Our Cyborg Reality Part 3: The Future
In part 1, I spoke about the physical developments of human beings throughout their evolution. In part 2, I spoke about the invention of cyber-space as an augmentation of the mind. Here, in part 3, I will take a look at what comes next, which of course is mere conjecture, but it is fun, mere conjecture. The possibilities of this ongoing technological development are pretty astounding, the implications even more so –terrifyingly so at times. In order to keep focused while we talk about something so vast as the future of mankind, I am going to look at two interesting possibilities –immortality and destruction. Technology continually provides us with means to prolong our lives. Perhaps, in time, our tech-supported bodies will be capable of surviving indefinitely. If not our bodies, perhaps our minds. On the other hand, the rapid growth of technology causes some concern. When does it become a threat to us? When does the artificial intelligence that we create become something more than we can handle or understand? Let’s look at immortality first.
Immortality: The Body
As I spoke about in part 1, the augmentations to the physical self have allowed for us to live longer and to endure what otherwise could not have been endured. As developments in science move forward, some believe that the synthetic augmentations to our bodies might allow for us to live forever. I personally think is an unlikely scenario, but then again, who can really say what the long-term looks like? What seems ridiculous now may be commonplace in 1,000 years. This, of course, would fall into the realm of the ‘gentle extinction’ I spoke about in part 1, where the slow developments over time eventually change us into something else. It is evolution and extinction occurring slowly and simultaneously.
Immortality: The Mind
In the digital age, the concept of the human mind has exploded into something entirely different. Everyone with a computer or phone is regularly tapped in to this intangible space wherein they place just about everything. Comprehensive identities can be constructed out of the information in cyber-space. Many people spend more hours in a day grooming their digital image than their physical one. But reconstructing someone’s identity based on Facebook and Twitter is one thing, what about actually reconstructing the human brain? People are trying to now.
The ‘Human Brain Project’ is a 1.6 billion dollar effort to map and recreate a functional simulation of the human brain with a supercomputer. There is a lot of debate regarding whether or not the feat is even possible, but they are trying nonetheless. For our sake, we our going to entertain the idea that they will succeed. What does that mean? It means that digital versions of ourselves could be preserved indefinitely. It means that after we pass, our consciousness may still exist in that invisible space. What is now merely an extension of our mind, could, in the future, actually become a replacement. Think about all the ways in which you could be preserved already. How much information do you have in Facebook, Twitter, or email? How many memories do you have stored on your hard drive?
Technology has a long way to go, of course, and there is no saying whether or not it will actually get to the point of being able to digitally preserve entire identities or minds. Even if it can, the questions never cease. Can we exist separate from our bodies? How do we treat artificial versions of the self? Could those artificial identities experience change or would they be frozen in whatever state the original identity was when it perished? Would we be able to augment digital consciousness by merging it with another digital consciousness? Questions, questions, questions.
Destruction: The Technological Singularity
We have all seen the movies and read the books. Robots rise up and kill us all. Aside from making great fiction, though, how much of a threat does technology pose? Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, amongst many other things, is one of the leading proponents of the theory of the technological singularity. There are many, many critics of Kurzweil’s hypotheses, but his ideas are interesting and beg consideration.
The technological singularity would occur when a super-intelligence emerges out of our technological advancements. It is the point at which the artificial intelligence that we fabricate is actually superior to our own, where predictability goes off the charts and progress spins out of our control. Author James John Bell, in an article in The Futurist titled ‘Exploring the Singularity’ states that “we won’t just experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century –it will be more like 20,000 years of progress.” Kurzweil postulates a ‘law of accelerating return,’ which notes that the rate of change in areas such as technological growth, tends to increase exponentially over time. With every barrier we reach, something new comes into play that allows us to cross that barrier. Continuing like this, the technological singularity seems an inevitability. This is a frightening idea to many, because it does not seem like a reality that would end well for us.
Whether or not the singularity will occur is still hotly debated, and whether or not it would bring about our demise is another matter entirely. Our ‘not knowing’ what will come of it is exactly what defines the theoretical phenomenon in the first place. Perhaps the intelligence would still require humans for basic necessities like energy and maintenance, but there are also easy ways to imagine a super-intelligence getting around that obstacle. One cause for concern is that machines and technological intelligence would not require as nurturing an environment as we do. They could survive in harsh the and unforgiving conditions that we seem to be bringing about in parts of the world. Another concern is that if the super-intelligence is in fact superior, then it stands to reason that we would fall victim to subjugation or death; at least in human history it seems to be a trend that perceived superiority leads to such misfortune.
Not in the slightest. This wild goose is out there, way out there. Who knows what will come of our progress? Longevity, immortality, or extinction. The possibilities lie across the board. With such profound implications, though, these matters are important to consider. Entire fields of study are rising out of the mix, from cyborg anthropology to robot ethics. Science, unlike religion, does not codify the world through a moral lens, but the moral implications that stem out of scientific inquiry are ever-present and must –must –be brought into consideration every step of the way.
http://vimeo.com/humanbrainproject/overview –a video about the Human Brain Project