Homo Mechanis:The Philosophy and Ethics of the Future
This is the follow-up to the previous article where I discussed the implications of exponentially progressing technology in the future, specifically the philosophy and ethics of melding man and machine. I will warn you, this blog will be a bit in-depth and lengthy, perhaps even offensive to some. I feel that introducing any forced brevity will be detrimental to the central message.
As a point of reference, I’d like to state that this is not a debate on possible future outcomes, this is a response specifically to Raymond Kurzweil’s vision of the future.
Raymond Kurzweil was a child prodigy. I actually saw a clip of him on a game show in 1965, when he created a computer that wrote its own music. He has since invented the flatbed scanner, optical character recognition, speech recognition, and a slew of other devices. He is called the Thomas Edison of our time.
All that in perspective, Ray has a vision for the future. To explain all of his visions, we have to look at what he calls the six epochs that will lead to the singularity. The singularity, as discussed in my previous blog, is the point where man and machine are no longer distinguishable. All of these Epochs are taken from his book, “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology“.
Epoch 1: Physics and Chemistry
This is the beginning of the universe. All information is held in sub-atomic structures and do not increase in molecular size or complexity. Basically, these are the raw building blocks upon which our universe was built.
Epoch 2: Biology and DNA
Here starts life on earth. At this point we have more complex organisms and DNA is stored in molecules. These are basic organisms compared to today and evolution will not happen for thousands of generations.
Epoch 3: Brains
With the rise of even more complex organisms, brains are needed to control central functions. These organisms can adapt to their environments and learn from experiences. Evolutionary information is stored in neural patterns.
Epoch 4: Technology
This is the epoch which we are resting so comfortably in. Now that we have been given brains, evolution has given us vast creativity in which to create technology. Like us, technology evolves. This evolution is stored in the designs of hardware and software.
Epoch 5: The Merger of Human Technology with Human Intelligence
Kurzweil announces that we are on the verge of breaking through to this epoch. Here, technology become so finely tuned and compiled that it approaches the confines of Biology. With similar structures, an integration can take place which will give rise to new forms of life and intelligence.
Epoch 6: The Universe Wakes Up
Finally, we reach the beginning of a new era. In this epoch inanimate substrate is actually turned in to a sort of fuel for intelligence. Nano-bots will live in our brains and increase cognitive abilities. New cybernetics will out-evolve our current form and a super-intelligence will emerge. Eventually, we will not be able to keep up with technological evolution and technology itself will be responsible for its own evolution. This is truly where we become one with Machine. As we have created artificial intelligence, we have also learned to pass our consciousness into devices and virtual worlds where Kurzwiel imagines we will spend most of our time.
Now back down to Earth.
I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that Kurzweil has many opponents arguing against his thesis. Obviously this vision of the future does not fit in with most modern ideological institutions and the actual science of quantum computing is in debate. Kurzweil is more of a prophet than a realist in his book, some say, but is it so far-fetched? Four out of six of the epochs have already occurred, and we are possibly on the verge of the fifth. What if it were a reality?
If the events, as Kurzweil sees them, came to fruition, it would be hard to imagine that we would not draw some borders and instate some fundamentals surrounding the change. Reason tells us that the definition of humanity would be called into question. As a higher percentage of people have cybernetic replacements and enhancements, they would become less man and more machine. My thought is that at first we will seek to define humanity as having an organic intelligence regardless of other enhancements or replacements. But what happens when our intelligence becomes enhanced, and even transfers to machine? Is the consciousness in the machine the same as the consciousness that was in the human?
At this point something amazing happens. The definition of humanity would have to completely change, or more specifically branch out. Now we are looking at the quantifiable digital information that used to be a brain becoming human; not only that, but becoming a previous or already existing human. In essence, you could have several copies of yourself, even stored as back-ups in the event of your demise.
Please don’t misunderstand me. None of this would come without vigorous religious and political debate. I think the world, although more accepting at this point and time of technology and evolution, would be in panic. This reminds me of a similar situation years back; cloning. You couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing Dolly the sheep’s wooly face on it. However, if you look around today, what do you see? No matter what the opposition to it, there are still full clones and cloned organs being produced in laboratories globally. Progress cannot be stopped, it can only be diverted momentarily.I think the main reason it will not be successfully abolished is due to our overwhelming curiosity and the fact that the people making the decisions about technological, medical, and scientific progression are mostly analytical in nature. They do not stop doing what they do because of ambiguous reasons or philosophy. They do what they do because it is what they know. Supplemental to this, is the fact that we are already incorporating technology in our bodies and striving for artificial intelligence. What other alternative is there?
Back to my original point. With the change of definition comes a new species. We are no longer just Homo Sapiens at this point. We are also Homo Mechanis.
I foresee a lot of argument and fear in store for us, but I have no doubts that progress will take it’s course. This doesn’t mean that the events will play out exactly like Ray has envisioned, but I can’t see any other eventuality than technology and man becoming one.
What does this mean for the soul? I cannot begin to comprehend how an intangible quality that means so many different things to different people could be incorporated in this scenario. In truth, the new consciousness would not be the original consciousness. It is impossible. It can be exactly alike in every way, but it will never be the old consciousness. Given this, the illusion of eternal life is just that, an illusion. We can create a completely new being but we cannot transition a being into digital computations without destroying it or just simply copying it.
Of course, you could transplant a human brain into a mechanical construct but in the end, the biological material would deteriorate and the brain would die unless there is some unforseen medical process which prevents such brain death in the future. This is one possibility, but it would not have the same mental capacities or flexibility as a digitally constructed brain. Maybe the longevity without the enhanced performance is worth it for some, or maybe the denial of actual destruction will console others to transfer their consciousness into the digital realm. Probably both.
So I do realize that was a lot to take in. I have been speaking in probable eventualities based on unforseen technological advances. Like I stated in the beginning, this is a reality based on Ray Kurzweil’s theory. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. That’s okay. The important thing to remember is that no matter what happens in the future, no one can replace you. They may be able to create an artificial likeness, but just like the replicas in shops today, it will never be as valuable as the real thing.