Singularity: A New View of Brain and Machine
Fun Stuff to Contemplate
By: J. Marlando
Lots of people around the world are excited with the prospect of a projected singularity which is, at bottom line, a melting of human mind with the artificial (and advanced) intelligence of future machines. (For anyone interested there are a couple of great books to read on the subjects and I will list them at the end of this article).
The basic thought is that not too far in the future there will be computers that operate millions or even billions of times faster and better than out human brains and that they will become more than objects in our lives but actual extensions of our lives—the machines will be us and we will be them. As a result we will create a perfect world to live virtually forever in.
Sounds like science fiction, I know but it is within the speculations of today’s top scientists including biologists and a great many other reductionists around the world.
The projections include unimaginable scientific discoveries in medicine, aerospace and space travel…you name it, the mega super intelligence of robotic advancements will be able to uncover the secrets of the universe…or so is thought by a great many of today’s physicists and other scientists and thinkers.
What “they” are talking about is compiling endless threads of information into computer-like machines that can instantaneously solve problems of and give answers to…well, anything. Today Google is a kind of example of today’s extreme technology in that it delivers instantly a universe of information offering a kind of “mind” that permits us all to tap into. Not too many years ago this would have been considered science fiction but is today taken for granted. What in the world will the next one hundred…one thousand years bring?
Most of us were able to get a glimpse of the projected future that saw 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL the computer attempts to take over power from its human operators. Could this actually happen? That is a time when the machine becomes so advanced that it will desire to enslave the humans that created it?
This to me implies that future machines will be endowed with some kind of ego since it is ego alone that wishes to conquer and control—true intelligence tends to overrule (or transcend) ego not embrace it. And so, for me, this negates the possibility of a “HAL phenomenon.”
Indeed, I doubt a singularity in all its futuristic implications and this article will attempt to explain why.
A View of Human Intelligence
It seems obvious that those who actually believe that singularity is a real possibility believe also in the Newtonian clock-work world where in everything, including our brains are kinds of machines. They are convinced that when the machine stops running it is no longer of value; a typical existential observation! They also believe that the self—the thing we call “I”—is a product of the body and so thinking is a mere function of the brain. They consider images such as “soul” or “spirit” or “consciousness” to be naïve at worst and wishful thinking at best. To them there is no “ghost in the machine” so to speak. And so, we are fundamentally the result of vibrating neurons at the foundation of our physical being. At present, the world’s ultimate machines but machines never the less.
This mechanical world view was seeded by the philosopher Rene Descartes during the 1600s. Descartes took spirit (and so God) out of all things except humans preparing the way for Newton’s mechanical world view. After Darwin’s theory became well known in the second half of the 1800s, higher education and science made atheism popular by advocating that all life emerged from accident. Indeed the intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre who said, “Everything that exists is born for no reason, carries on living though weakness, and dies by accident.”
How’s that as information to start your day with? Well, this dead-view world, to one extent or another belongs to countless professors, teachers, scientists, doctors and other self-proclaimed intellectuals who mirror themselves as “knowing.”
One oddly positive outlook for these “knowing” intellectuals is that they dream of technology becoming so advanced that they will be able to download their minds and so their personalities into future computer-like machines and therefore become immortal. This is laughable because they are hoping to virtually become the “ghosts in the machines,” the very thing that they deem impossible for the machines they call human to contain.
In any case, an interesting observation is that ever since prehistoric times every generation seems to know at least a little more than the last—what an incredible step to become an agricultural community from a tribe of hunter/gatherers. What an advancement to go from cave drawings to Hammurabi’s cuneiform clay tablets creating centralized government. What an amazing stretch between spear throwing and smart bombs that are already putting a kind of artificial intelligence to work.
What seems to be the human brain’s great phenomenon is that it obviously knows everything…in potential. And, as I indicate in the above, more and more of that omniscience is being revealed with every generation. When we were our grandchildren’s age we were naïve and empty headed compared to how much more our grandchildren know at the same age? And how much more will their children and grandchildren know?
If I have read Ray Kurzweil (The Singularity is Near) correctly he believes that eventually when the machines are finally humanized (or is it the other way around) they will be infused with the qualities of consciousness like intelligence, knowledge, creativity, beauty, emotional intelligence and so the ability to love.
This to me is mixing apples with oranges so to speak: Intelligence is an ocean away from, say, creativity just as knowledge is that far away from love and loving. And this brings me to why I personally cannot accept the “singularity” of man and machine even in the far off future and the way our technology keeps advancing.
Science, Consciousness and Spirit
There is an arena packed with biologists and other scientists and scholars that remain so enamored with DNA that they conceive of futuristic worlds wherein life falls under the control of technological creation and man and machine merge into a singularity that is positive and powerful—if this ever would occur there are countless questions that arise dealing with morality, ethics, law and free will. We will not go into all that here, however. The only question I wish to ask here is can AI (Artificial Intelligence) ever really be constructed to match much less surpass human intelligence.
It is my belief that the biologists and others I refer to in the above are missing a tremendously important point—singularity already exists!
When we can recognize our human bodies as being the most complex and beautifully constructed “machines” and stop believing that mind is a mere epiphenomenon of the physical brain we will be at the starting gate of a new era of humanity; an advanced, kinder, more loving era. The first condition is to understand that it is NOT our bodies that give us consciousness but rather that it is our consciousness that manifests our bodies.
Machines will no doubt be able to mock consciousness through its high tech abilities in the future but it will forever fail in actually being conscious. A major reason for this is that most of science assumes that thinking and so calculating and determining are the greatest asset of being a human being. As the physicist and molecular biologist, Jeremy W. Hayward tells us: “There is a radical difference between the firing of the neurons that make me see a rose and my experience of seeing a rose. You simply can’t get from one to the other.”
In reference to what we’ve been talking about here, while a machine may one day be given all the knowledge or information available, and it might be able to calculate and determine a thousand or even a million time faster than the human brain. There will never be a machine that knows what it FEELS like to be a machine much less to experience “empathy” for other machines.
Based on this alone, I believe that singularity will remain science fiction forever more.
Hayward, Jeremy W. * Letters to Vanessa *Shambhala
Kurzweil, Ray * The Singularity is Near * Penguin Books
Kurzweil, Ray * The Age of Spiritual Machines *Viking
Tipler, Frank J. * The Physics of Immortality *DoubleDay