Uncontrolled Technological Advancements Breed Danger: Weapons of Extinction
The 'Singularity' is the most dangerous technical term largely unknown to common man. In an article by author James John Bell, titled "Explore the "Singularity," twelve-time doctorate and inventor Ray Kurzweil is quoted to have defined the singularity as a moment in time filled with "technological change so rapid and profound it could create a rupture in the very fabric of human history.” If the implications of the future ‘singularity’ were clear with each new scientific advancement, would people gratefully put their hands out for every new technological wonder? Perhaps. The possibilities of these technologies are limitless: virtual realities, augmented realities, even the end of death as we know it. But the potential misuses of these new advancements are more devastating and consequential than the advent of the nuclear bomb. Very soon, as sciences combine, alluring new technologies will offer heaven on a silver plate, but the evil they are capable of inflicting goes beyond the extinction of the human race, drifting into realms of pure psychosis.
Some call Ray Kurzweil the face of the singularity movement. After his “Reinventing Humanity” article in The Futurist, Kurzweil says he has received 12 honorary doctorates from many leading colleges and universities. Kurzweil mentioned his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, his 1999 National Medal of Technology, and much more. According to James Gardner’s article, “Evolution’s Radical Future,” computer giant Bill Gates sees Kurzweil as "the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.” Endorsements in the computer world don't come much higher than that.
In his The Futurist article, Kurzweil talks more about the singularity: "From my perspective, the Singularity is a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so fast and far-reaching that human existence on this planet will be irreversibly altered. We will combine our brain power-the knowledge, skills, and personality quirks that make us human-with our computer power in order to think, reason, communicate, and create in ways we can scarcely even contemplate today.”
The main fields of science that are beginning to merge at the seams are biotechnology (genetics), cognitive science (study of the mind), robotics (including artificial intelligence), and nanotech (microscopic machinery) (Kurzweil, “Reinventing”). These four fields of study will feed into one another. Each new discovery will blend into the other sciences, helping to find new knowledge that will lead to further discovery. During a 2005 episode of TED Talks, named “The accelerating power of technology,” Kurzweil said, "Technology creates capabilities, then it uses those capabilities to bring on the next stage.”
To fully understand the singularity, which is coming very soon, we must take a closer look at the sciences involved with its evolution. Bell wrote, "A nanometer is atomic in scale, a distance that's 0.001% of the width of human hair.” Kurzweil says Nanotechnology has expanded to include any technology in which a machine's key features are measured by fewer than 100 nanometers ("Reinventing"). According to Bell, the goal in nanotech is to create microscopic factories that create microscopic tools, machines, and robotics. The robots could do anything. Off the top of my head, theoretically, a dress could have fibers made of microscopic robots. The dress would not only be capable of displaying different colors, but it would be able to be reshaped by command; the little robots would rearrange according to a software program that translates all verbal commands into visual options. Basically, clothing using nanotechnology would be the final garment anyone would ever need. If only I could patent it.
Theoretically speaking, nearly anything could be replicated and built with nanotechnology, atom by atom - food, tools, and medicines. Even our bodies or minds are subject to future change.
To paraphrase Merriam-Webster Online: Dictionary and Thesaurus, the word ‘biotechnology’ is defined as the science of manipulating, genetically or otherwise, a living organism in order to create something useful. Kurzweil says, "We are in the early stages of the genetics revolution today. By understanding the information processes underlying life, we are learning to reprogram our biology to achieve the virtual elimination of disease, dramatic expansion of human potential, and radical life extension" ("Reinventing"). Due to the success of the Genome Project, biotechnology might be the science best understood. How fast is technological growth in the biotech industry building up?
Bell discusses an observation from a book by Stewart Brand, The Clock of the Long Now. The observation Stewart made, dubbed Monsanto’s Law, states that the ability to use and identify genetic information doubles every year or two. “This exponential growth in biological knowledge is transforming agriculture, nutrition, and health care in the emerging life-sciences industry.”
