December 31, 2013

On Humanity and Artificial Intelligence

I've been thinking a lot about robots and artificial intelligence - and also the way that big data can one day be applied to predict, optimize and reduce uncertainty - and our humanity in past weeks.

Last week, I read a Slate article entitled "I, Frankenstein," about the animal-like creations of the robotics company recently acquired by Google and how viscerally disturbing it was to see their extraordinarily human-like movements.

I'm also reading The Power of Myth.  There is a passage about a central mythology, that pops up as a theme in Star Wars but also in Goethe and Faust and many others that: 

"[T]echnology is not going to save us ['trust your feeeeelings Luke']. 
Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. 
We have to rely on our intuition."

But the fear, when we see these life-like robots and when we reduce feelings/tendencies/thinking to programmable algorithms, is what if this passage is wrong? Or what if this mythology is changing? What if they are our true being. . . ?

We're going to be implanting computers and chips and wearing technology soon - in ways more integrated with our body than ever before.

As the reality of our science begins to approximate what a short while ago was science-fiction - from Star Trek, I Robot, Terminator - it brings up dystopian anxieties and fears.  And questions.

“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated.  Resistance is futile.”

Detective Spooner: Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams, but not you, you are just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a... canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
Sonny: Can *you*?

In some ways this is a natural evolution.  A hallmark of our species - and a main contributor to our dominant position on this planet - has been our ability to harness and command technologies.

But is it changing what it is to be human?

And what is it to be human?

Whoa. I think I just hurt my brain.

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