Watching the new AMC series Humans and Mr. Robot, and considering my reaction to Ex Machina, I thought it might be worthwhile to investigate the basis for these stories.
The term “Singularity,” of course, means that there is only one thing, which resonates with mystical thinking but has found its way into science, mainly with respect to the thinking and book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil.
Kurzweil defined the Technological Singularity as:
“… a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.”
The assumption is that eventually, with sufficiently sophisticated programming and information, “synths” (synthetic life forms) would be conscious.
In the TV show Humans the “synths” begin as servants and robots and eventually become feeling creatures with a self and perhaps even a soul. I have only watched a few episodes.
What strikes me as problematic in all of these stories is the fudging of whether these synthetic humans are mechanical or biological. While they can have sex and touch (biology), they need to recharge electrically (in Humans), presumably because of their electronics.
(I’ve never felt the need to plug into the wall – even when I’m sad or have low energy.)
In the mechanical area we do have immensely powerful calculators like IBM’s Watson that can “outthink” humans by instantly searching through massive amounts of data and then using artificial intelligence to “interpret” it.
In the biological arena we have companies like Organovo that are 3D “printing” biological parts by reprogramming human cells to become various organs. While geneticists sometimes seem to be “creating life,” however, in reality they are simply revising it. They have not actually “animated” or brought to life anything inert. They are changing the instructions set (DNA) that they have discovered runs our biology.
William Patrick Patterson, who wrote a biography of Gurdjieff, uses the concept of “bioplasmic machines” in his own book, Spiritual Survival in a Radically Changing World Time, where he investigates the profound effects technology has had on humanity.
Gurdjieff himself, before the advent of computers, referred to humans who were “asleep” as conditioned machines and what science has discovered is more and more how the organism functions.
In the cinematic versions of artificially intelligent humans, they charge up electrically but apparently function biologically. It is not clear, nor is it relevant for the story, whether they were “created” from electronic or biological parts; presumably they are a mixture of both.
But let’s return to Kurzweil’s title of his book on the “Singularity” where he claims that technology will transcend biology.
Geneticist Dr. Robert Lanza coined the term “Biocentrism” to address this nonsensical possibility and to point science into a different direction in his book, Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe.
The key point of course is that information is not the same as consciousness.
Information is an aspect of how our bodies work (having been decoded in DNA), but as Eckhart Tolle has written so eloquently, the “intelligence that runs our circulation, digestion, elimination, and other functions so harmoniously is far greater than what has written these books or pulses in our brains.”
The problem, of course, is what philosopher Jacob Needleman (who is himself a student of the Gurdjieff work) terms “Scientism” (the assumption by science of its own objectivity) in his book A Sense of the Cosmos. In this book there is a description of a surgeon with similar hubris to Kurzweil who remarks that because of a biological anomaly, Nature (in his view) made a “mistake.”
This hubris on the part of science is a predisposition for materialism, which is strange because technology in particular has brought forth the reality of “wireless.” Bernardo Kastrup has dealt with this issue very well in his books, notably Why Materialism is Baloney, and Needleman nails it with this quote on “Scientism”:
One of them [obstacles to being good] is a kind of a belief, not in science so much, but in scientism. That is the religion of science. We know that our scientific progress and our technology [have] gotten way out in front of moral development. We are like little children sitting in a big powerful locomotive playing with the switches — we don’t know what the hell we are doing. I think our moral development, maybe our culture, has in some sense lagged behind our intellectual development.
(Interview with Needleman)
Again, we did not ever create Life. As Needleman says, we’re just playing with the switches and our conceit is that our science answers the deeper questions. Objectivity is just another concept running around in our brain – a brain that is a tiny fraction of the immensity of existence.
As for the Singularity leading to synthetic life forms – the jury remains out. But it’s best that we consider this: Biology can never be transcended – because Biology is not just what we think we “know,” but rather it’s what we ARE.
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