In the Journal of Human Security article "Human, transhuman, posthuman: implications of evolution-by-design for human security,” Daniel McIntosh wrote, "The cognitive sciences and their applications refer to the study of intelligence and intelligent systems, both cybernetic and biological.” Cognitive Science, including psychology, is sometimes grouped with Biotechnology. By understanding how and why our bodies work, scientists will better understand how to tinker with it.
According to the Encyclopedia of Emerging Industries article, “Artificial Intelligence,” Robotics, as a science, includes all machines, software, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence. The article says robots are often used in industrial automation.
In "Ethics of the Singularity," an article by Kevin B. Korb and Ann E. Nicholson, L.J. Good, a philosopher and computer scientist, is quoted. "Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines." Stop and process that for a moment. In short, any machine we could make that is more intelligent than we are, by definition, must be capable of creating a machine more intelligent than itself – since we are less intelligent than the machine in question, and we created it. L.J. Good is also quoted to say, "There would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion", and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make” (Korb and Nicholson).
But what kind of timetable are we looking at? Hugo-award-winning author and computer retired science professor, Vernor Vinge, says, "I'd be surprised if it happened before 2004 or after 2030" (Bell).
To understand why the singularity is fast approaching, we must understand exponential growth. 'Exponential' means a rapid increase, and 'growth' is another word for progress (Merriam-Webster.com). The following graphs are taken from a blog entry on Kurzweilai.net, titled "THE HUMAN MACHINE MERGER: ARE WE HEADED FOR THE MATRIX?" The graph on the left shows the rising rates of computing power – a fast growing pattern of change. The graph to the left shows the increased number of transistors used in computing; Kurzweil says the current pace of progress will only increase. He says we are heading into the peak of our growth, where technology will evolve beyond our imagination; the curve of exponential, technological growth will soon explode straight upward ("THE HUMAN").
In 1959, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noted that the number of transistors to fit on a computer chip doubled every year, which later became adjusted to an eighteen-month cycle (Bell); this insight became known as Moore’s Law. Authors like Kevin B. Korb write that Moore's law will end soon (Korb and Nicholson). But Kurzweil argues, writing, "One insight we can see on this chart is that Moore's Law was not the first but the fifth paradigm to provide exponential growth of computing power. Each vertical line represents the movement into a different paradigm: electro-mechanical, relay-based, vacuum tubes, transistors, integrated circuits (Kurzweil "THE HUMAN")." If Kurzweil is right, a new technology for computer computational power is just around the corner.
So which companies are researching artificial intelligence? According to the Encyclopedia of Emerging Industries article mentioned before, many corporations have their own research teams. Whichever company gets AI right will probably be rich. In an article by author Patrick Tucker, titled “AI Chasers,” PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel gives his reasoning for investing in AI: "The Singularity will either be very successful and the greatest thing to happen to markets ever, or it would be a disaster, destroy the world, and there would be nothing left to invest in. If you're betting that the world is going to end, even if you're right, you're not going to make a lot of money.”
I believe these new technologies are being ushered in under the flags of healthcare and convenience. In his The Futurist article, Kurzweil writes about nano-sized medicinal delivery systems implanted under our skins, cloning organs, influencing proteins, reprogrammable genes, changing the aging processes, cloning cells and tissues, transcending our bodies, telepathic communication using nanobots in our brains outfitted with wireless communication, real artificial intelligence, and a merger of man and machine. To some, science will feel like magic.
What are some of the advantages that will come with the new technologies? Very soon, there could be one robot in every home. "ABI Research forecast that by 2015, the personal robot market will reach $15 billion, and many people will be willing to pay as much for a multitasking humanoid robot as they would for a new car. These updated personal robots will not only be able to perform household chores but will entertain users and help with personal care" (“Artificial”). The age of flying cars may never come, but how much longer will we drive our own vehicles?
What other sciences might help bring about a robot in every home? Korb and Nicholson wrote that AI will be as difficult to create as understanding the human brain – that is, as difficult as understanding ourselves. But how will we gain that understanding? Obama might have given us an answer, according to an article in the NY Times titled, “Obama Seeking to Boost Study of Human Brain,” by John Markoff. He writes, "The Obama administration is planning a decade-long scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a comprehensive map of its activity, seeking to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.”
