, there are safety issues – the technology of uploading is still new. Then there is the fact that you have to be deanimated before you can do it. It is also extremely expensive, so right now very few people would be able to afford it and they would basically have to kill themselves before the procedure could be done. Uploading is still more a scientific experiment than a therapeutic technique. Now, all of that makes some degree of sense, but it is something that will change as soon as the technology is perfected.

Caller 3: Well, I’m glad you say that. But in Europe they are debating a resolution that would declare uploading to be against human dignity, and a similar motion is being put before the UN. I’m scared, I’m really scared that they will ban this stuff so that we never get to use it. The whole concept of “human dignity”, which they think they can impose on everyone who doesn’t share their views, it is a complete sham, it is an outrage –

Larry King: Ok, I think we get the question. Do you want to respond to that?

Albert: It’s not for me to make human policy. Perhaps these policies will be reconsidered when the practical circumstances change… If I may allow myself one observation – and this is just a subjective impression – but sometimes I get the feeling that there is more to it than simply a concern about the medical risks. Is it possible that humanity is sending a dog forth because they don’t trust a fellow human? And is it possible that they have good reason not to?

Caller 4: What would you do if you became superintelligent?

Albert: This is the crux of it all. If you had asked me when I was an ordinary dog what I would do if I became human-level intelligent, my answer would have been something like: “I want to drive a scooter around and urinate on every tree in town.” I’m happy to say that it didn’t work out that way… But if you now ask me what I would do if I became superintelligent, well, we’ve first got to ask why the tree-urination scenario didn’t come true. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is Dr. Cole and his team, who had other things in mind for me, and part of the reason is perhaps that deep down inside even a typical dog has loftier goals than territorial marking. Now, I certainly like to think that my highest goal is to do my duty, to offer help to those in need, and to be loyal to my friends and masters. These are also the values that the team is trying to help cultivate in me, so we are working towards the same goal. If we are successful – and believe me, we are doing our best – these will be the values that would determine my conduct. I try to be a good doggie on whatever scale I exist.

Caller 5: We have six dogs and fourteen cats and one chipmunk that we have adopted from an animal shelter. We try to give them a good home and we love them all. My question to you, Mr. Albert, is what is your view on animal rights and what do you think of people who buy a cat for the summer and then set her out on the street when they get bored of her?

Albert: People who acquire an animal companion must accept responsibility for its welfare. You are doing something noble and laudable by providing a loving home for these creatures whose original owners failed them. Of course, it is also possible that the animals might have run away and got lost.

Animals are very vulnerable to human exploitation and mistreatment. I’m working with several organizations to promote better living conditions for the animals in our “meat factories”. I’m not sure that killing and eating animals is wrong in itself, but I strongly feel that many cows, chickens, and pigs are not being given a fair deal. It would be less unfair if we could say, ok, at the end of your natural lifespan, we’re going to kill you painlessly and eat you, and in return we will make sure that you will have a rich, happy, healthy life until then. Farm animals have social needs; they need space to move around. If these needs are frustrated, the animals suffer.

Animal research poses a difficult moral problem. I reluctantly admit that some experiments that cause suffering in animals may be necessary, but every possible measure should be taken to reduce this suffering and to reduce the number of the animals involved. There should be more research on how pain and suffering can be minimized in lab animals.

Finally, we must not forget that most animals live in the wild, which is not exactly a walk in the park. Many humans look at nature from an aesthetic perspective and think in terms of biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, but forget that the animals that inhabit these ecosystems are individuals and have their own needs. Disease, starvation, predation, ostracism, and sexual frustration are endemic in so-called healthy ecosystems. The great taboo in the animal rights movement is that most suffering is due to natural causes. Any proposal for remedying this situation is bound to sound utopian, but my dream is that one day the sun will rise on Earth and all sentient creatures will greet the new day with joy.

Larry King: Albert, thank you very much for coming on the show. I think a lot of our viewers will join me in wishing you the best of luck on your future adventures. – Tomorrow, I will be joined by Dr. Phil who will explain how you can catapult your life into the success zone. See you tomorrow night, good night.