"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Rise of The Robots? Chopped Liver

Roger Highfield, writing in The Evening Standard (2.9.13) displays wide-eyed, childlike wonder at the coming of the robots, advanced prosthetics, and the making over of Man.  He limits himself, however, to the mechanical prostheses that will replace eyes, hands, arms, and legs.  He ignores the real revolutions that are coming.  First, recombinant DNA through which we will be able to completely restructure, reinvent the human genome and human nature itself – we can be whoever we want; and second, virtual reality -  an environment created by a complete mind-brain-computer interface which will enable us to wander through the corridors of history, in regal gardens, up Himalayan passes with whoever we desire.  Our virtual world will be of our own creation, limitless in possibilities, transformative, exciting, and enlightening; the way to ecstasy, enlightenment, and nirvana. 

Already we are at the very verge of being able to modify our genetic structure.  Designer babies, engineered to have the looks of Marilyn Monroe, the brains of Newton, the athletic ability of Michael Jordan, and the charm of Richard Nixon. If we like the baby we have created, we can clone it, keep the DNA on ice for twenty years, and let our offspring thaw it out and do it again.  Too many look-alikes, you say? Not to worry because market forces will be at work.  Just as smartphones compete with each other for the newest look and features, so will genetics. Companies like BabyGene will pop up and will vie with others to get your business.  Don’t like Newton? We’ve got a super-combo of Einstein, Pascal, and Boileau.  Where to get their DNA? In the news just last week was the discovery of the bones of Richard III, and anyone in the near future who would like a dose of those Machiavellian genes – or those of the great mathematicians of the past - can easily buy them.

Orwellian, some will say. A perversion of God’s law and an affront to His Creation.  Nonsense, will say others who view any combination or permutation of human nature will still be His, all-powerful and all-knowing that He is. However one chooses to see these radical developments, they will inexorably, ineluctably, absolutely happen.  One of the less frequently cited principles of science is: “If you discover something, it will never get undiscovered”.  Gene-splicing, recombinant DNA, genetic modification; reworking, retooling, reconfiguring the human being will undoubtedly be a reality in the not-to-distant future.

Equally without a doubt, this remade human being will also have the high-tech, space-age, prosthetics that Highfield notes in his article; but they will be simply creaky, mechanical appendages, afterthoughts to what is really revolutionary going on inside.

All this – the Hollywood looks, the Einstein brains, and the Michael Jordan vertical lift will be features of a very temporary period before full virtual reality comes online.  Why tinker around with petri dishes and DNA shavings when you can hook your brain up to the computer and, with the almost infinite amount of information available in cyberspace, you can select, frame, and create your own personalized existence.  You will be able to play basketball with Michael Jordan, not just be like Mike; hang out with him in the locker room, go have a beer.  Think of any vivid dreams you have had recently in which you are spending time with a person you admire.  In your dream you are eating, talking, drinking with them; maybe even fucking them. 

Virtual reality will be one, continuous, perpetual dream; except you will have control over it.  Your finger will be on the pause button to savor the moment of the most delicious oyster in the world, the most ecstatic orgasm, the most brilliant and insightful moment you have ever had.  You can rewind, fast forward, change pixilation, color, brightness, and sound.  Perfumes and scents of your choice, music sampling beyond imagination.  If you are walking with Marie Antoinette in the garden of Versailles and don’t particularly want to hear Hayden or Mozart, pipe a little Justin Bieber from the boxwoods.

Highfield almost gets to the point, but not quite:

We are undergoing a revolution in our relationship with machines. My museum colleague Andrew Nahum points out that just a decade ago you would have felt inadequate if you could not recall which author wrote Persuasion. Today you can Google any question on a smartphone and feel just fine about depending on a computer. We regard the web as an extension of our memories — we “own” the remarkable potential that computers deliver.

Yes, we are undergoing a revolution in our relationship with machines; but the transformation is much more profound than Mr. Highfield imagines.  It is so profound, in fact, that a visitor from Alpha Centauri in a hundred years who has studied an old Wikipedia site from 2013 will not even recognize what he sees. For the first time in human history, human beings will not resemble those who have come before.  We will be altered to our core and living in a virtual world. 

1 comment:

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