Transhumanism and Immortality – 21st Century Snake Oil

Before I start my rant, I recognize that the Transhumanism movement is chock full of cool ideas, many of which make complete sense, even though they are perhaps obvious and inevitable.  The application of science and technology to the betterment of the human body ranges from current practices like prosthetics and Lasik to genetic modification and curing diseases through nanotech.  It is happening and there’s nothing anyone can to to stop it, so enjoy the ride as you uplift your biology to posthumanism.

However, part of the Transhumanist dogma is the idea that we can “live long enough to live forever.”  Live long enough to be able to take advantage of future technologies like genetic manipulation  which could end the aging process and YOU TOO can be immortal!

The problem with this mentality is that we are already immortal!  And there is a reason why our corporeal bodies die.  Simply put, we live our lives in this reality in order to evolve our consciousness, one life instance at a time.  If we didn’t die, our consciousness evolution would come to a grinding halt, as we spend the rest of eternity playing solitaire and standing in line at the buffet.  The “Universe” or “All That There Is” appears to evolve through our collective individuated consciousnesses.  Therefore, deciding to be physically immortal could be the end of the evolution of the Universe itself.  Underlying this unfortunate and misguided direction of Transhumanism is the belief (and, I can’t stress this enough, it is ONLY that – a belief) that it is lights out when we die.  Following the train of logic, if this were true, consciousness only emerges from brain function, we have zero free will, the entire universe is a deterministic machine, and even investigative science doesn’t make sense any more.  So why even bother with Transhumanism if everything is predetermined?  It is logically inconsistent.  Materialism, the denial of the duality of mind and body, is a dogmatic Religion.  Its more vocal adherents (just head on over to the JREF Forum to find these knuckleheads) are as ignorant to the evidence and as blind to what true science is as the most bass-ackward fundamentalist religious zealots.

OK, to be fair, no one can be 100% certain of anything.  But, there is FAR more evidence for consciousness driven reality than for deterministic materialism.  This blog contains a lot of it, as does my first book, “The Universe-Solved!“, with much more in my upcoming book.

The spokesman for transhumanistic immortality is the self-professed “Transcendent Man“, Ray Kurzweil.  Really Ray?  Did you seriously NOT fight the producers of this movie about you to change the title to something a little less self-aggrandizing, like “Modern Messiah”? #LRonHubbard

So I came across this article about the 77 supplements that Ray takes every day.  From the accompanying video clip, he believes that they are already reversing his aging process: “I’m 65. On many biological aging tests I come out a lot younger. I expect to be in my 40s 15 years from now.”

He has been on this regimen for years.  So let’s see how well those supplements are doing.  Picking an objective tool from one of Ray’s own favorite technologies – Artificial Intelligence – the website how-old.net has an AI bot that automatically estimates your age from an uploaded photo.  I took a screen shot from the video clip (Ray is 65 in the clip) and uploaded it:

Ray Kurzweil Age

85!  Uh oh.  Hmmm, maybe the bot overestimates everyone’s age. I’m 10 years younger than Ray.  Let’s see how I fare, using a shot taken the same year at a ski resort – you know, one of those sports Ray says to avoid (Ray also claims that his kids will probably be immortal as long as they don’t take up extreme sports):

JimHowOld

I don’t know if it is the supplements that make Ray look 20 years older than he is, or the extreme skiing that makes me look 13 years younger than I am.  But I’m thinking maybe I’m onto something. [Note: I do realize that the choice of pictures could result in different outcomes.  I just thought it was ironic that the first two that I tried had these results]

Yes, I’m fairly confident that these supplements have some value in improving the function of various organs and benefiting a person’s overall health and well being.  I’m also fairly certain that much of traditional medical community would disagree and point to the lack of rigorous scientific studies supporting these supposed benefits as they always do.  On the whole, I suspect that, on the average, supplements might extend one’s lifetime somewhat.  But I doubt that they will reverse aging.  The human body is far too complex to hope that adding a few organic compounds would be sufficient to modify and synchronize all of the complex cellular and systemic metabolic chemical reactions toward a reversal of the aging process.  Kurzweil is obviously a very bright man who has had a significant entrepreneurial legacy in the high tech world.  However I think he and the rest of the materialist transhumanists are way over their heads on the topic of immortality and our place and purpose in the Universe.

