Why doesn’t it surprise me when I read that a Google ‘expert’ is prophesying that we will be uploading our entire MINDS to computers by 2045 and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years?
Google is a funding magnet for any scientist wishing to further their careers and gain the limelight, and Ray Kurzweil is doing a good job of that. His book ‘Fantastic Voyage’ paints a broad canvas on humanities path to immortality. Some of which I struggle with, notably the need for replacement ‘bodies’ and the ability to truly persist our minds and core ‘self’ outside of the delicate biological vessel that is the mind and body we are born with.
Ray Kurzweil’s (Director of engineering at Google) postulations are a mix of fact and fiction a ‘Dan Brown’ grade fictional soup of a message. Is this another Google early move towards breaking down the social conscious to the concept of sharing our most personal of information with them? Why do I suggest this? Look no further than the quote by Larry Page (Google CEO) in an interview with Fortune Magazine in November 2012:
“We’re going to have people as a first class object in search. We need that to work, and we need to get started on it. … we actually need to understand things and we need to understand things pretty deeply. People are a component of that.”
As in Dan Brown’s fiction when you start looking at the detail things start to fall apart very quickly, I get the same feeling reading Kurzweil. In Dan Brown’s latest cut-and-paste road trip through Italy’s Florentine tourist attractions, the key thesis of his drama, that of the world population on an unimpeded growth rate self-destruct course is flawed by the resounding absence of, for example Pierre-François Verhulst’s logistic equation to describe the self-limiting growth of a biological population, a well establish and proven counter argument to the Dan Brown storyline. Proof in point the actual annual growth in the number of humans has been falling from its peak of 88.0 million in 1989 (US Census Survey 2010 ).
Sorry Mr.Brown, I know you’re writing fiction so perhaps an unfair snipe, I digress.
Where Kurzweil may have some ground to stand on in his postulations on the frailty of the human body I feel he is suffering from the ‘Dab Browns’ in his comments that ‘We do need a body, our intelligence is directed towards a body but it doesn’t have to be this frail, biological body that is subject to all kinds of failure modes’. A recent article in the Discovery Magazine ‘Grandma’s Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes’ highlights a growing area of science that makes the convincing link between what we are intrinsically in ourselves and the delicate biological vessel that is our body. Our body is far from a simple system that can be reproduced in mechanical and engineering terms. It is a rich environment of interacting chemical processes and electrical impulses. A veritable soup of adapting and changing states that respond in ways that we are not even scratching the surface of understanding.
The frailty of the human body parts has not been helped by the increased overhead demand of synthesising unnatural levels of genetically modified and chemically saturated product, whether by ingestion or exposure. Increasingly our foodstuff are being distorted from their natural state and with it our bodies harmony with them as we get out of evolutionary step. Why? A blind rush to genetically modify everything or coat it with herbicides and pesticides to preserve for fear we will run out of food. The forgotten dimension though is these genetic modifications are occurring at a speed of evolution that is outstripping our delicate biological self’s ability to adjust. The downside being we are having to work harder to process these hybrid protein, glutens etc . Unfortunately the Monsanto’s of this world would disagree in their forced march to shareholder value! I am not the only one conscious of the increase in allergies and food sensitivities, these may be in part due to the stardust such ailments have taken on through the celebrity factor but that does not account for the overall increase. But digitising our brains so we can transplant them into new ‘manufactured’ bodies is just a continuum of this artificial modern disposable society we live in. Perhaps more focus on preserving what we have would be more productive, and whilst some body part replacements are secondary to the core identity of our biological selves, the mind and its neural network tapping our core DNA is perhaps a bridge to far even in the dreams of Mr.Kurzweil.
For now Kurzweil’s idea of digitising our mind in a state that allows our core self to be preserved and transplanted sits alongside the ‘Heisenberg Compensator’ of Star Trek fame and whilst physicist Michio Kaku predicts that a teleportation device similar to this will be made in a 100years or so, there will always be things in science fiction that we aspire to that will remain in the realms of fantasy.
What Kurzweil has omitted is the delicate balance we are increasingly struggling to maintain, a veritable tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon in a force 9 gale of a journey, on this Googlesque force march to digital Nirvana. Facts that are now unavoidably pointing towards a conflict of interests and morals that Google and its ilk will need to address in their endeavour for shareholder value.
South Korea one of the earliest and the fastest adopters of the digital society and of personal digital smart devices is now experiencing the early waves of this impact. In any other field such a broad spectrum biological threat to the human organism would have the World Health Organisation rolling like thunder? I am talking about ‘Digital Dementia’ . It transpires that our increased use of digital interfaces, information feeds and online social interactions is acting like a blunt instrument on the most delicate of organs, our brains, leaving a trauma of debilitating dimensions. It is a reality of unknown proportions but with a frightening virility as it is unquestionably on the rise and as real as any HIV virus in its speed and traction once it gets a grip.
The challenge is Digital Dementia is largely unknown, a new frontier, the concern being it is now emergent in society but with what breadth and depth? What are the ramifications for society, a digital dependency that is already upon us? Giving Google the benefit of the doubt, that even they would find this abhorrent, Imagine a world where recall beyond the last 24 hours of retained memory would require a ‘Brain Cortex’ live tap to the Internet or its successor. Back on Star Trek territory this is frighteningly akin to cybernetically-dependent humanoids, the Borg. Is that where we want to go?
In the face of what is being experienced in Korea, hiding behind vaporous protestations that individuals have choice and they advise prudence in the hours users immerse themselves in their increasingly digitally dominated worlds is now sounding like a very hollow defence. We have experience we can reflect on, where in one generation what may be deemed safe is regarded in later generations as a woeful folly built on ignorance and socio-political attitudes being blinkered (if not blatantly bribed) by corporatocracies seeking profit.
Mr. Kurzweil has aspirations of uploading our minds, but by 2045 what state will the human mind be in to upload?
Or for something a little more light hearted: