Sunday, January 15, 2006

Next Level"

To what are we giving birth?

Al Fin discusses the coming changes in humanity as the result of cyborg technologies and bio-engineering. In doing so, he hits upon why I call our present age, The Pre-Future. He also makes a very important moral/intellectual distinction at the end of this essay:

When referring to the progress of humans, I typically refer to the impending higher stage of mental and physical development of humans as "the next level." The term, "the singularity," is reserved for a technological evolution of increasing machine sophistication (including nanotech) and increasing sophistication of information technologies. The singularity can occur without significant change in human nature, simply because science and technology development does not require very many people, in relative numbers.

The singularity is a technological and scientific event.

The next level is a human event, the transformation of humans.

At the present time, what I call "between-levels humans" are simply too short-lived and too stupid to take care of this part of the universe. Look at the pollution, the religious wars, the third world deforestation, the primitive and wasteful energy technologies. Look at the insane politics, the oppression, the dictators starving their people. Look at the drug abuse, the general escapism, the strong drive to retire without ever achieving anything.

Technological and scientific advances can occur at a dazzling rate, and not change basic humanity. There will be more sophisticated means of escape, virtual reality being one such grail to be sought. Machine intelligence is looked on by many as either a benign form of slavery, or as an act of creating another intelligent species with which to commune. The more likely result of machine intelligence is a dizzying escalation of non-human intelligence, engineered by non-humans, for the benefit of non-humans.

That is, unless humans become more intelligent themselves, intelligent enough to understand and anticipate their creations, before they are created.

The laws of complexity suggest that emergent phenomena can always surprise a designer. Simple starting rules give birth to complex resultant phenomena. Humans must become more intelligent, and longer lived. There has always been a shortage of wise, intelligent, experienced humans. Look at contemporary society in the western world, where the vanity and rashness of youth are valued over the wisdom and perspective of maturity. Passion and excitement are valued, which is good, but they are valued above many other things that are more integral to a satisfying life.

We must not allow ourselves to lag too far behind our technology. Evolution by natural selection is a slow worker, requiring millenia and millions of years to accomplish great things. Evolution has done its work on each of us, for good or ill. But now we are not content to wait. Diabetics take genetically engineered insulin, in order to live and function. Critically ill patients in emergency wards and ICUs are given genetically engineered potions to allow them to survive the crisis and heal. Victims of malignant tumors are given genetically engineered drugs to combat their malignancies, and other genetically engineered drugs to help their bodies rebuild.

We drink milk produced by cows given genetically engineered BGH. We consume breads and pastas made from genetically engineered grains. We are encouraged by the improvement of health in third world countries, where genetically engineered "golden rice" prevents illness and death of children.

Genetic engineering, and soon stem cells and tissue engineering, are becoming a natural part of daily human existence. Most people shy away from the gene engineering of the human genome, but that too is becoming more common. Innocent children, through no fault of their own, are born with fatal genetic illnesses. In the opulent western world, we are generally happy to do whatever we can to provide these unfortunates with any advantage possible, including genetic therapies.

On the singularity side, cyborg technologies are becoming extremely common. Cochlear implants prepare the way for retinal implants. High technology titanium prosthetics make way to pressure sensing and active responding prosthetics. We are becoming more comfortable with the idea of prosthetic technologies to assist in compensating for any deficits. Mental prosthetics are very near, in fact in many ways personal computers and communications networks are forms of mental prosthesis, taking over from the printed page and spoken word.

What I am referring to with this discussion, is the difference between a consciousness that is biologically enhanced, and a consciousness that is technologically enhanced. Yes, I realize that technology is involved in any "artificial" enhancements. The distinction is useful, nonetheless. Next levels put humans first, singularitarians put technology first, whether intentionally or not.

I want to talk, briefly, about the four points I highlighted here. Al Fin said:

1) Look at the drug abuse, the general escapism, the strong drive to retire without ever achieving anything.

Pastorius comment: Yes, that's why, to me, it's such a frightening prospect that humans are now coming to understand the DNA switches which start and stop the aging process. If we humans are, generally, such imaginatively weak creatures that we can't figure out what to do with 70 years here on Earth, why would we want to live 700 years? That's an important question to ponder. What kind of mischief will humans get themselves in with that much time on their hands?

2) That is, unless humans become more intelligent themselves, intelligent enough to understand and anticipate their creations, before they are created.

Pastorius note: This is the essence of the Pre-Futurist Age. The technologies we are currently in the process of developing are so epochal, and they are coming at us so fast, so inevitably, that we must begin to make decisions about them now, almost as if these technologies were already present with us. In a sense, we are living with the ghost of technologies future.

3) Mental prosthetics are very near, in fact in many ways personal computers and communications networks are forms of mental prosthesis.

Pastorius note: Yes, computers are mental prosthetics. That sounds like a poetic statement, but it isn't in the least. Here's why. As I have noted, we have already devloped chips which interact with the brain to both download and upload information between computer and brain. In the future, chips will be developed which will help humans speed up their ability to download and upload information to their brain. At a certain point, this transfer of informtion between computer and brain will go wireless.

At that point, there will be no distinction between the internet and human brain. The internet will, literally, be a mental prosthetic for human beings.

What will humans do with the capacity of all-known knowledge? What will happen when humans achieve this kind of functional omniscience?

4) Next levels put humans first, singularitarians put technology first.

Pastorius note: I'm not as concerned as many futurists are with the prospect that computers will take over for humans. Why? Because I think there will be a seamless melding of humans and computers, as described in the above point. The Human Will will, quite literally, possess the internet.

So, the problem isn't a loss of the human, or of humanity, but instead, the problem is whether we, as Pre-Futurists, envision the future to be set up in a humane way, or whether we set it up as a Technocracy.

What do I mean by that?

Well, what did I mean, for instance, by the phrase, "functional omniscience?"

Well, by functional omniscience, I mean, possessing all known-knowledge, including all the knowledge of the other human beings with whom we share our space. And, what does that entail?

The problem, as I say, is not whether humans will continue to exist, but whether humans will exist in a tolerable state. Will humans live in a way that is conducive to their humanity?

Can humans, for instance, live in a world where hackers can hack their mind at any time? Do such violations of privacy take away the ability to let the imagination run free? Will such technology destroy our capacity for creativity? In that sense, will we be able to fulfill our humaness?

How can we ensure that the future will hold a zone of privacy for each human, so that each human is able to retain his own mental space, and be an individual, so that each human is able to be an individually cretive entity?