Transhumanism has some spotlight at present with the release of Johnny Depps new film, Transcendence. Critics are not giving it the thumbs up though and the spotlight may be short lived.
Transhumanism is the movement whose goal it is to beat death by transferring or uploading the human personality into a robotic brain and body. One of their authors, James Barrat, has gone so far as to say that transhumanism is inevitable and when the breakthrough comes it will be the end of the human era.
In the movie Transcendence Johnny Depp plays Dr Will Caster, a leading experimenter in the field of artificial intelligence. He is also the target of anti-technology terrorists. The terrorists do him a favor by mortally wounding him and giving him the chance to be the subject of his own experiments with the help of his assistants and his wife. Will Casters body dies but he lives on as an artificial intelligence, a virtual personality.
In the real world, Google has shown a big interest in the subject, spending not millions, but billions over recent years, acquiring any company that has shown promise in the artificial intelligence or related fields. In January of this year they spent $400 million to acquire the British firm, Deep Mind. The company has not released any products as yet and because of secrecy it is not really known what they are working on except that it is to do with artificial intelligence.
High profile Transhumanism theorist, Ray Kurzweil, joined Google in 2013 as Director of Engineering. Kurzweil who apparently takes 150 pills a day and has weekly injections of an array of body boosting substances in the hope of keeping himself alive and well until the future transhumanism breakthrough, says that his present role at Google is, ‘ultimately to base search on really understanding what language means.
When you write an article you are not just creating an interesting collection of words. The message in your article is information and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would like to have the computers read. We want them to be able to read everything on the Web and then engage in intelligent dialogue with the user and also be able to answer their questions’. The name tag given to this endeavour is natural language processing.
Here is a definition of the aims of transhumanism from a document put out by scientists working on the Blue Brain project, a continuing work attempting to put a simulated brain into a super computer:
“Today scientists are in research to create an artificial brain that can think, respond, take decisions and keep anything in memory. The main aim is to upload the human brain into a machine so that the man can think and make decisions without any effort. After the death of the body the artificial brain will act as the man. So even after death we will not lose the knowledge, intelligence, feelings, personality and memories of that man and they will still be available for the further development of human society”.
Barney Pell, an associate of Ray Kurzweil, who has worked in Robotics and is at present involved in artificial intelligence games development, viewed the movie, Transcendence, and in an interview afterwards was asked if he thought the technology in the movie was possible and how far off are we from it?
His reply: “For the core AI technology in the movie which is intelligence vastly superior to humans, I believe it is possible that we will have such intelligences. However the technology approach in the movie in the form of uploading a personality based on scanning a living brain is more of a concept than a specific technology. I don’t see anything close at present in the way of computational architecture in the scientific community today, much less an uploading approach compatible with such an architecture”.
How To Create A Mind, is Ray Kurzweils most recent book. In it he also admits that the reality is that these theorys are all leaps of faith, We don’t really know what consciousness is, what personal identity is, and thinking of the brain as a computer is a long way from understanding its function as a part of the human self.
Don’t hold your breath, is probably the best advice we could give to someone who is thinking of putting their hope in Transhumanism.
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