Recently, while selling books at the Toronto Word on the Street (they were science fiction of course), I had a woman express her fears over trans-humanism. I knew what she meant. There has been talk for years about the singularity, about the coming robot overlords who will appear when artificial intelligence transcends that of its creators. Some, of course, welcome these overlords and , in fact, plan to become part of the new über-class by merging themselves with the cybernetic world.
The cyborgs are coming and the fate of humans is sealed.
Well, maybe. Personally I think that ship has already sailed.
That’s not to say I think the singularity is arriving anytime soon. AI like fusion power is only twenty years away and always will be, goes the joke. Others point out that the real reason we haven’t achieved robot or computer intelligence yet is because we keep redefining what we mean by intelligent. There is no doubt that machines can calculate faster than we can and increasingly algorithms can be used to simulate many human behaviors.
But that doesn’t quite capture the essential spark of it. Nor may it for a very long time. The human brain is such a complex thing — some say the most complex structure in the universe with its billions of neurons and trillions of synapses— so trying to model even a few of its better known attributes takes the work of hundreds of scientists using dozens of super computers.
But in any case, we stopped being simply human a very long time ago. To be simply humans meant what in any case — sitting around a campfire at the mouth of a cave staring out into the darkness as age weakened our limbs and faded our vision?
But we are no longer constrained by such things. More and more of us have augmented vision (called eyeglasses) or assistance to increase our mobility. Some of us are kept alive for extended periods by implanted devices such as pacemakers. It is not the brain that is being surpassed by technology but the body.
Which may be what trans-humanism really means. By taking over the failing systems that keep our brains operating at its peak, we may not increase human intelligence but extend it. We may eventually, by focusing on the simple systems like circulation or renal function, be able to keep our thoughts clear and complex for a longer time. And that means a greater store of wisdom and a longer time to apply it to the problems of the world. Intelligence after all is partly a time function; the more time we have to think, the smarter we become.
Maybe more people should apply that to their daily lives now, instead of rushing to solve everything in the blink of an eye.
But that’s ten minutes.