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“We do not ride upon the railroad, it rides upon us.” Henry Thoreau.

Write a response to the different views put forward by Kevin Warwick and Bill Joy

Abstract

In this paper I will discuss the articles written by Kevin Warwick and Bill Joy. I will describe in some detail the issues that I found most interesting and the conclusion that they brought me too in regard to the quote from Thoreau.

Introduction

There is one thing that disturbs me greatly, about the articles “Cyborg 1.0″ and “Why the future doesn’t need us.” written by Kevin Warwick and Bill Joy respectively, and that is that although Warwick and Joy are of different opinions, they do agree on one thing. They both agree on a future where intelligent machines will be superior to humans and the possibility of the extinction of the human race, as we know it.

Although they proclaim different attitudes, Warwick openly embraces machines whereas Joy has a proclamation of caution, both are resigned to the fact that within a short period of time, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will exist and within the same amount of time will come sentient robots, cyborgs, nanotechnology and clones. After these technologies appear, to them it is only a matter of time before, due to these technologies, the human race as we know it will end.

Although Genetic Engineering and other technologies that they mention have already been proven to be not only possible but also commercially viable, it still reminds me of a Science Fiction novel. But the truth is that the line between Science Fiction and Science Fact is being dissolved at an exponential rate. This worries me………….

Mankind as Gods

It has been said before that man has now the power of God. “We are as Gods!” has been proclaimed by many and indeed refuted by few. But we are not as Gods, and if we believe that we are, then we are fools. Mankind has not the wisdom to apply the power, that we can wield, wisely. Although we hold in our hands the power to create and destroy life by our own technologies we are truly not God-like. We have not the understanding or the foresight to proclaim ourselves deities in our own right. Like Faust we are playing with forces that we cannot understand, and that we should not be interfering with.

To paraphrase Joy in his article, “If we had gained more collective wisdom over the past few thousand years, then…………the incredible powers we are about to unleash would not be nearly so troubling.”1 But unfortunately we have not, and these powers are very worrying. Joy does not believe that humans as a race have the wisdom to control these new technologies that are appearing at the horizon. I agree, we only have to look at the 20th Century, a century not only remarkable in the scientific and technological strides that were made in those hundred years but also in the number of lives that were lost in industrial disasters and war. Millions upon millions have died due to the cruelty, the lack of foresight and the mistakes of man. I do not believe that the last of these tragedies has happened.

Mankind is not ready for the power provided by technologies such as Genetic Engineering, nor are we ready to make the correct decision of how to put other technologies like Nanotechnology, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence to a wise and safe use.

Not only is the power of a deity possible through technology but also another God-like quality, that being immortality! If we are to believe such people as Ray Kurzweil then indeed immortality is possible “by becoming one with robotic technology.”2 But I do not believe that such a thing is a good thing. Mankind was not designed to be immortal; I do not believe it to be natural or a safe thing. Already the world groans under the pressure of the population of mankind sucking up its resources, immortality would only add fuel to the fire. I for one would be enticed by the sparkling promise of living forever, better to have lived and die than to live forever supported by machines!

We have no right to be Gods, nor is it likely that we will truly become as Gods. But people will lie to themselves and trick themselves into believing that they are as Gods with their shiny technologies, their robotic hearts and their oversized egos.

Machines as Gods

If we are to assume that some of the worst fears and/or dreams of both Warwick and Joy are possible and indeed come true, then machines, computers and robots could have the power of Gods over mankind. They would be immortal, and have control over all our resources over industry and indeed over us!

Machines, computers and robots would be likely to be used to make our lives easier by looking after everything for us, thus allowing mankind to live in a utopia where we can pursue our own interests and pleasures. I immediately think of H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine” where humans live a life of pleasure and idleness and all the details are looked after the Morlocks who live beneath the ground, but who are in control over the normal humans.

This scenario of machines having total control is quite possible as Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber points out: “Eventually a stage may be reached at which decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.”3 This also suggests that machines will not just be able to control us but that they will have power over our lives. Without them we would not be able to survive.

It is indeed possible that machines will become as Gods, revered and feared by society. Revered because of the power that they wield, feared for the same reason. Machines indeed could become Gods over us, but only if we allow them to, however some would argue that this allowance has already been made.

Humans as Machines

“I was born human. But this was an accident of fate – a condition merely of time and place. I believe it’s something we have the power to change.”4 Thus Warwick opens “Cyborg 1.0.” This dream of becoming fused with machine is laid out in Cyborg 1.0. To be honest the article scared me and in other ways angered me and indeed in places disgusted me. All this is due to the fact that I do not understand why Warwick wishes to become a cyborg. Is being human not enough?

According to Warwick, no it isn’t. He is a man with a vision. It is an interesting vision but one to me which brings the possibility of a Big Brother situation or even worse! He describes in some detail his next experiment where he will place an implant into his arm, which will be connected to his nervous system. The implant will send electronic signals from the nervous system to a computer for the signal to be analysed and manipulated. However Warwick does not wish to stop there. No, he has other ideas such as playing back emotions, pain and motion signals which were recorded previously and seeing if these play-backs will have the same effect as the original recorded signal. Instantly I think of a society of humans with implants in their bodies. These implants can send signals of pain or pleasure and through this implant a governing body can easily control them. Indeed this may not be needed as control of motion could be implemented, thus in effect these humans have become machines! If I can come up with this idea then I have no doubt that others have had the same idea as well.

Warwick also says that “linking people via chip implants directly to…machines seems a natural progression, a potential way of harnessing machine intelligence by, essentially, creating superhumans.”5 It does not occur to him that these “superhumans” might not in fact be human after such a transformation. Nor does he consider that all this connecting together is potentially disastrous. If indeed people are connected to machines then it would seem likely that these machines would also be interconnected and in effect the people would be all interconnected. However I believe that this would not work, to paraphrase Joy, “Individuals clearly have this desire [for self-preservation], yet as a species out behaviour seems to be not in our favor.”6 So what happens if Warwick’s belief that “humans will become cyborgs and no longer be stand-alone.” I believe that we would self-destruct, individuality is a strong characteristic in humans but machines are not by design. To combine machine and man is a dangerous and unpredictable thing; it is unclear of what the outcome of such a fusion might be.

Machines as Humans

If artificial intelligence is achieved then a new Pandora’s Box will be opened. Machines will no longer just follow our instructions they will have intelligence, and the consequences of this are unpredictable. There is the possibility that they will take on more human traits, considering the fact that it was humans that designed the machines. There is also the possibility of androids. Androids are another staple theme for Science Fiction along with clones and cyborgs; they are used memorably in the book “Do androids dream of electronic sheep?” and the well-known film of the book “Bladerunner.” If machines can have intelligence then how will we be able to distinguish man from machine, finally the machines will receive an A+ in the Turing test.

If machines become so intelligent that they can in truth be given the title of artificial life then mankind will have reached its so-called finest hour while at the same time it will be ringing of the death knell for mankind. Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest can be applied not just to natural life but to artificial life as well. Thus it is possible that machines will be a stronger race than mankind and will due to its existence lead to the diminishing and possible extinction of the human race. Warwick and Joy both believe that it is possible that this may happen. Joy does not only believe in this scenario but many others, where AI does not play a large part such as the possibility of the “gray goo problem” an application of nanotechnology “could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days.”7 However both Warwick and Joy can agree that it is almost inevitable that “we’re doomed to a future in which intelligent machines rule and humans become second-class citizens.”8

I find this ironic in the fact that machines are our tools at present, they do our bidding and work for us, it is possible that we will work for them in the future. This is a better ending than entire extinction however I believe that both Warwick and Joy both think that is a short step from second-class citizenship to extinction. Thus just as we have caused the extinction of many species so too might machines cause our extinction. They will have learned well from their creators!

Conclusion

Thus I can come to two possibilities and from that a common conclusion. There is the possibility that mankind or a portion of it will use these new technologies and because of this an unpleasant future will come about. Or secondly, there is the possibility that the technology will be in complete control and from this an equally unpleasant future will come about. However I agree with Joy that “whether we succeed or fail, to survive or fall victim to these technologies, is not yet decided.”9 Therefore I still have hope, but I think that at the moment there is not enough awareness in the world of the dangers. However I do confess that the technology at this time is driving us, because of this lack of discussion and awareness, because of this I am worried.

The railroad indeed rides upon us, its’ iron rails are laid upon us sleepers, as the railroad approaches a dark tunnel, I wonder will we see the end of it and if we do, whether there will be light or not.

Bibliography

[Joy 2000] Bill Joy, “Why the future doesn’t need us.” Wired 8.04 – Apr 2000 The Cond?Nast Publications Inc. Wired Digital, Inc.

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html

[Warwick 2000] Kevin Warwick, “Cyborg 1.0″ Wired 8.02 – Feb 2000 The Cond?Nast Publications Inc. Wired Digital, Inc.

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.02/warwick_pr.html

[Kaczynski] Theodore Kaczynski “Unabomber Manifesto” The New York Times and The Washington Post (Quoted from [Joy 2000])

  1. [Joy 2000]
  2. [Joy 2000]
  3. [Kaczynski]
  4. [Warwick 2000]
  5. [Warwick 2000]
  6. [Joy 2000]
  7. [Joy 2000]
  8. [Warwick 2000]
  9. [Joy 2000]