My suggestion, Ray… skip the supplements, skip the self-promotion, skip the Google plugs, drive your goddamn car, and don’t be afraid to be active.  Stick with high tech, leave the evolution of the universe to its own devices, and enjoy the rest of this life.

Embracing Virtuality

In 2009, a Japanese man married a woman named Nene Anegasaki on the island of Guam.  The curious thing was that Nene was a virtual character in the Nintendo videogame LovePlus.

OurVirtualFuture1

In 2013, Spike Jonze directed the highly acclaimed (and Academy Award nominated) film “Her”, in which the protagonist falls in love with an OS (operating system) AI (artificial intelligence).

OurVirtualFuture2

Outrageous you say?

Consider that for centuries people have been falling in love sight unseen via snail mail.  Today, with online dating, this is even more prevalent.  Philosophy professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev notes that online technology “enables having a connection that is faster and more direct.”

So it got me thinking that these types of relationships aren’t that different from the virtual ones that are depicted in “Her” and are going to occur with increasing frequency as AI progresses.  The interactions are exactly the same; it is just that the entity at the end of the communication channel is either real or artificial.

But wait, what is artificial and what is real?  As Morpheus said in “The Matrix,” “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”  This is not just philosophy; this is as factual as you can get.

As a growing number of researchers, physicists, and philosophers come to terms with the supporting evidence that we already live in a virtual reality, we realize that there is no distinction between a virtual entity that we think is virtual (such as a game character) and a virtual entity that we think is real (such as the person you are in a relationship with).  Your consciousness does not emerge from your brain; its seat is elsewhere.  Your lover’s consciousness therefore is also elsewhere.  You are interacting with it via the transfer of data and your emotions are part of your core consciousness.  Does it matter whether that data transfer is between two conscious entities outside of physical reality or between a conscious entity and another somewhat less conscious entity?

As technology progresses, AI advances, and gaming and simulations become more immersive, falling in love or having any other kind of emotional experience will be occurring more and more frequently with what we today think of as virtual entities.

Now, it seems shocking.  Tomorrow it will be curious.  Eventually it will be the norm.

Yesterday’s Sci-Fi is Tomorrow’s Technology

It is the end of 2011 and it has been an exciting year for science and technology.  Announcements about artificial life, earthlike worlds, faster-than-light particles, clones, teleportation, memory implants, and tractor beams have captured our imagination.  Most of these things would have been unthinkable just 30 years ago.

So, what better way to close out the year than to take stock of yesterday’s science fiction in light of today’s reality and tomorrow’s technology.  Here is my take:

yesterdaysscifi

Is LIDA, the Software Bot, Really Conscious?

Researchers from the Cognitive Computing Research Group (CCRG) at the University of Memphis are developing a software bot known as LIDA (Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent) with what they believe to be cognition or conscious processes.  That belief rests on the idea that LIDA is modeled on a software architecture that mirrors what some believe to be the process of consciousness, called GWT, or Global Workspace Theory.  For example, LIDA follows a repetitive looping process that consists of taking in sensory input, writing it to memory, kicking off a process that scans this data store for recognizable events or artifacts, and, if something is recognized, it is broadcast to the global workspace of the system in a similar manner to the GWT model.  Timings are even tuned to more or less match human reaction times and processing delays.

I’m sorry guys, but just because you have designed a system to model the latest theory of how sensory processing works in the brain does not automatically make it conscious.  I could write an Excel macro with forced delays and process flows that resemble GWT.  Would that make my spreadsheet conscious?  I don’t THINK so.  Years ago I wrote a trading program that utilized the brain model du jour, known as neural networks.  Too bad it didn’t learn how to trade successfully, or I would be golfing tomorrow instead of going to work.  The fact is, it was entirely deterministic, as is LIDA, and there is no more reason to suspect that it was conscious than an assembly line at an automobile factory.

