Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Transhumanity, Life Among The Artilects

Technology is always changing us, changing how we interact with each other and the world.  With each generation, technology increases its speed of growth and brings a more substantial change to our lives.  In the not to distant future, technology is likely to bring about more change in a few years than has existed in the past six thousand.

For various reasons, (primarily political) the realm of imaging innovation has fallen traditionally upon science fiction.  Science fiction is a wonderful tool for addressing taboo issues in a far removed setting, and so serves as humanities great repository of weird scientific ideas transcending various socio-political agendas.

So how accurate a prediction does science fiction make?  Well obviously science fiction is not a single concept, but a conglomeration of diverse ideas.  However, it is possible to discern several central themes that appear again and again.

To list a few of these themes, we have robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced medicine, space travel and cybernetics.  To put it in more context, most sci fi has humanity creating powerful robots, super intelligent computers, using advanced medicine to heal many diseases, traveling to space and connecting minds directly to computers.

Based on the past, it is probable that anything we could say about these things will be as archaic in the future as peoples predictions in the 50's about the computer age.  Its obvious that on some level people understood what was happening, but the outcome today surpassed even the wildest dreamers.  Much the same scenario is probably occurring now with technologies mentioned above.

Despite this, its fun to imagine life as it may come to be in the next thirty years.  One of the primary philosophies based on the unfolding of sci fi technology is know as transhumanism.  Transhumanism is the idea that humans will use technology to transform our selves until we are no longer human, or post human.  This gives some people the willies, but as long as each individual has the right to redesign themselves or not, it does not bother me.

What i imagine is a gradual shift, with many early adopter and a slow trickle of late adopters.  Many people will stay fully human and many people will become machine as quickly as possible.  Each person will simply transform themselves in whatever way suits them best.

There are many possible ways of transforming yourself, anything from building new bodies to creating new sensory organs that let us view the world in any number of unique ways.  We will have the option of inhabiting multiple bodies, these bodies could be biological, machine, or some combination.  We could have bodies made of nano swarms, able to change shape at will.

What would an individual in such a state do?  Experiencing an ever increasing diversity of sensory stimulation will probably be a primary activity.  Art will take on many new forms, art is basically creation with the intent to invoke sensory stimulation, art will become everything around us including our bodies.

How will we relate to other beings?  How will we relate to computers?  These questions assume a fundamental difference between beings and computers, as our minds merge more and more, it will become increasingly difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins.  We will be so merged with computers that any intelligence living inside of them will be indistinguishable from human intelligence.

What of these beings, these artilects as they are sometimes called.  AI usually invokes the darkest of our fears, from the evil Hal computer in 2001 to Skynet in Terminator.  But what would it really be like to meet an artilect?  First, we cannot imagine such a being as confined to single body or even a single type of body.  Such a creature could appear as human as you are as god like as any mythological being.
The truth is imaging the character or temperament of such an entity is as silly as imaging the character of a human being living 50 years from now.  There is just no way of knowing what kind of forces will be central to shaping its mind, in the same way we know little of the influences that will shape the generations of children born 50 years from now.

It is still fun to imagine these creatures, its hard to escape from labeling them with marks of divinity.  Imaging them wreathed in glowing light or sitting in meditation deep in the machine temple.  All these ideas still speak of them as being separate from us or somehow superior, where as i feel the future is much more likely a merging of human and machine to create something far greater, something transhuman.

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