Saturday, June 22, 2013

Minding Our Progress

Our great contemporary scientific geniuses are to be admired, one of these, Raymond Kurzweil about whom there's an archived post HERE - was mentioned in a piece at HuffPo's Science section this week, by Tanya Lewis: Mind Uploading' & Digital Immortality May Be Reality By 2045, Futurists Say. ...SNIPS:

NEW YORK — By 2045, humans will achieve digital immortality by uploading their minds to computers — or at least that's what some futurists believe. This notion formed the basis for the Global Futures 2045 International Congress, a futuristic conference held here June 14-15................................
By 2045, "based on conservative estimates of the amount of computation you need to functionally simulate a human brain, we'll be able to expand the scope of our intelligence a billion-fold," Kurzweil said...............................

Mind uploading~~~~The conference took a surreal turn when Martine Rothblatt — a lawyer, author and entrepreneur, and CEO of biotech company United Therapeutics Corp. — took the stage. Even the title of Rothblatt's talk was provocative: "The Purpose of Biotechnology is the End of Death."

Rothblatt introduced the concept of "mindclones" — digital versions of humans that can live forever. She described how the mind clones are created from a "mindfile," a sort of online repository of our personalities, which she argued humans already have (in the form of Facebook, for example). This mindfile would be run on "mindware," a kind of software for consciousness. "The first company that develops mindware will have [as much success as] a thousand Googles," Rothblatt said. But would such a mindclone be alive? Rothblatt thinks so. She cited one definition of life as a self-replicating code that maintains itself against disorder. Some critics have shunned what Rothblatt called "spooky Cartesian dualism," arguing that the mind must be embedded in biology. On the contrary, software and hardware are as good as wet ware, or biological materials, she argued. Rothblatt went on to discuss the implications of creating mindclones. Continuity of the self is one issue, because your persona would no longer inhabit just a biological body. Then, there are mind-clone civil rights, which would be the "cause célèbre" for the 21st century, Rothblatt said. Even mindclone procreation and reanimation after death were mentioned.
That's all very "skiffy". If predictions by would-be futurists from the past are anything to go by the date 2045, a mere 32 years ahead, will be found to have been decidedly optimistic. But in any case, is this the kind of thing the best and brightest scientific brains on the planet ought to be focusing on? How about lending a few genius-tinted thoughts to climate change, water shortages, new power sources? We need the best and brightest minds on these right now.

I'm the last one to criticise the human urge towards progress, but it does depend in which direction the progress would seem to be heading. A few with more fluent pens than mine have said something along those lines:
“Some upstarts always try to get closer to the source of creation by ascending to the source's level. The story of Icarus is of course a parable about the folly of such an effort. Get too close to the sun and your hubris will get you burned. Yet in the eyes of twenty-first-century capitalist culture, which worships at the twin altars of the individual and technology, Icarus had initiative. And his melted wings do not represent some deep character flaw; he just needed better beta testers.”
― Marcus Wohlsen, Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life.

“Progress is something with no pity, and no purpose. It just happens. It chews up all you ever knew, and spits out things you can't understand, and the only value it seems to have is to make a few people a lot of money.”
― Spider Robinson, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon.

“We have laboured long to build a heaven, only to find it populated with horrors.”
― Alan Moore, Watchmen.

“The farther you go, however, the harder it is to return. The world has many edges, and it's easy to fall off.”
― Anderson Cooper.

“After the monkeys came down from the trees and learned to hurl sharp objects, they had had to move into caves for protection--not only from the big predatory cats but, as they began to lose their monkey fur, from the elements. Eventually, they started transposing their hunting fantasies onto cave walls in the form of pictures, first as an attempt at practical magic and later for the strange, unexpected pleasure they discovered in artistic creation.
Time passed. Art came off the walls and turned into ritual. Ritual became religion. Religion spawned science. Science led to big business. And big business, if it continues on its present mindless, voracious trajectory, could land those of us lucky enough to survive its ultimate legacy back into caves again.”

― Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito.

“It would be advisable to think of progress in the crudest, most basic terms: that no one should go hungry anymore, that there should be no more torture, no more Auschwitz. Only then will the idea of progress be free from lies.”
― Theodor W. Adorno


mike said...

The digital mind-clones have been fodder for many a sci-fi plot and even turned into TV entertainment on many of the original Star Trek episodes...advanced civilizations that physically died-out, but managed to digitize their leader and-or population for all of eternity. The conclusion of these TV episodes doesn't bode well for mind-clones!

It seems to me that the more progress humans endeavor through technology, the less natural we become and our difficulties with consequences is proportional to the amount of progress produced.