Then again, the standard scientific view (at least that held by most neuroscientists and biologists) is that our brain processing is also deterministic, meaning that, given the exact set of circumstances two different times (same state of memories in the brain, same set of external stimuli), the resulting thought process would also be exactly the same.  As such, so they would say, consciousness is nothing more than an artifact of the complexity of our brain.  An artifact?  I’m an ARTIFACT?

Following this reasoning from a logical standpoint, one would have to conclude that every living thing, including bacteria, has consciousness. In that view of the world, it simply doesn’t make sense to assert that there might be some threshold of nervous system complexity, above which an entity is conscious and below which it is not.  It is just a matter of degree and you can only argue about aspects of consciousness in a purely probabilistic sense; e.g. “most cats probably do not ponder their own existence.”  Taking this thought process a step further, one has to conclude that if consciousness is simply a by-product of neural complexity, then a computer that is equivalent to our brains in complexity must also be conscious.  Indeed, this is the position of many technologists who ponder artificial intelligence, and futurists, such as Ray Kurzweil.  And if this is the case, by logical extension, the simplest of electronic circuits is also conscious, in proportion to the degree in which bacteria is conscious in relation to human consciousness.  So, even an electronic circuit known as a flip-flop (or bi-stable multivibrator), which consists of a few transistors and stores a single bit of information, is conscious.  I wonder what it feels like to be a flip-flop?

Evidence abounds that there is more to consciousness than a complex system.  For one particular and very well research data point, check out Pim van Lommel’s book “Consciousness Beyond Life.”  Or my book “The Universe – Solved!”

My guess is that consciousness consists of the combination of a soul and a processing component, like a brain, that allows that soul to experience the world.  This view is very consistent with that of many philosophers, mystics, and shamans throughout history and throughout the world (which confluence of consistent yet independent thought is in itself very striking).  If true, a soul may someday make a decision to occupy a machine of sufficient complexity and design to experience what it is like to be the “soul in a machine”.  When that happens, we can truly say that the bot is conscious.  But it does not make sense to consider consciousness a purely deterministic emergent property.

hal9000_185

Jim and Craig Venter Argue over Who is more Synthetic: Synthia or Us?

So Craig Venter created synthetic life.  How cool is that?  I mean, really, this has been sort of a biologists holy grail for as long as I can remember.  Of course, Dr. Venter’s detractors are quick to point out that Synthia, the name given to this synthetic organism, was not really built from scratch, but sort of assembled from sub-living components and injected into a cell where it could replicate.  Either way, it is a huge step in the direction of man-made life forms.  If I were to meet Dr. Venter, the conversation might go something like this:

Jim: So, Dr. Venter, help me understand how man-made your little creation really is.  I’ve read some articles that state that while your achievement is most impressive, the cytoplasm that the genome was transplanted to was not man made.

Craig: True dat, Jim.  But we all need an environment to live in, and a cell is no different.  The organism was certainly man made, even if its environment already existed.

Jim: But wait a minute.  Aren’t we all man-made?  Wasn’t that the message in those sex education classes I took in high school?

Craig: No, the difference is that this is effectively a new species, created synthetically.

Jim: So, how different is that from a clone?  Are they also created synthetically?

Craig: Sort of, but a clone isn’t a new species.

Jim: How about genetically modified organisms then?  New species created synthetically?

Craig: Yes, but they were a modification made to an existing living organism, not a synthetically created one.

Jim: What about that robot that cleans my floor?  Isn’t that a synthetically created organism?

Craig: Well, maybe, in some sense, but can it replicate itself?

Jim: Ah, but that is just a matter of programming.  Factory robots can build cars, why couldn’t they be programmed to build other factory robots?

Craig: That wouldn’t be biological replication, like cell division.

Jim: You mean, just because the robots are made of silicon instead of carbon?  Seems kind of arbitrary to me.

Craig: OK, you’re kind of getting on my nerves, robot-boy.  The point is that this is the first synthetically created biological organism.

Jim: Um, that’s really cool and all, but we can build all kinds of junk with nanotech, including synthetic meat, and little self-replicating machines.

Craig: Neither of which are alive.

Jim: Define alive.

Craig: Well, generally life is anything that exhibits growth, metabolism, motion, reproduction, and homeostasis.

Jim: So, a drone bee isn’t alive because it can’t reproduce?

Craig: Of course, there are exceptions.

