Humanity and technology

I’ve been reading Ray Kurzweil’s book, “The Singularity Is Near.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the singularity, it’s the point at which technology will supersede biology. In other words, according to Kurzweil, it’s the point at which computers will be able to think better and faster than human beings. In fact, Kurzweil purports that at a certain point, one computer will be able to think faster than every brain on the planet, combined. Once computing power reaches this point, computers will be able to manipulate their own source code, essentially programming themselves, as humans are learning to do with our own DNA. 

Kurzweil also alludes to a time, in the not so distant future, where humans and technology will become irreversibly integrated. He predicts a time where we’ll have sentient machines living in our bodies, augmenting us. And a time where people will be able to transfer their thoughts into machines. It’s this idea that gives me pause.

As human beings, we’re always growing and evolving, always striving to better ourselves. And I can say that I see how, logically, such technological extension or integration could be the next step in human evolution. But as people become more and more machine, at what point do they stop being human? Or at what point do we consider machines to have become human? Should those lines ever blur? If machines can one day do everything that humans do, including feel emotion and create art, have we lost what abstractly makes us human? I’ll admit that the advantages of being so augmented are tempting. But what am I sacrificing? Is what makes us human our ability to appreciate beauty, to create, to constantly push our limits? I kind of feel like such cybernetic enhancements would eliminate that “pushing our limits” part. The endeavor to become more than what we are, to grow and change for the better, seems inconsequential if it can be done with the flick of a switch.

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5 thoughts on “Humanity and technology

  1. Is such a thing really likely to happen though? It is one thing to beat a human at chess, a game with fixed enumerable rules. It is a whole other thing for computers to create and invent things. I don’t see this happening any time soon, and even when it does, I doubt they will be better than inventing than humans, or displace us. So there will always be a place for human ingenuity.

    1. There are a lot of amazing advancing in computing on the horizon. For instance, DNA computers will be able to perform calculations are a frightening speed. I’ve always heard researchers say that the only thing that’s preventing the development of true artificial intelligence is the lack of processing speed and memory. If and when those can be overcome, then why could there be real artificial intelligence?

      As for the rest, science can already create machines that measure only mere molecules wide, small enough to fit inside of cells.

      But I do hope that no matter how far technology progresses and infiltrates biology, that something uniquely human remains. At this point, I’m not sure if I would chose an augmented life, even if everyone else could think faster, live longer, etc.

  2. Hello Ryan. You wrote: “The endeavor to become more than what we are, to grow and change for the better, seems inconsequential if it can be done with the flick of a switch.” Isn’t that the point? I mean humans are so much more than what they can think or how fast they can think it.

  3. You can also think about it this way: how much creative effort goes into enhancing humans with technology? How many engineers, physicists and neurologists have spent sleepless nights thinking about this? Human enhancement (cognitive, amongst others) certainly does not happen with the flick of a switch. It is the opposite: it happens with the combined efforts of thousands of individuals who are pushing the boundaries of what we know about the world and the brain.
    And, once enhanced, we will be able to keep pushing our boundaries with a bigger, better tool set. It will be each individual’s decision whether they want to stay in their couch and do nothing or use their newfound abilities to keep investigating into human nature and the nature of the universe.
    Just like today, it will be a matter of choice. Do you keep learning, pushing your (ever-expanding) boundaries? Or do you stay at home, waiting for the boundaries to be expanded by someone else?

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