To Be a Machine- Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death

Technology and philosophy

It is not about technology. It is philosophy, that is the new black.

Future trends

There are many books about future trends. They all paint the same picture. It is fast, it is exponential, the technologies are amplifying each other, it is science fiction happening in front of our eyes, it is VUCA, it is scary, exciting, disruptive and most of all unpredictable.

Philosophy

What is much more interesting, are the philosophical questions. The consequences of all this new technology. Books like “WTF“, “Technology versus humanity“, “Life 3.0“. Compulsory reading for every CEO of a person in a leadership position. We really need to think about this and what this will mean. We are playing with fire, and we have not thought through the consequences.

To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death

Mark O’Connell went on a bit of a mental road trip in “To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death”. A great book to read, very difficult to explain. Combines the books mentioned above and mixes it with “The future of the mind“.

Transhumanism

He follows the transhumanism movement. They believe that we can and should use technology to control the future evolution of our species. Mother Nature has raised us from simple self-replicating chemicals to trillion-celled mammals with the capacity for self-understanding and empathy. Now it is time to take control ourselves

The tyranny of death

We should no longer consent to live under the tyranny of ageing and death, but should use the tools of biotechnology to “endow ourselves with enduring vitality and remove our expiration date.” Flesh is a dead format, and the is nothing special about carbon.

Augmentation

We should augment our powers of perception and cognition through technological enhancements of our sense organs and our neural capacities. We should no longer submit to being the products of blind evolution, but should instead seek a complete choice of bodily form and function, refining and augmenting our physical and intellectual abilities beyond those of any human in history. We should no longer be content to limit our physical, intellectual, and emotional capacities by remaining confined to carbon-based biological forms.

Silicon Valley

The more the author learned about transhumanism, the more he came to see that, for all its apparent extremity and strangeness, it was nonetheless exerting certain formative pressures on the culture of Silicon Valley, and thereby the broader cultural imagination of technology. The movement’s influence was perceptible, too, in Elon Musk’s and Bill Gates’s and Stephen Hawking’s increasingly vehement warnings about the prospect of our species’ annihilation by an artificial superintelligence, not to mention in Google’s employment of Ray Kurzweil, the high priest of the Technological Singularity, as its director of engineering. He saw the imprint of transhumanism in claims like that of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who suggested that “Eventually, you’ll have an implant.”

We are all cyborgs

Come to think of it. If a cyborg is a human body augmented and extended by technology, is this not what we basically are anyway? Are we not, as they say in the philosophy racket, always already cyborgs? And when technology goes internal. Read “Technology versus humanity“.

Topics

These men, they were men, after all, almost to a man, all spoke of a future in which humans would merge with machines. Talking about topics such as:

  • The radical extension of lifespans.
  • Mind uploading.
  • Increased mental capacity through pharmacological and technological means.
  • Artificial intelligence.
  • The enhancement of the human body through prostheses and genetic modification.
  • Cryonics, cryopreservation and cryonauts.
  • Creating a digital ghost, which is a consciousness untethered to any physical thing.
  • Reverse engineering of neural tissue and complete brains.
  • Whole brain emulation and development of neuroprostheses that reproduce functions of mind, creating what we call substrate-independent minds.
  • The emerging discipline of computational neuroscience.
  • Rewriting the operating systems of life.
  • The mind as a piece of software, an application running on the platform of flesh.
  • Morphological freedom which is the liberty to take any bodily form technology permits.
  • 3D microscopy, a technology for producing extremely high-resolution three-dimensional scans of brains.
  • Creating swarms of nano-scale robots capable of swimming freely in the brain’s network of blood vessels, each one then attaching itself like a limpet to the membrane of a neuron or close to a synapse.
  • No longer carrying computers around with us but instead take them into our bodies, into our brains and our bloodstreams, changing thereby the nature of the human experience.
  • The C. elegans nematode, a transparent roundworm about a millimetre in length, much favoured by neurologists for its manageably tiny number of neurons (302).
  • The brain as a meat machine
  • The vast disparity in processing power between human tissue and computer hardware. Neurons, for instance, fire at a rate of 200 hertz (or 200 times per second), whereas transistors operate at the level of gigahertz.
  • Signals travel through our central nervous systems at a speed of about 100 meters per second, whereas computer signals can travel at the speed of light.
  • The human brain is limited in size to the capacity of the human cranium, where it is technically possible to build computer processors the size of skyscrapers. The effects of exponential. Once we have enough computing power, we will be able to simulate in full, down to the quantum level, everything that our brains were doing in their current form, the meat form.
    The definition of consciousness (it does not exist)]
  • The intelligence explosion.
  • An AI software called Android Lloyd Webber.
  • The DARPA Robotics Challenge.
  • Robots that can hug.
  • Gerontology and biogerontology.
  • Ectogenesis.
  • The Moravec’s Paradox, after robotics professor Hans Moravec’s observation that “it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.
  • The practice of “mind-filing,” an idea taken from Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near. This is a daily techno-spiritual observance, whereby you upload some measure of data about yourself—a video, a memory, an impression, a photograph—to one of Terasem’s cloud servers, where it will be stored until such time as an unspecified future technology will be capable of reconstructing, from this accumulated data, a version of you, of your very soul, which can, in turn, be uploaded to an artificial body, that you might live eternally, blissfully, unencumbered by your mortal flesh.

This is what happens when winners take all

It seemed to me odd, though not especially surprising, that a hypothetical danger arising from a still nonexistent technology would, for these billionaire entrepreneurs, be more worthy of investment than, say, clean water in the developing world or the problem of grotesque income inequality in their own country.

Silicon Valley techno-progressivism

The rhetoric of Silicon Valley’s geek establishment is steeped in a diluted solution of countercultural idealism—changing the world, making things better, disrupting old orders, and so forth—but its roots are deep in the blood-rich soil of war. As the writer, Rebecca Solnit puts it, “the story Silicon Valley rarely tells about itself has to do with dollar signs and weapons systems.”

Reaction to what we have done to the world

Perhaps this fear of what might be done to us by our most sophisticated technology, by our last invention, is a kind of sublimated horror at what we have already done to the world, to ourselves. We are already, many of us, controlled in ways we barely reflect on by machineries we barely understand; and the history of science and technology, at its best and at its worst, is a history of the conquest of nature, of the curing of diseases and the eradication of vast numbers of species.

The irony

The irony is that the people who made the mess we are now in are most likely to get there. With the combination of space and immortality as the escape pod.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply