What happens to professional driving when taxis and trucks no longer need drivers? Then we get the science fiction style warnings that have always accompanied AI. The difference now is that they no longer come from end-of-the-world obsessives, but people such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warning that we face an existential threat. In other words, one that could end our existence as a species. So, what makes things different now? Well, we are finally getting computing power that approximates that of various estimates of the Human brain. Additionally, there are now multiple projects around the globe to simulate neural networks of the same degree of complexity as the brain.
The worry is that we may end up creating AI that not only exceeds our intelligence by a vast margin, but which may be an utterly alien kind of intelligence even if it is not inimical to us. And it should also be noted that when people speak of AI they are not talking about one machine, but potentially millions of them. It would be, as has been claimed, our last invention because intellectually we could not compete with them. However, the promised rewards of having super intelligence on tap is the driving force for businesses, nations and of course Transhumanists.
The latter have a very interesting relationship to the notion of AI. At the lowest level it is seen as the enabler for much of what is to follow, able to create technologies beyond both Human ability and comprehension. In other words, a miracle machine able to turn science fiction into science fact on incredibly short timescales.
Unsurprisingly, it goes much further than this.
AI is seen by many as a political option when it comes to governance and the creation and allocation of resources, in what is termed a post scarcity society. AI will be in effect the perfect absolute ruler whose intelligence and all seeing benevolence will save us from ourselves. We are, of course, talking about the Messiah myth for the modern age. The possible downside, which is now gaining some serious attention, concerns us being collateral damage if we get in the way of goals either the AIs set themselves, or goals we set for them.
After all, very few Humans hate animals but that does not matter if we want to build on their habitat. The best they can look forward to is a reservation or zoo.
It is of a hostile AI that is so evil that even death would not be a refuge from it. Nevertheless, there is never any discussion of halting its development although obviously people favor putting ethical safeguards in place as far as possible. This spills over into media discussions concerning the military use of robotic weapons and whether they should be given autonomy over the decision to kill people. So far there is a consensus that final the finger on the trigger should always be Human. As for stopping research, well, that is most definitely not going to happen — there is too much at stake.
It was along the lines of:. If you had to choose between AI that exceeded Human capabilities in all spheres of intellect, but which would wipe us out, or no AI and just Humanity continuing as is, how would you vote? The majority voted for the AI, which can either be considered a mark of insane fanaticism or immense altruism. It is a question as to whether we would side with the children of our biology or the children of our mind who would rise to greater heights than we could ever imagine.
There was however a common caveat that is always raised when such questions arise. It is the middle way of the PostHuman condition…. Contrary to the claims of many conspiracy theorists Transhumanists are generally not very interested in eugenics or genetically engineering Homo Sapiens. This is not because of any ethical considerations but on pragmatic grounds — it is too slow. The favored route is to merge our existing biology with our machines through such devices as brain computer interfaces. The hope is that our AIs will become extensions of ourselves leading to the first wave of what is termed Post Humanity.
Any alteration of biology to accommodate this symbiosis could involve genetic engineering of adults, and nanotechnology another hand waving catchall which might as well be magic. How realistic these ideas might be remains to be seen, but the road map to the destination is in place. The PostHuman dream is of uncorrupted immortal bodies housing the minds of gods, as far beyond us as we are beyond cats and dogs, where all aspects of emotion, suffering and intellect are under conscious control.
Our animal heritage finally jettisoned in favor of the new and immaculate conception. A world without suffering or stupidity or violence.
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There is even one project proposed by philosopher David Pierce to re-engineer the genomes of all life on Earth to eliminate suffering, or at least put a limit on the amount of pain or stress any creature including ourselves can experience. Obviously for the longer term, or perhaps on a smaller scale for farm animals….
This is one vision. An alternative fallback position is known as Uploading. Although historically the concept precedes the current attempts to model a Human brain on a computer, it does naturally follow from it. Namely, if you can model a brain then why not copy the brain of a person and move them into cyberspace? After uploading there are two potential destinations.