Jim: What about fire, crystals, or the earth itself.  All of those exhibit your life-defining properties.  Are they alive?

Craig: Dude, we’re getting way off topic here.  Let’s get back to synthetic organisms.

Jim: OK, let’s take a different tack.  Physicist Paul Davies said that Google is smarter than any human on the planet.  Is Google alive?  What about computer networks that can reconfigure themselves intelligently.

Craig: Those items aren’t really alive because they have to be programmed.

Jim: Yeah, and what’s that little code in Synthia’s DNA?

Craig: Uhhh…

Jim: And how do you know that you aren’t synthetic?  Is it at all possible that your world and all of your perceptions could be completely under programmed control?

Craig: I suppose it could be possible.  But I highly doubt it.

Jim: Doubt based on what? All of your preconceived notions about reality?

Craig: OK, let’s say we are under programmed control.  So what?

Jim: Well, that implies a creator.  Which in turn implies that our bodies are a creation.  Which makes us just as synthetic as Synthia.  The only difference is that you created Synthia, while we might have been created by some highly advanced geek in an other reality.

Craig: Been watching a few Wachowski Brothers movies, Jim?

Jim: Guilty as charged, Craig.

CraigVenterGod

The Singularity Cometh? Or not?

There is much talk these days about the coming Singularity.  We are about 37 years away, according to Ray Kurzweil.  For some, the prospect is exhilarating – enhanced mental capacity, ability to experience fantasy simulations, immortality.  For others, the specter of the Singularity is frightening – AI’s run amok, all Terminator-like.  Then there are those who question the entire idea.  A lively debate on our forum triggered this post as we contrasted the position of transhumanists (aka cybernetic totalists) and singularity-skeptics.

For example, Jaron Lanier’s “One Half of a Manifesto” published in Wired and edge.org, suggests that our inability to develop advances in software will, at least for now, prevent the Singularity from happening according to the Moore’s Law pace.  One great quote from his demi-manifesto: “Just as some newborn race of superintelligent robots are about to consume all humanity, our dear old species will likely be saved by a Windows crash. The poor robots will linger pathetically, begging us to reboot them, even though they’ll know it would do no good.”  Kurzweil countered with a couple specific examples of successful software advances, such as speech recognition (which is probably due more to algorithm development than software techniques).

I must admit, I am also disheartened by the slow pace of software advances.  Kurzweil is not the only guy on the planet to have spent his career living and breathing software and complex computational systems.  I’ve written my share of gnarly assembly code, neural nets, and trading systems.  But, it seems to be that it takes almost as long to open a Word document, boot up, or render a 3D object on today’s blazingly fast PCs as it did 20 years ago on a machine running at less than 1% of today’s clock rate.  Kurzweil claims that we have simply forgotten: “Jaron has forgotten just how unresponsive, unwieldy, and limited they were.”

So, I wondered, who is right?  Are there objective tests out there?  I found an interesting article in PC World that compared the boot-up time from a 1981 PC to that of a 2001 PC.  Interestingly, the 2001 was over 3 times slower (51 seconds for boot up) than its 20-year predecessor (16 seconds).  My 2007 Thinkpad – over 50 seconds.  Yes, I know that Vista is much more sophisticated than MS-DOS and therefore consumes much more disk and memory and takes that much more time to load.  But really, are those 3D spinning doodads really helping me work better?

Then I found a benchmark comparison on the performance on 6 different Word versions over the years.  Summing 5 typical operations, the fastest version was Word 95 at 3 seconds.  Word 2007 clocked in at 12 seconds (in this test, they all ran on the same machine).

In summary, software has become bloated.  Developers don’t think about performance as much as they used to because memory and CPU speed is cheap.  Instead, the trend in software development is layers of abstraction and frameworks on top of frameworks.  Developers have become increasingly specialized (“I don’t do “Tiles”, I only do “Struts”) and very few get the big picture.

What does this have to do with the Singularity?  Simply this – With some notable exceptions, software development has not even come close to following Moore’s Law in terms of performance or reliability.  Yet, the Singularity predictions depend on it.  So don’t sell your humanity stock anytime soon.

 

Mac Guy, PC Guy