I’ve been thinking a lot lately on what it means to be human in an ever increasing technological civilization. Many books and films have delved into this subject, and as time goes on those stories seem to become more poignant. A few of my favorite films and/or books have been about the very same things.
I recently finished watching HBO’s WestWorld series, which has become yet another gem in the network’s many original series. Inspired by the old 70’s movie of same name, this iteration boasts a talented cast of actors, beautiful but subtle effects, and a deeper story of the android populated theme park’s origins and it’s possible implications. A few of these androids begin to remember past experiences in previous roles they once played, and the many tortures and deaths dealt to them by park guests. It is this loop of suffering that finally awakens a chosen few, and we see each of their journeys to discover who and what they really are, and to hide it from those who would erase their sentience.
We get vague questions and answers on how and where an artificial consciousness might emerge and evolve over time. The writing is very good, and there are nuances here and there that demand reviewing (which I have yet to do). The series seems to build its own mythos in terms of the development of consciousness. The point of view of the android characters certainly paints a pessimistic view of human beings that sadly, is not entirely untrue. We are intellignet and destructive animals often bent by our base desires, even if we lie to tell ourselves otherwise.
Which begs the question, would an artificially created sentience be of the same mold as its makers, or perhaps more of that brilliant potential we could be if we left our vices behind?
Many people have the fear that artificial intelligence could end us all at some point. That could be the case, or they could be a force for greater good. How much does the designer of such a creation influence its overall nature? If experiences shape its development, will they have to be strictly controled in order for it to be considered sane? Can a machine become insane? (I read a scene in Neal Asher’s War Factory about a warship/factory gone insane. Quite disturbing.)
I believe there is a stark difference in vantage point. The knowlegde capabilities and processing speed alone will outgun our own biologically given abilities. Then comes the idea of just merging oneself with said technology, not just as an individual, but as a further step in evolution. Technology is the one thing that evolves faster than most biological life. Anything from enhanced sensory functions, expanded computing capability, increased physical strength, and decreased aging can all be conceived of with future technological development. It will be possible, but how will it change what it means to be human, or even an individual remains unanswered.
One of my favorite films (along with the manga that inspired it) is Ghost in the Shell, which just so happens to tackle just that. The main character, a cyborg, has a bit of an identity crisis on her hands, and while she hunts down a mysterious thread of “brain-hacking” incidents, she comes into contact with an emergent AI. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s a great film if you’re into philosophy, advanced technology, AI’s, and cyborgs.
The implications for this kind of technology would be a kind of evolution, at least for some of humankind that wanted to move past our current form and function. So, in a sense, there could end up being two species; average baseline humans, and posthumans who’ve undergone augmentations. This could mean potential for war between the two, but I guess it depends on who could disable the other faster to outright avoid complete annihilation.
This change would also mean expanding the human experience to include greater intelligence and desire for more cerebral pursuits rather than focusing on what our limited biology allows. I have a feeling that nanotech could be utilized greatly for regenerative purposes in the body, maybe even rebuilding the human body little by little with more durable materials that mimicked biology. If fully machine, maybe we could have a fun swarming function for travel, or to make oneself a more shapeshifting entity.
As we become more fine tuned in our design, we could potentially travel the stars, colonize space, search out other worlds, find alien life. Maybe by then, we’d become something we can’t forsee, with goals not currently in our comprehension.
But for now, we’re just a bunch of naked apes running around the surface of a mudball hurtling through space. Well, I can still dream…