Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Downside of The Singularity

We are continuing on the transhuman trend today.

I’ve never been one to be blind to the drawbacks and possible pitfalls and perils of The Singularity.  What I have been opposed to are the ridiculous, ill-informed “what-ifs” posed by neo-Luddites afraid of losing the experience of “being human”…whatever that means these days.  So if you want to have a serious discussion about legitimate potential ill effects of transhumanism, this list posted at The Singularity Weblog is a good place to start. 

You can read the list for yourself.  I’ll give a brief description of each point here and add my own thoughts.

Brain state issues at time of upload—if you choose to have your brain frozen or otherwise preserved at death and then transferred to a computer, you might be stuck in your last moment while conscious, meaning a state of pain, fear, and hopelessness.  Or delirium.  Remember the last words of Steve Jobs?  “Oh wow.  Oh wow!”  If we progress far enough to upload human consciousness, I feel fairly assured that we would likewise have the technology to correct this issue.  That and my hopes are for The Singularity to occur before my death and to never even have to get to this point.

Apathy—if no one cares about Singularity issues before it happens, will we be stuck dealing with the aftermath?  Knowing us, it’s likely.

Corruption—building on that last point, Singularity technology might be tools for dictatorship.  Lord knows Alex Jones (yes, him again) has been harping about Singularity supporters and that we are helping to bring about a “scientific dictatorship.”  It’s extreme, but there might be a small amount of truth to this.
I’ve always wondered about the economics of all of this.  Transhuman enhancements would likely go to those who could first afford them.  Just like William Gibson says, “The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.”  That means the rich and the elite would get it first.  The 1%.  If you have had your life extended and much of your body replaced by cybernetics, would you care about the plights and concerns for those people who are still “meat?”  I doubt it.  Additionally, looking at the continual “dumbing” of America.  The truly powerful in the future will be those who understand Singularity technology and are in control of it.  Computers are already “the new literacy” and this will only increase by logarithmic magnitudes.  If you don’t understand and control the technology in life, you will be controlled by it.  Just a question of if the new world would look more like 1984 or Brave New World.

Unfriendly robots and AIs—fodder for any number of fictional works.  I can understand the apprehension.  "The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else,” said Eliezer Yudkowsky.  An intelligence that operates on pure logic yet is bereft of human ethics and compassion.  Unfortunately, that form of AI is easier to create than the kind that would have its own emotions.  While I don’t dismiss this entirely as potential threat, I also don’t find it to be an overly likely one.  Again, knowing the technology will help you control it.

Loss of identity—will humans be forced to continually interface with cloud computing in order to control devices or become more efficient?  Will we then transform into something like the Borg with a “hive mind?”  Since the advent of the Internet and social media, you can find out more about a person than you ever could before.  Secrets are fewer and farther between, just think of what could happen if our own thoughts were no longer private?  I scoffed at this one at first but with Internet privacy and security already being topics of major concern, I can see how they will only become more problematic in the future.

Yes, these are not exactly trivial concerns.  There are always a million reasons not to do something, aren’t there?  “What if” fears should not hold us back.  We should be mindful of them but not at the expense of advancement.

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