By Parth Sharma:
Evolution to us is as natural as breathing. To surpass limited natural capabilities has been our endeavor since time immemorial. Earlier it was with sticks and bones, an extension of the human hand; now it is with the help of microchips, transmitters, and processors. Earlier humans used to interact with technology as a separate entity i.e. outside the human body, but now changes are being realized within the individual—changing the meeting point of humans and technology.
Technology has already touched almost all spheres of our life. The onus has shifted from making our life more convenient to altering our physical reality and mental faculty. The desire to change ourselves is not a result of the 21st century. From the Greek mythological Icarus and Daedalus to Julian Huxley, FM-2030 or Zoltan Istvan (founder of the Transhumanist Party), the attempt to change oneself, rebuild and reconstruct the human physiology is innate. It is a futuristic—cyborg society that these people deem impending.
According to Prof Al. Rodhan, a senior fellow at the Oxford University and authority in the field of transhumanism, it is our innate tendency to enhance our physical and mental capabilities, to strive to do better than the previous. He terms it as “inevitable transhumanism” which is only accelerating with the help of technology.
These technologies have enhanced, as was expected, our living experience either by taking the load off our back (Human Universal Load Carrier), by giving us company (Siri, Cortana, Cleverbot), by increasing our perceptions (Google Glass and Oculus Rift) and even replacing natural organs with artificial ones. So deep was/is our belief in technology that people have cryogenically frozen themselves, in hopes of being brought to back to life when it is possible.
And surely the thought is not absurd as these machines, or should we say our scientists, are over-reachers and have outdone their own expectations time and again. With transporting 1024 bits in trucks to carrying 1024 gigabytes in our pockets, we sure have come a long way and with processor speed doubling every two years, we still have a long way to go.
The developers of the AlphaGo-playing program also predicted, in 2014, another good ten years when artificial intelligence will defeat human champion without a head start, and in 2016, Google Deepmind’s AlphaGo AI defeated Lee Sedol, the reigning world champion. Maybe the glitch in approximation thus lies in our inability to grasp the potential inherent in this technology.
That is probably why Elon Musk has stated that AI could be more dangerous than nukes and is “our biggest existential threat”. Stephen Hawking joins him by warning artificial intelligence could end humankind by “taking off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.”
Transhumanism also comes with its less pessimistic supporters. Rollo Carpenter, the founder of Cleverbot, says, “We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can’t know if we’ll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it.”
The man vs. the machine debate has also brought in the new angle of post-humanism. While we explore the possibilities of a post-human future, critics such as Nick Land are of the opinion that rather than merely adding to the capabilities of human beings and acting as subordinate aides, artificial intelligence will take over the human race. These philosophers view work in this light as an approach to freeze the natural process of evolution. The debate, however, is inconclusive as we aren’t there yet.
Ideally, those affected will welcome the post-human life as it will elevate their standards of living; obliterate impossible paralysis, ailments and achieve things inconceivable as of today. But will that eventually lead to a robotized, sub-human existence is the question?
While Mythology, Sci-fi movies, and futuristic science have done their bit of entertaining us with this anti-hero, their existence in reality, does not seem to be that far behind. The usage of artificial intelligence to chalk out and decipher military strategies has been doing the rounds for some time now. However, despite being a success story, artificial intelligence and transhumanism have the potential to become a chimera that might devour its own creator.