How much will this new project cost, and how could our country afford to move forward with it in these economic times? Markoff writes of a federal government study on the impact Human Genome Project. He says, at $3.8 billion spent over thirteen years, the project returned $800 billion by 2010.
Virtual reality has long been a staple of science fiction. Who has not dreamed of visiting a world where simulation and reality are confused? Could mankind accomplish this fantasy? According to Kurzweil, nanobots will interact with our biological neurons, providing full-immersion with all of our senses. In Kurzweil’s vision, even emotions will be triggered in the virtual world, simulating the responses in our autonomic nervous system. "In our brains, nanobots will interact with our biological neurons. This will provide full-immersion virtual reality incorporating all of our senses, as well as neurological simulations of our emotions, from within the nervous system (Kurzweil "Reinventing").
Should mankind take over for evolution? In McIntosh’s “Human, transhuman,” article, American biologist, theorist, and author Edward Wilson is quoted to have said, "Homo sapiens, the first truly free species, is about to decommission natural selection, the force that made us... Soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become.” As we take over our evolution, designing our bodies, minds, and realities, what will we become? The limits to our imaginations may be the only boundary we consider.
Take a look at some recent discoveries: In the area of robotics and cognitive science, according to an article on Kurzweilai.net titled “Secrets of Human Speech Uncovered,” “A team of researchers at UC San Francisco has uncovered the neurological basis of speech motor control, the complex coordinated activity of tiny brain regions that controls our lips, jaw, tongue and larynx as we speak. The work has potential implications for developing brain-computer interfaces for artificial speech communication and for the treatment of speech disorders.” Speaking without a speaker would be a big step towards making life-like creations. Imagine what will be uncovered with Obama's Brain Mapping Project. Cognitive science and robotics often go together.
What about developments in Nanotech? Everyone knows that a vehicle needs an engine. If nanotechnology is ever going to invent small machines, they need to be able to move. Julian Tuab’s LiveScience.Com article, titled “Tiny Motor Powered by Single Molecule,” says “Researchers from France and the University of Ohio have collaborated on a new approach and created the first compact molecular motor that can spin both clockwise and counterclockwise.”
According to an article published on the Imperial College of London’s website, titled “Discovery in synthetic biology a step closer to a new industrial revolution,” biotech scientists have discovered a way to drastically reduce the time it takes to create biological parts. "The scientists, from Imperial College London, say their research brings them another step closer to a new kind of industrial revolution, where parts for these biological factories could be mass-produced. These factories have a wealth of applications including better drug delivery treatments for patients, enhancements in the way that minerals are mined from deep underground and advances in the production of biofuels.”
To make a point about exponential growth and the rapid increase in today's rate of technological discovery, all of the breakthrough articles you just read have been published within the last month. What world will current college students walk out to if they graduate in two years? What about five?
There are many dangers and pitfalls to circumnavigate. Bell wrote of a man named Bill Joy, who "cofounded Sun Microsystems, helped create the Unix computer operating system, and developed the Java and Jini software systems-systems that helped give the Internet "life".” Joy, in his “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” article, wrote this of our dangerous future: “I am aware of how much has been written about, talked about, and lectured about so authoritatively. But does this mean it has reached people?"
Joy wrote that, as life becomes increasingly complex, humans will pass off more of their decisions to technology. He warned of a time when humans will no longer make their own decisions, saying, "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.” This idea is narrated well by the motion picture, Wall-E, in which computers take over their human creator's work, allowing them to grow fat and uneducated.
But what are some possible problems with Nanotech? Bell describes the 'gray goo' scenario. In it, self-replicating nanobots, which create other nanobots by dissembling atoms and recreating more of themselves, run amok and destroy the planet. "While the 'gray goo' scenario is unlikely, it is likely that the next generation of 'hackers' will produce viruses and bio-machines that will infect humans and the environment in which they operate, much as computer viruses do today" (Bell). Imagine a computer virus being wirelessly distributed among the nanobots Kurzweil envisions communicating with our minds.
