Immortality through science? Can our ethical and emotional intelligence keep up with technology? Its a highly ambiguous issue. We seem to be on the cusp of a major, and final break from the industrial age; a potential for vastly increased wealth due to AI technologies and robotics yet equally fraught with the specter of Skinner boxes and Pavlovian conditioning. A guest blog from Tai Carmen at Parallax. Parallax: Exploring the architecture of human perception
“….Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold…”
– W.B. Yeats, from Sailing to Byzantium
Coined by British philosopher Gilbert Ryle to describe Rene Descartes‘ concept of mind-body dualism, the phrase “The ghost in the machine” was originally intended as a metaphor. These days it takes on a more literal meaning.
Author/inventor Raymond Kurzweil, for instance, postulates that by 2045 we will have incorporated our technology into our very selves. He predicts this will be out of necessity, to keep up with the super-intelligent machines we ourselves have created.
Not just that, but he suspects that within the next thirty years we will witness the uploading of the human c
iousness or brain to computer systems, an ambition upon which many are working to make reality as I write.
Coming from just anyone, these predictions would seem outlandish. But Kurzweil is a respected and accomplished inventor, holding nineteen honorary doctorates, honored by American presidents for his contributions to the scientific community. Bill Gates has called him “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.”
In a recent Time magazine article on Kurzweil and his futurist ideas, author Lev Grossman encourages the reader to leave their gut reactions at the door:
“There’s an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it’s an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.”
According to Kurzweil, a technological singularity — known more popularly as “The Singularity” – will occur in the foreseeable future, wherein rapidly accelerating knowledge about nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, computer science, biotechnology and genetics will combine to create the perfect storm wherein a paradigm shift will occur so profound that it will change “the world as we know it” in record time. After all, technology is developing exponentially, each breakthrough generating a new constellation of breakthroughs.
There are already transhumanist clubs and conventions that attract thousands.
Transhumanism is a cultural/intellectual movement advocating human augmentation through technology. But we’re not just talking prosthetic arms here, we’re talking goals of human immortality through machines — scientists working quite seriously towards transferring human consciousness from its corporeal form into the body of a robot.
If this sounds like science fiction, keep in mind that science fiction has predicted nearly every technological advancement we now perceive as commonplace, from space travel to submarines
In 1998, a British scientist and professor of cybernetics, Kevin Warwick, became the first human cyborg. Warwick had a small radio transmitter chip implanted under his skin, which could affect lights turning on and off, doors opening and closing, etc. (Hasn’t he ever heard of “clap on, clap off?”)
Encouraged by this success, in 2002 Warwick had a neural interface implanted in his nervous system. That too was successful. Later, a simpler array was implanted into Warwick’s wife. The aim was to create a form of telepathy or empathy using the Internet to communicate the signal from afar. Though significant telepathy was not achieved, some signals were exchanged, resulting in the first purely electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans.
The transhumanist trend has been showing up more and more in pop culture as well…
It’s not a question of if our humanity will become augmented (and simultaneously, paradoxically, perhaps diminished) by technology, but when and how.
The potential for nightmare scenarios — the Darwinian error of creating entities more powerful than oneself with minds of their own — remains a realistic concern, but not a momentum-stopper, apparently. And perhaps reasonably so: if we let fear and paranoia rule our imaginations, after all, we repress our potential. On the other hand, brazen utopianism with hubristic disregard for basic intuitive reservation has gotten more than a few people in trouble. I suppose the phrase “proceed with caution” would be particularly meaningful here.
“We will transcend all of the limitations of our biology,” says Raymond Kurzweil. “That is what it means to be human — to extend who we are.”
A good argument. But many would argue that becoming machinelike is the exact opposite of what it means to be human. Without the prospect of death to motivate living each day to the fullest, without imperfection to give poignancy, what will we become? And what if we are the spiritual equivalent of caterpillars designing ways to remain caterpillars indefinitely, unwittingly thwarting our destiny as butterflies?
The phrase ‘the ghost in the machine’ was coined by Gilbert Ryle in his 1949 book The Concept of Mind, and was intended to point out the absurdity of traditional Cartesian mind-body dualism; presumably there was also an attempt to echo the phrase deus ex machina, or ‘god from the machine’, i.e. an artificial solution to a complex problem…
…Koestler, in writing The Ghost in the Machine in 1967, appropriated Ryle’s phrase, although he had a pretty low opinion of Ryle himself – he dismissed him as a ‘snickering’ Oxford don with no knowledge of any of the sciences that would have given his ideas more weight. Ryle nevertheless had the philosopher’s gift for analogy, and used a number of metaphors for the mind-body problem, all of which could have supplied titles: they included ‘the sealed signal box’, ‘the two parallel theatres’ and ‘the horse in the locomotive’. What if Koestler had chosen differently? Perhaps, in one parallel reality, we might all be listening to an album by The Police called The Horse in the Locomotive. Read More:http://garydexter.blogspot.com/2009/07/114-ghost-in-machine-by-arthur-koestler.html
In European McDonald’s, “Would you like fries with that?” may soon be a catch phrase recited by computers. According to the Financial Times, the fast food behemoth plans to replace many humanoid cashiers at its 7,000 locations in the region with touch screen terminals. The adoption of these heartless ordering systems also means the end of cash as an accepted payment method, as the machines will only take credit and debit cards.
The transition toward autonomous fast food is, on the surface, an attempt by McDonald’s to further entice “cash-strapped customers” with more convenience and even faster service. (Of course, since the move toward robot cashiers will presumably mean thousands of people will lose their jobs, it also means there will be more “cash-strapped” people to serve.)…
In reality, however, the computer interfaces will allow McDonald’s to collect valuable information about its customers, as well as keep costs down. According to Steve Easterbrook, president of McDonald’s Europe, the data collected by the new system allows the company to amass details about customers’ ordering habits, much as loyalty cards do for grocery stores in the US.
It remains to be seen whether customers prefer to do the ordering all by themselves, or have assistance from a live employee. And, as with self-checkout systems at grocery stores, there will surely be a split in preferences, with some customers loving the new system, and others despising it.
… There is not yet any word from McDonald’s about plans to bring touch screen ordering to its US fast food joints. But if the experiment goes well in Europe, don’t be surprised if you have to soon place that Big Mac order yourself. Read More:http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/european-mcdonalds-to-replace-human-cashiers-with-touch-screen-computers/