The European: That brings us back to the indeterminacy and complexity of the human mind. Can computers ever replace that?
Dyson: It could be. In, say, the 15th century, there was the archaic view that the human mind exists on one side of the spectrum and the mind of God on the other side, with nothing in between except maybe a few angels. But that is a very strange idea, since every other hierarchy in nature consists of many different layers. It think it is much more likely that there are others layers of mind, although they might not look like a desktop computer. People are already walking around—effectively participating in a vast distributed computation—doing what their iPhones tell them. And we’re generally quite happy with that domination.
The European: I am still skeptical whether a computer can be more than an extension to the human mind. It is hard to see how computers could emerge as creative and imaginative entities in the near future.The question becomes more interesting if you consider the degree to which subconscious decisions seem to inform our activities. Let's say a subconscious decision gets made by your brain: We shall have a cupcake. A few seconds later, you find yourself typing into your iPhone to ask where a bakery is nearby. The machine tells you, and off you go to buy and eat the cupcake. You probably have the sense that you did something consciously, but in fact your subconscious is conspiring with Google Maps to have you do something you shouldn't really be doing.
Dyson: We have to wait and see. But I am not sure whether computers are just tools. When you look at your iPhone to get directions, are you asking the phone where to go or is the phone telling you where to go?
We have always been subject to a certain amount of manipulation from the meat; now there is a kind of pincer movement between the meat and the metal. The development of conscious virtue will not be easier -- but all the more important -- in such an environment.