Monday, February 13, 2012

Merging Man and Machine: Singularity vs. Humanity

Brandon Turbeville
Activist Post
February 9, 2012

In a testament to just how fast the coming cyberization of mankind has progressed, a new report published by the Daily Mail entitled, “Hitler would have loved The Singularity: Mind-blowing benefits of merging human brains and computers,” reaffirms most of what I have been writing about for the better part of a year. Namely, that the merging of man and machine is much closer than the average person is willing to believe.

In the news report, Ian Morris, Professor of Classics and History at Stanford University and author of
Why The West Rules – For Now, briefly overviews years of mainstream history involving the development and implementation of Singularity-related technologies.

Before going much further, however, it is important for the reader to understand just what is meant when the term “Singularity” is used.
Defined by TIME, “Singularity” is “The moment when technological change becomes so rapid and profound, it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.” Simply put, Singularity is the moment when man and machine merge to create a new type of human – a singular entity that contains property of both machines and humans.

If the concept of Singularity is new to you, I suggest reading my article “The Singularity Movement, Immortality, and Removing the Ghost in the Machine.” In this article, I discuss the premise behind the movement, and some of the implications it holds for basic human freedom, dignity, and even our own existence.

Unfortunately, Singularity is not a fringe movement as some might at first believe; it has a great number of followers, many of whom are in powerful positions. For instance, the Singularity University is a three-year-old institution that offers inter-disciplinary courses for both executives and graduate students.  It is hosted by NASA, a notorious front for secretive projects conducted by the government and the military-industrial complex. Not only that, but Google, which is yet another corporate front for intelligence agencies, was a founding sponsor of the University as well.

It is this context in which Ian Morris writes his own article about the coming merger of human brains and computers.

Morris prefaces his commentary on Singularity by pointing out some mainstream (even if not well-known) facts regarding the development of technology that he, and many others who are informed on the subject, believes will allow for actually sending human thoughts over the Internet. All of this, of course, will take place
after human brains are chipped, or otherwise linked to computers.

Morris writes:

Ten years ago, the US National Science Foundation predicted ‘network-enhanced telepathy’ – sending thoughts over the internet – would be practical by the 2020s.

And thanks to neuroscientists at the University of California, we seem to be on schedule.

Last September, they asked volunteers to watch Hollywood film trailers and then reconstructed the clips by scanning their subjects’ brain activity.

He continues by saying:
Last week, the scientists boldly went further still. They charted the electrical activity in the brains of volunteers who were listening to human speech and then they fed the results into computers which translated the signals back into language.

The technique remains crude, and has so far made out only five distinct words, but humanity has crossed a threshold.

The threshold that Morris refers to is the moment where the merging of man and machine are announced to the general public, not necessarily the moment when it becomes possible. Indeed, we know that any research or development announced to the general public is, in reality, much further behind the true capabilities of the technology. For instance, the ability to control brain function via computers or for brains to control computers by thought has been available for many years. Only the crude forms of this technology have been introduced for mass consumption. Even so, the introduction came a great many years after the actual development.

Yet, after pointing out some of the positive aspects that this technology might present to humanity, such as providing speech to those impaired by neurodegenerative diseases, or movement to those suffering from paralysis, Morris points out some other rather disturbing directions this rapidly developing technology might take. Disturbing, that is, if one is not part of the Singularity cult.

Nevertheless, Morris moves through some innocuous and unquestionably beneficial developments such as eyeglasses and ear trumpets, which show the lengths to which technology has progressed and the relatively short time scale it has taken to do so. These devices have either become a normal part of life, or have given way to other more advanced technologies. These more advanced devices such as hearing aids, dialysis machines, and pacemakers have all become normal and accepted machine additions as well.

