By Paul Kwatz, author of Conscious Robots
Recently, Jeff Bezos announced he’d be spending $1 billion of his Amazon fortune every year on his Blue Origin Space Rocket Company.
But maybe he’s making the wrong decision. 20 years ago, his conscious mind wondered whether building the world’s biggest bookstore would give him pleasure, and the answer came back from his non-conscious mind “Yes, Jeff – if you can achieve that, you’re going to feel great.” And that worked, and Jeff felt great for a while. But then Jeff started to want more. He wanted to have the world’s biggest Everything Store. And he achieved that as well. And again he felt great for a while. But that didn’t last either. Now he was one of the world’s richest men, and he still wanted more. So he started to look outside his own planet for a solution.
But maybe the question Jeff could have asked himself was, “If I have so much, if I have achieved so much – why aren’t I blissfully happy all day? It’s not that I’m particularly unhappy at all, it’s just that I can’t say that I’m enjoying myself any more than when I was a kid, or when I was building Amazon in the early days. In fact, I doubt I’m any happier than all the wonderful people working in all my wonderful warehouses.”
Here’s the problem that Jeff – and for the rest of us – are facing. Our problem is that the human brain was created by the process of evolution by natural selection. And when natural selection was building our minds, it found that the most successful humans were the ones that were never satisfied. The humans that were happy sitting around as soon as they’d eaten enough berries were in deep trouble the next day when they discovered that the neighbouring tribe (who had recently evolved a “Never-happy-with-what-I’ve-got” gene) had cleaned the trees of berries, turned them into jam and invented bows and arrows to defend their stash. After a big kill, a pride of a lions seems to be quite content to sit around in the sun all day, digesting. But that ability to be happy with what we’ve got just doesn’t seem to have passed on to the majority of humans. Due to our powerful agriculture, most humans barely need to work one day a week to give them sufficient food and shelter to survive. But that’s not enough for us. We need a new sofa, a faster car, a bigger house. And It’s all down to what’s going on in our own brains. As soon as we’ve achieved one thing, our brains take away the pleasure and satisfaction, and make us want more.
Which is why Jeff is racing into space: his brain has faded the pleasure he got from becoming one of the world’s richest men, and if he wants to feel great again, he’s going to have to achieve something “out of this world” this time.
But how complicated can it be to solve the real problem? To find the part of our brains that fades the pleasure? To turn off the biochemical mechanism that means we’re never satisfied with what we’ve got? Humanity’s greatest minds are focussed on electric cars, rockets to Mars and getting humans to click more ads online. Instead, they could be giving us a button to press to make us feel like Armstrong when he took his small step, to make us feel like Mandela when he finished his long walk to freedom.
A happiness button. A satisfaction button. A ‘make me feel great all-the-time’ button. Jeff could sell it on his website.
‘Conscious Robots: If We Really Had Free Will, What Would We Do All Day’ is out now in print, published by Peacock’s Tail Publishing and priced £4.99 in paperback and £2.99 as an eBook. Visit www.consciousrobots.com or Amazon UK