The most obvious is that the person is given a synthetic body, which is not intended to be some clunky robot but one elegant and beautiful with capabilities far exceeding that of its natural counterpart. The other potential destination is cyberspace itself where the world is left behind in favor of a perfected simulation free from mess and defects, Upload Heaven, to be shared with other PostHuman minds who can then, if they wish, allocate more and more computing resources to expanding their consciousness and intellect by fully merging with the AIs.
During this process it is envisioned that, like now, computer power would continue to double every few years until virtually the entire economy would revolve around providing more and more such power. The endpoint of this being the conversion of all mass and energy in the local area to computational substrate, the generic term being computronium.
Transhumanists refer to massive structures of planetary size Jupiter Brains or larger Matrioshka Brains that surround the sun and utilize most of its output. By the time this stage is achieved it is only one further short step to converting the entire universe into Mind in a sphere of conversion that moves outward from Earth at close to the speed of light. But back to Earth, for now. So, when is all of this supposed to start? The most famous flows from the predictions of Ray Kurzweil where he names it as AD — a mere thirty years from now.
Others either place it sooner, AD for example, or postpone it until next century. The transition point between the world we now know and something beyond our ability to predict, or maybe even understand, has a name. It is The Singularity. The technological singularity is defined as the point at which technological progress changes so rapidly that from an historical perspective nothing can be surmised about the future from any point before its onset.
It is an historical discontinuity beyond which it is impossible to look. Most Transhumanists associate it with the arrival of true Human-capability AI running on cheap computers, and superhuman AI running on supercomputers. It is, literally, the end of the world as we know it. But… what if all this takes a lot longer than is foreseen?
What if all the current crop of Transhumanists are dead before the big events? Well, this is where Plan B makes an appearance — the return from the dead. This largely relies on a couple of long shots, which should come as no surprise. The shortest of which is Cryonics, the freezing and preservation of the dead in order to later resurrect them.
Resembling ancient Egyptian funerary practices in some aspects, the idea is simple.
You, or just your head are frozen in liquid nitrogen shortly after death in the hopes that the miraculous nanotechnology of future ages can undo all the damage done both by what killed you in the first place, and the even more massive damage caused by freezing. At which point a new body will be cloned and you will be decanted into the future, alive and well. Or, alternatively, one of the godlike AIs will upload you to digital heaven. There are potentially many legal complications that need to be smoothed away in order for cryonic preservation to work in an optimum manner.
The most important factor being that the time between clinical death and the freezing process should be as short as possible in order to minimize postmortem tissue damage. So, this should be offered as an option to the terminally ill on hospital or hospice premises. More controversially, the ideal situation would be to die reasonably healthy and ready for instant freezing, which means that voluntary euthanasia and assisting in it must be legal.
At present, and in most jurisdictions it is not. The real legal minefield though lies as always with money and inheritance.
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Is someone who is cryonically preserved and who expects to live again legally dead? Perhaps, finally, the rich have found a way to take it with them? So, where does that leave Transhumanists who are too poor to afford that option or just unlucky that the cryonics team arrives too late or not at all? It leaves them relying on the benevolence of a future AI god, perhaps one of those planetary brains described above. Although this might reconstruct a person to the level of detail sufficient to match all records, and if they are still alive the memory of everyone who ever knew them, it is far from enough to recreate the same brain states the original person had at the point of death.
The person so created will undoubtedly believe they are the original, but in fact the original will remain dead. Which does not seem particularly attractive from the here-and-now point of view. It offers no comfort that a replica of me might exist one day after I am long deceased. It is if we live in a multiverse. Another long shot you might think, but the idea that there may be an infinity of other universes is one the scientific community takes serious. Although the best known variety is the Quantum Multiverse, where everything that can happen does happen, it is only one of five or six different types.
Consequently, in at least one infinitesimal corner of the multiverse it gets all its guesses correct and you live again! At least, not without some considerable digital brain surgery during the process which arguably might not count as bring back the original. Arlington Institute. Association of Professional Futurists.
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- New Book: "Pardon the Disruption: The Future You Never Saw Coming";
- James R. Smith - Attorney at Criminal Law. Houston, Texas.;
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Carbon choices determine US cities committed to futures below sea level.
New Book: "Pardon the Disruption: The Future You Never Saw Coming"
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