“Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence. His intriguing new book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations – transforming our lives in ways we can’t imagine yet.” Bill Gates
Every week it seems business and culture news emerges about the “internet of things.” Our daily lives produce data, and these metadata are tracked, compiled and used to predict, make more comfortable, market to us and filter what we see, hear and experience on the web. Not just tailoring our internet searches to what the search engine “thinks” we want to know, but analyzing key words in our emails and where we linger on the web to “ascertain” through artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms what interests us. Then putting us in touch with our patterns, selling us stuff and fashioning the right box into which we fit – a Procrustean bed. Software is being generated to enhance the sluggish “key words” analysis and advance to concepts and thoughts, something in which computers have not yet surpassed us in ability. They have long since passed us in sheer computing power, speed and memory. Next generation AI software brings intuition and those types of “thinking without thinking” formerly uniquely human judgments written about in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.” Computers are learning to learn and replicate on their own. We are evermore typecast and channeled, aided and abetted into what is profitable financially or politically for someone.
Our smart phones, tablets, computers are joined by our medical records, cars, alarm systems, baby monitors, refrigerators, dish washers, furniture and soon our carpets, toothbrushes, and for all we know toilet seats will feed the maw of data about us. The cloud will know all.
Our rugs will inform us (and the cloud) how often we walk across them, whether we have fallen down and can’t get up, if an unknown walker treads softly upon them or perhaps if we get romantic in front of our fireplace and how long we persist at it. We will go from our smart home to our driverless car, and it will take us door to door.
If we thought the NSA was intrusive, we are desperately naïve. And this is just getting started.
“I would say humans are not purely biological. We’ve already expanded humanity with our technology, and the technology is part of humanity; we are the technology.” Ray Kurzweil
Dr. Kurzweil reflects the hopes of many of those whose belief system is exclusively “scientism,” which holds that science, the scientific method and mathematical reasoning is the only true arbiter of truth and in which we will find humankind’s salvation. The irony of this worldview is while such true scientism believers deride metaphysics, the concepts upon which all of science rests are metaphysical in nature. [i] Scientism is an alternate religion.
He envisions nanobots in our brain, hooked up directly into the cloud. No more fingers on keyboards and mouse to search the internet for knowledge. Our thoughts and memories will access the cloud immediately; we will be one with the cloud, and the cloud will be one with us. He coined the term “Singularity” for this, and his eponymous book ten years ago predicted this state of oneness with computers is not three, two or even one hundred years ahead in science fiction. 2045 is his date for “achieving” singularity. [ii]
Our children and grandchildren will see this, according to the futurist, perhaps even ourselves if we stay healthy and achieve the second aspect of his prediction. All human body parts will be repairable or replaceable with genetic manipulation and perfectly cloned parts from our own DNA, so our brains will become part of the cloud, and our bodies will take on immortality. Millions of car recalls, the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, just my recent experience in figuring out how our new dishwasher worked come to mind. Singularity? What could go wrong?
“And what would they be scared of? There’s nothing to fear in a perfect world, is there?” Catherine Fisher (Welsh author and poet)
Much dystopian science fiction has described computers and robots gradually assuming more and more of our daily lives, then assuming everything. From 2001’s nemesis computer HAL killing the astronauts to Isaac Asimov’s super central computer controlling all in “I Robot” it gets worse. The three rules proscribing that a robot may not harm and must protect any human being broke down. In the Terminator movies, Skybot makes the decision that human kind is a virus on the planet and unleashes genocidal warfare upon us.
Perhaps the most awful end for us “hairless apes” is found in Harlan Ellison’s short story from the sixties, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.” The world’s computers hook up into one all encompassing web, wipe out all humans, but keep four around to torture. “AM” reads their thoughts and intention, controls not only their environment, but their biology – AM can keep them alive for its amusement with freshly minted organs virtually forever. After the protagonist, Ted, carefully avoids actively thinking of his “solution,” in a lightning strike frees his companions by killing them. AM transforms him into a limbless blob with no mouth and no ability for even suicide. The final line of the story is its title.
“Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?” St. Peter Chrysologus
The modest objective of the self congratulatory and elated “Singularity” variety of science and technology is to supplant completely what was formerly reserved to religion and understood through the study of metaphysics. The technocrats will define and implement our happiness, immortality, omnipotence and fulfillment through becoming one with our machines.
How we got here is a topic which will require more than a few blog posts to begin to explore, and perhaps we shall root around a bit. The history extends back not just into the technology of the late nineteenth century through today, but to late medieval philosophers like William of Ockham, then on through Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and all the rest. To understand even peripherally what ideas have these consequences is not a trivial pursuit.
John Hammond, “All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked.”
Ian Malcolm, “Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” Jurrasic Park
[i] The concepts undergirding science are the stuff of philosophy. A physical world exists outside our mind; that there are patterns which can be recognized by our senses reliably as sources of information; that we can form concepts and reason from premises to conclusion. That causation and result are valid methods of understanding. All of these and more are metaphysical concepts and provable through metaphysics and logic, not the scientific method.
[ii] Curiously, “singularity” is the scientific term for a single point in space-time of no dimensions, but infinite mass, which current hypothesis holds was blown up by a “quantum fluctuation” to trigger the Big Bang resulting in a inflating universe bubble in an infinite cosmos of other universe bubbles that has no beginning and no end.