A quote from George Orwell along these lines:
“Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.”

Humans continue to create an artificiality through technology that expands our desires (self-awareness) as individuals and collectively. Yet, it misses the point that we are part of a far greater system and that we are not stand-alones in the cosmos. This self-awareness is the ultimate selfishness that is bent on our destruction. Separation from the cosmos and the natural order seems to be mankind's ultimate act of progressive suicide.

A quote from Hermann Hesse:
“If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything is tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn't there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?" Joseph Knect said to his Music Master "There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend rather, you should long for perfection in yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived not taught”

Twilight said...

mike ~ In fiction there's entertainment in the idea, but in real life, it's such a waste of the brilliant minds required to produce this so-called progress.

Your description: "progressive suicide" is very apt.

Here's a skiffy thought (and I bet I'm not the first to entertain it):
What if we humans are actually mind clones of some previously evolved race who killed themselves off by progressive suicide. ;-)

R J Adams said...

"The first company that develops mindware will have [as much success as] a thousand Googles..." - and that's just why they're working on it. It has nothing to do with improving human lives, and everything to do with accruing wealth and power. Who the hell would want to live on in some computer-chip form, anyway? Ah, yes, plenty of the wealthy set, I suppose. It shouldn't take more than a few megabytes to keep their puny minds ticking over. Me, when I'm dead, I want to stay dead. I'm reaching the age where I've had my fill of Homo sapiens and have no desire to rekindle any contact with the species, here, or on some future plane of existence.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ In this as in everything, especially in the US of A, it's always going to be a case of "follow the money".

This made me grimace:
Then, there are mind-clone civil rights, which would be the "cause célèbre" for the 21st century,

As we can't seem to get a grip on civil rights as things stand right now, think of the even worse potential for clusterfuck mind clone civil rights would spawn. :-(

I'll be long gone - but whether any of it happens, even for those coming after, depends entirely on whether this cycle of civilisation survives what'll undoubtedly be on its way towards us, if these geniuses don't get their act together and begin to address what's really important.

Chomp said...

You quoted: “It would be advisable to think of progress in the crudest, most basic terms: that no one should go hungry anymore, that there should be no more torture, no more Auschwitz. Only then will the idea of progress be free from lies.”
― Theodor W. Adorno

Yes but the bare fact is that our world today, governed by its domineering forces, simply **cannot** give all that...

Simply cannot!!

So what do you wanna do...

Riots in the streets, civil rights and so on??

Absolutely insufficient if it lacks, and lacks..., another model of economy.
I must say, I dare say, I have fear that this “lacking” will continue... not to lack!!

And so all the good thing we may do or think or envisage or what else, will continue to fail if it won’t come a good and definitive final moment in which we start to **focus** on the basics...


Twilight said...

Chomp ~ German philosopher Theodor Adorno was describing the ideal direction in which progress should be headed. I suppose his words came shortly after World War 2 - Perhaps in the world, at that time, there could have been hope of the right direction being taken.

We went wrong, didn't we? Took the wrong road. Now, it looks impossible to double back, and the ideal described in the quote has become impossible without a worldwide revolution.

That is what, eventually will have to happen, I think: The People against The 1% (or whatever else anyone calls them (the elite, the bankers, the Illuminati, the capitalists, the powers that be behind the curtain). I don't see it coming yet a while though......the fever will not burst until the whole body feels aflame. :-(

Chomp said...

Yes it is, you are right when you wrote: “the fever will not burst until the whole body feels aflame.”

What I see as crucial is this: Up to the very moment in which the issue of the redistribution of richness won’t be united with the issue of civil rights and the right of privacy so in danger today, until that very moment simply we cannot make a step beyond the situation we’re in from so many years...

And you are right too when you referred to the period soon after the World War the Second. It is well known that after a bad period, in individual as in collective life, we want to be constructive, we show good will.

But the worst trait of human existence is that men forget..

We soon forget and old interests return. They returned to win again...

Now we live in the tail of knots and problems generated by their winning... The 1% won the whole world, the whole world in their hands. And that is the result, fundamentally an unhappy planet...
No-one is happy, no-one feels in the right condition or the right place. For it is true: No-one is its proper place in life ...

Of course this too will pass, but when and at what cost...

Haven’t we paid enough??

Twilight said...

Chomp ~~ We do forget - and forget so soon! The drive for wealth, power and control is so strong in too many people, those people don't wish to remember.

Change will come, one day. We can also remember that it did come in the past - that's the only bright spot on a far, far horizon.