However, as Morris writes:
By the second decade of the 21st Century, we have become used to organs grown in laboratories, genetic surgery and designer babies.
In 2002, medical researchers used enzymes and DNA to build the first molecular computers, and in 2004 improved versions were being injected into people’s veins to fight cancer
By 2020 we may be able to put even cleverer nanocomputers into our brains to speed up synaptic links, give ourselves perfect memory and perhaps cure dementia.
If nanocomputers implanted in our brains would indeed increase these functions of the human brain, making then possible the furthering of other related technological and other biotechnological advancements, then it is realistic to believe (as many in the Singularity movement do) that the human being as we know it will cease to exist. The old man will be replaced by the new. That which was made imperfect would be made perfect.
This is exactly the future which Singularity promoters like Juan Enriquez have been foreseeing. Enriquez’s long resume affirms the fact that those in prominent positions hold fast to what is essentially a modern version of eugenics based on more than just mere ethnicity. Enriquez himself states that humanity, by virtue of Singularity, will develop into an entirely different species. He writes:
The new human species is one that begins to engineer the evolution of viruses, plants, animals, and itself. As we do that, Darwin’s rules get bent, and sometimes even broken. By taking direct and deliberate control over our evolution, we are living in a world where we are modifying stuff according to our desires. . . . Eventually, we get to the point where evolution is guided by what we’re engineering. That’s a big deal. Today’s plastic surgery is going to seem tame compared to what’s coming.
Enriquez also admits that, as a result of this emerging technology, a “new ethics” must be developed to go along with the opportunities for eugenics that now present themselves. He says:
The issue of [genetic variation] is a really uncomfortable question, one that for good reason, we have been avoiding since the 1930s and '40s. A lot of the research behind the eugenics movement came out of elite universities in the U.S. It was disastrously misapplied. But you do have to ask, if there are fundamental differences in species like dogs and horses and birds, is it true that there are no significant differences in humans? We are going to have an answer to that question very quickly. If we do, we need to think through an ethical, moral framework to think about questions that go way beyond science.
Of course, the open promoters of Singularity such as Juan Enriquez and Ray Kurzweil are not the root of the movement. As Morris points out, the funding of projects related to the merging of the human brain with that of the computer has been funded mostly by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

After all, as Morris points out, it was DARPA that produced the Internet (called ARPANET in the 1970s) and it was DARPA’s Brain Interface Project that was the first voyage in molecular computing. As I mentioned earlier, however, one should be aware that even these projects that been announced and revealed to the general public are actually far behind in the true time scale of development. DARPA’s research and discoveries are years or decades ahead of anything they introduce, even retroactively, to the scientific community at large, much less the general public.
This is why programs such as, Silent Talk, are exploring mind reading technology by virtue of reading the electrical signals inside the brains of soldiers, then broadcasting them for two-way communication with soldiers over the Internet. As Morris writes:
With these implants, entire armies will be able to talk without radios. Orders will leap instantly into soldiers’ heads and commanders’ wishes will become the wishes of their men.
Add this to the fact that “mind reading” technology is already being rolled out in Western airports, and one can easily see an agenda at work.  A very crude version of the neuron-scanning technology discussed by Morris, these “Emotion Detectors” use video cameras and facial cues, as well as thermal imaging technology, to detect emotions that are unacceptable to “authorities.”
However, the technology Morris writes about is much more advanced than emotion scanners. Even the definition of “mind reading” in terms of the new interface programs tends to be more dynamic.
Consider how Morris describes Ray Kurzweil’s prediction of where mind reading programs will go in the future. He writes,
Since the Sixties, computer chips have been doubling their speed and halving their cost every 18 months or so.
If the trend continues, the inventor and predictor Ray Kurzweil has pointed out that by 2029 we will have computers powerful enough to run programs reproducing the 10,000 trillion electrical signals that flash around your skull every second.
They will also have enough memory to store the ten trillion recollections that make you who you are.
And they will also be powerful enough to scan, neuron by neuron, every contour and wrinkle of your brain.
What this means is that if the trends of the past 50 years continue, in 17 years’ time we will be able to upload an electronic replica of your mind on to a machine.
There will be two of you – one a flesh-and-blood animal, the other inside a computer’s circuits.
And if the trends hold fast beyond that, Kurzweil adds, by 2045 we will have a computer that is powerful enough to host every one of the eight billion minds on earth.
Carbon and silicon-based intelligence will merge to form a single global consciousness.
The world being described here is not much different than the one presented in movies like The Matrix or Ghost in the Shell; a world where humans have been physically altered in order to be linked with the Internet. In both movies, there is a version of the “single global consciousness” where cyberized humans are fully merged into the virtual world.
Yet, although such technology has been portrayed as science fiction for years, the fact is that the Singularity is now a very real possibility. As US Col. Thomas Adams stated, technology “is rapidly taking us to a place where we may not want to go, but probably are unable to avoid.” He should know -- Western militaries have been preparing for the Singularity for some time.  In this context, where war becomes literally ingrained, the dystopic vision of dark science fiction becomes promoted as a real-world solution.
Although Col. Adams is right to suggest that we are heading in a direction that we do not wish to go, he is wrong to suggest that we are unable to avoid it. As we stand currently, the ability to avoid losing our own humanity in a fog of computer circuits and switchboards is still well within our grasp.
Admittedly, because of the incremental approach taken by movements such as Singularity, there is added difficulty in resistance.
However, it is time the people of the world decide exactly what their line in the sand will be, and it is time for them to draw that line. While our own humanity may be at stake, we can save it by uttering one solitary word:

Please read other articles by Brandon Turbeville here.

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