All the hubbub surrounding the “victory” of IBM’s computer named “Watson” on Jeopardy! has sparked some of the strangest discussions in public debate. It’s all so reminiscent of those Sci-Fi movies and TV shows.
Watson is IBM’s big machine that calculates the answers to questions, I think they call it the “future.” Some people think the victory to be a change of superiority (i.e. computers dominate!) Ken Jennings (former Jeopardy! champion who lost to the machine) acknowledged, “I for one welcome our new computer overlords.” I guess Jennings’ ego is so big that he thinks anything that can beat him in Jeopardy! must be a superior being.
Many people view what happened on Jeopardy! as a technological feat. Sure, it’s cool that one day I might be able to ask my computer a question and its answer would start with, “what is?” Or, “who is?” But the people who help develop these technologies are certifiable weirdos.
Ray Kurzweil, a technological developer who works on projects and technology like Watson, was recently interviewed by Forbes on this data wielding machine (Watson.) He’s predicted that by 2045 we will have a machine — so-called “Singularity” — that our brains can be uploaded to, making us immortal. I was sorry to hear that the best question Forbes could muster on this topic was, “Are we on schedule?” To which Kurzweil says that we are “very much” on schedule.
Kurzweil is 63 and takes more than 200 pills every day to extend his life span. He predicts that in 15 years we will reach a tipping point during which, “Life expectancy will increase faster than time passes. I’d be irrational to say that I’m sure I’ll get to the stage where I can back myself up, which is the key point that one would need to reach to live forever. That’s maybe four decades away.” Is he sane?
You know, considering the nature of the discussions, I believe to answer our questions it is necessary to consult Sci-Fi. After all, it has been handling questions on topics like this for decades. In the episode “Split!” of The Avengers ’68 a man who would otherwise be dead (Boris Kartovsky) was kept alive and had his personality transfused into other people to make him “immortal.” I believe the heart of the matter was reached in a very short exchange:
NURSE: He frightens me.
EVIL GENIUS DOCTOR: Well there’s no reason why he should, he’s not a monster. On the contrary, he’s a monument. A medical triumph. Isn’t that so Boris? When he was brought to me, he was without hope. Not dead, but with a bullet — Steed’s bullet — so deep in his heart, an operation, a transplant was out of the question. I kept him alive. Didn’t I Boris? With my skills I kept you alive.
NURSE: You call that alive?
You call that alive? Whether I’m laying on a Styrofoam board with tubes coming out of my head like Boris, or I have my brain uploaded to a computer like Kurzweil would like, it’s a far cry from normal life.
Life is so much more than being stared at through plexiglass, or merely computing the answer to a trivia question (and sometimes, not that well.) How can you call it immortality? How can you call a hard drive life? Instead of the #1 fear being public speaking and the #2 fear being death, the #1 fear will be humans messing with disc space and #2 will be the BSOD.
The human mind is so much more than a few calculations, it is one that makes decisions: Rational and irrational, has feelings, thinks freely and independently. Humanity is also more than the mind and body. C.S. Lewis put it so eloquently, “You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.” If Kurzweil is right and we will all upload our brains to a “singularity” we will separate the mind from the soul.
Hitler said, “I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of a conscience, imperious, relentless and cruel.” Now made easy with technological advancements. Hitler was behind the times, “Let me control the textbooks and I will control the state.” The quote that applies now is, “Let me control of the software and I will control the world!”
Are we on schedule? No, actually, Hilter had a few setbacks.