Are humans doomed to a machine-like future of radically-enhanced lifespan and intelligence, but without the intangibles that have made our 200,000 year-old species so unique? Using technology to stave off Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other neurological maladies is easy to justify. But is it inevitable that humans and machines will meld into a Borg-like future? That is, something akin to the “Trekian” villains who appear to have all the personality of a side-by-side refrigerator.
“I don’t think it’s inevitable, but there are powerful forces pushing us in that direction,” said Nicholas Agar, a philosopher at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington and the author of the books, “Humanity’s End” and the forthcoming “Truly Human Ehancement.”
“Whether we want that future is often presented as a simple picture,” he said. “But we need to practice defensive ethics and think about what could go wrong.”
For perspective, Forbes.com asked Agar to address five possible reasons humans will never and should never become machines.
— We are already irreplaceable biological “machines.”
And even if we could be replaced, says Agar, we shouldn’t, because we’d risk losing the intangibles that make us human.
— Humanity should never go along with being totally usurped by human-machine hybrids.
“Humans may be tricked into that process,” said Agar, “but if they think about it, they will recognize that that process deprives us of a lot of what we think is important.”
— Humans have too many intangibles to be effectively replaced.
Advocates of radical cognitive enhancement view humanity in a very simplistic way and goal-oriented way, says Agar; who says such proponents simply just want posthumans that are smarter and that live longer.
But creative processes such as art, music and dance are not goal-oriented, says Agar. Even higher levels of mathematics require creativity.
— There’s no reason to totally replace human brains with artificial ones.
“I’m looking forward to a [world] without Alzheimer’s,” said Agar, “but there’s a lot that’s worth preserving.”
— It’s arguably technically impossible.
As Agar notes in “Humanity’s End,” by some by some estimates the brain may have quadrillions of neural connections. Thus, replacing human brains with artificial ones may be technically impossible. And if not, he says there are some things that are technically possible that simply shouldn’t be done.
Even so, a prosthetic hippocampus brain implant could in effect offer a way out of Alzheimer’s; since, in theory, it would provide sufferers of such neurological disorders with new ways to encode and retrieve memory. But is such an artificial hippocampus the first step toward radical enhancement?
Agar says it’s certainly one of them, but notes it would be irrational to upload one’s brain to external hardware, even if you were “pretty confident” it would work. “It would be a bit like playing Russian roulette,” said Agar.
He says when technologists like Ray Kurzweil talk about our machine futures, Kurzweil imagines that the machines that we become will be interested in artistic and emotional aspects of human existence.
“But I think that would be ditched,” said Agar. “Poetry is about human vulnerability and emotion. If you didn’t feel that vulnerability, why bother writing it?”
How could a Borg-like future be precipitated?
“If you could upload the activity of your prosthetic hippocampus then it’s all there,” said Agar. “That’s the last bastion of privacy that the NSA [National Security Agency] or some successor organization could have access to.”
The mere act of uploading our brains into hardware opens up the potential for outside monitoring of our most private thoughts. This, in turn, could open the door to Borg-like outside brain control.
Such radical cognitive enhancement could also rob us of the natural process of neurological evolution.
Advocates of this radical enhancement, says Agar, ask — Why trust nature when we can choose our future?
“It almost sounds unsophisticated, but I like being human,” said Agar. “Radical cognitive enhancement could actually set back our attempts to understand the universe rather than accelerate it.”
Science proceeds by selective simplification and idealization, says Agar who argues that cognitively enhanced science could cause humans to lose our innate human sense of curiosity about our place in the cosmos. That’s the very thing that has long driven man to set sail and peer into the heavens.
And as for entertainment on long night drives?
A generation of radically-enhanced poets, playwrights, songwriters and singers might be about as inspiring as sheet music. Would a radically-enhanced Robert Frost still be compelled to stop by those “woods on a snowy evening”? Don’t bet on it.
Starpība starp zinātnieku un ierindas cilvēku ir tā, ka zinātnieks zina to, ko pirms viņa atklājuši un izskaidrojuši citi zinātnieki, un par nezināmo neko neapgalvo. Ierindas cilvēks nezina pirmo un dara otro. I.V.