Clichés abound of the possible problems with Biotech: new virus strands could traverse the globe, or genetic mutations could go awry. With cloned foods relatively new, could they have possibly been tested long enough to clear consumer's minds? Jason McLure writes in his article, "Genetically Modified Food," that "California's labeling referendum has strong support from environmental and food-safety groups that say GM foods – made from crops that have had genetic material inserted or deleted in a laboratory to give them specific advantages, such as resistance to herbicides - may pose health or environmental risks.” Some dangers are not quiet so obvious; Larry Arnhart wrote in the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics, under “Biotech Ethics,” that human class systems are likely to divide us into genetically separate races, a fear brought on by the presumed cost of perfecting the gene pool.
There are many problems with robotics. Aside from robo-intelligence taking over the world, more immediate concerns arise. In the Forbes Magazine article, "What To Do About the Rise of the Robots," Greg Satell writes of machines transitioning into more of our jobs, and not just in automation. He says creative jobs are being taken by computers in areas like music, in tedious work like paralegal research, and, very soon, in time honored professions like doctors.
When will robots rise? Patrick Marshall, in an article titled “Artificial Intelligence,” says robots are already used in warfare. He estimates 1 million robots were in use, mostly in automation, worldwide in 2010. On Computer World’s website, in an article titled “AI found better than doctors at diagnosing, treating patients,” Lucas Mearian explains just how efficient the machines already are at one of America's biggest professions. Mearian wrote, "Using real patient data, the researchers compared actual doctor performance and patient outcomes against computer decision-making models. The artificial intelligence models obtained a 30% to 35% increase in positive patient outcomes.”
Marshall, using quotes from many analysts, professors, and scholarly sources, goes on to point out that robotics will take middle and lower class jobs. In his opinion, the loss of jobs, and thus consumers, could destroy our concept of the capitalistic system. For good or bad, the result could lead to a taxation and redistribution of income (Marshall).
Mankind may be creating a scary Future. Kurzweil says, "The nano-robotic revolution will also force us to reconsider the very definition of human. Not only will we be surrounded by machines that will display distinctly human characteristics, but also we will be less human from a literal standpoint" (“Reinventing”). When artificial intelligence becomes more human, and humans transform their biology, inviting nanotechnology into their bodies, where will the line be drawn at being human? And under what conditions are we forced to acknowledge a computer's self-awareness?
Could science-fiction clichés be right in predicting an inevitable robotic rebellion? According to the Patrick Tucker article mentioned before, one horror story concerning robotics, courtesy of Steve Omohundro (Center for Complex Systems Research, Self-Aware Systems), goes like this: ““The worst case,” he says, “would be an AI that takes off on its own momentum, on some very narrow task, and, in the process, squeezes out much of what we care most about as humans. Love, compassion, art, peace, the grand visions of humanity all could be lost in that bad scenario.””
Will computers have personality disorders? Luke Muehlhauser, Executive Director of the Machine Intelligence Research Institution, spoke at the Singularity Summit in 2012. During his lecture, he acknowledged a myriad of problems, including runaway intelligence programs. Muehlhauser says computers might steer history "somewhere we don't want it to go. We are inventing new math problems, new algorithms to make computers and super-artificial-intelligence do what we want.” But could ultra-intelligent machines devise ways around rules created by less intelligent humans?
Muehlhauser continues, "And almost all the mind designs we could pick for superhuman AI, even if we're really careful, are mind designs that will steer the future where we don't want to go." How much longer will it take to create good-natured AI? Some might say money motivates many things in this world. Muehlhauser makes a point: "Which country will slow down enough to make sure they get the ethical problems right? A global disaster from U.S. AI is better than a global disaster from Chinese AI."
Concerning the possible problems with super intelligent computers, Kurweil wrote this heavy sentence: "We can devise ways of at least trying to manage the enormous powers of nanotechnology, but super-intelligence by its nature cannot be controlled" ("Reinventing").
If we merge with machines, when will we stop being human? Kurzweil wrote about nanobots that will one day be in our brains: "Since the nanobots will be communicating with one another, they will be able to create any set of new neural connections, break existing connections (by suppressing neural firing), create new hybrid biological and computer networks, and add completely mechanical networks, as well as interface intimately with new computer programs and artificial intelligences" (“Reinventing”). In the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, in an article titled “Design and Engineering Ethics Considerations for Neurotechnologies,” Hf Machiel Van Der Loos asked how we will know the difference between our own thought processes and those thought processes originating from nanotech. His words mixed with my own fears, where the sick, traumatized, discontent, or people otherwise considered criminals each have their personalities rewritten. Will those who are different be molded into parts deemed more beneficial to society? Will we have the capacity to realize when humanity is at an end?
Joy quotes the Unabomber, Theodore Kacznski: “Of course, life will be so purposeless that people will have to be biologically or psychologically engineered either to remove their need for the power process or make them "sublimate" their drive for power into some harmless hobby. These engineered human beings may be happy in such a society, but they will most certainly not be free.” Kacznski goes on to say humans will reduce themselves to little more than a domesticated animal.
Should these technologies be considered weapons of extinction? What do the upcoming technologies have in store for us? Daniel McIntosh wrote, "The security implications are enormous, up to and including the possible extinction of the human species.” Purely speculating on the information Kurzweil gave concerning nanobots, it stands to reason that, if computers became sentient, they could use humans as hosts; nanobots outfitted with wireless capabilities could turn our bodies into a hive-like network. These nanobots could easily be distributed through water, food, or injections. But would an advanced AI want to use our frail bodies in the first place?
Paraphrasing Joy, even if scientists do figure out how to change personalities and memories, solving mental disorders and easing trauma, the same technologies could make human's happy in enslavement. In another article on Kurzweilai.net, “Live Forever - Uploading The Human Brain… Closer Than You Think,” Kurzweil says that our minds will soon live on inside the computer world, long after we have died. Also? The technology for this possibility will be available within thirty years ("Live”). If humanity migrates into the digital world, what is to stop a computer virus from wiping them out? If a self-improving computer program becomes corrupted during a change, could they rewrite humanity's identity or decide on a whim to simply delete whole civilizations? If negative personality traits are overwritten, will part of the criminal’s subconscious be trapped in the back of the newly-written mind for eternity - forced to watch their immortal, digital life play out for eternity? Imagine the horrors of watching your spouse with the rewritten you.
With virtual reality and the digital world, we could create heaven: A place without death, pain, suffering, dysfunctions, disabilities, negativity or hate. But could we not also create hell?
What can we do? Kurzweil said, "People often go through three stages in considering the impact of future technology: awe and wonderment at its potential to overcome age-old problems, then a sense of dread at the grave new dangers that accompany these novel technologies, followed finally by the realization that the only viable and responsible path is to set a careful course that can realize the benefits while managing the dangers" ("Reinventing"). While most might agree with the first two points, awe and fear, not all will agree that the possible pitfalls are worth risking. There should be a new, world-wide consensus that states: No matter how noble the original intention of new technologies, there shall be no research of any invention(s) with the capability to extinguish the human race, regardless of precautions.
The future ahead of us is filled with dreams and nightmares. As the singularity approaches, people must decide where they stand before the lines are drawn for them. This is not a joke. The seriousness of this article cannot be overstated. The singularity will happen. Corporations and countries will continue their race for artificial intelligence, the genetic fountains of youth, and self-replicating nanotech. What costs are we willing to pay for the products of their research?
According to Rob Latham’s article, “Science Fiction,” a little-known sci-fi author, Brooks Landon, once said that the science fiction genre ““considers the impact of science and technology on humanity" by creating "zones of possibility" where that impact can be represented and narratively extrapolated.”” Let each explore the roads ahead. Weigh the hells science may unleash upon humanity if technology is given free rein to evolve. The potential misuses of these new advancements are more devastating and consequential than the advent of the nuclear bomb. Very soon, new technologies will offer heaven on a silver plate; their possible side effect? Hell on earth and extinction.
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