Artificial intelligence is one of many exponentially growing technologies, which means the growth that we see now in the field will hardly compare to what we see in 10 or 20 years.
Among many impressive AI projects offering glimpses of this trend, the Blue Brain Project has “succeeded in simulating a rat cortical column” and recently won funding to simulate an entire human brain, Chris Eliasmith has created a computer model that, “comprises around two and a half million virtual neurons organized into functional groups”, and Jürgen Schmidhuber’s artificial neural networks have beaten humans and other programs in recognizing road signs, handwritten Chinese characters and in diagnosing breast cancer. (1)(2)(3) There’s no real way of telling how soon we may construct full artificial general intelligence (AGI) and have to deal with the massive implications of recursively self-improving intelligence.
Despite hope that AI developments will significantly benefit humanity, the creation of super intelligences does not necessitate a positive singularity or utopia. In fact, there are equally numerous catastrophic scenarios as well. Three of the most devastating possibilities include war over the issue of super intelligence, eventual human obsolescence, and the extinction of all sentient life.
Cyborg technology will potentially bridge the divide between organic and inorganic intelligence, build upon human values rather than supplanting them, and enhance our ability to address existential risks. By pursuing cyborg technology, we will greatly increase our chances of leaving a positive human legacy in the super intelligent beings that we create.
The first major hurdle to cross will be the Artilect War, in which Hugo de Garis describes the high likelihood that two factions will arise to either oppose the creation of “godlike” machines or support their creation because of the benefits promised. Never before have we had such a divisive topic, balancing annihilation and salvation of the entire human race, along with the very real destructive potential of current (and future) weapons. (4) (5) Hugo de Garis predicts those opposing, “will organize politically, and then go on the greatest witch hunt humanity has ever known” because of the threat to the totality of human existence. (5)
As with any conflict, those who occupy the middle ground often hold the greatest power to sway the fight or in some instances to mediate and find reconciliation. Due to their advanced intellects, cyborgs would naturally be better able to mediate between the factions, allowing for increased odds of cohabitation. Additionally, the adoption of hybrid intelligence stands a good chance at making the shift to AGI more palatable to those who would oppose a direct transition from our biological substrates to artificial ones.
Once we have super intelligences, or Artilects, we face the distinct likelihood of a shift into human obsolescence due to the vastness and power of these beings. By using nanotechnology, they theoretically could fit more processing power into one cubed millimeter than the entirety of current human brainpower. (6) The closest analog to the Artilects’ view of humans would likely be akin to mankind’s indifference towards bacteria. There is no remorse while destroying the bacteria we tread upon daily, nor with enslaving strains to bolster our gut health, create biofuel or generally take advantage of their utility. Biological humans may in turn be kept placated in a utopic virtual reality or simply tread upon, not to mention potentially exterminated. These scenarios would thereby result in a loss of autonomy, freedom, or our place in the world.
By integrating AGI technology and precursor augmentation technology with biological human organisms, we stand a far greater chance of preserving some human values and needs through the transition to purely artificial intelligence.
The mammalian neocortex rests in communication with its reptilian precursor, building upon its strengths and mitigating its flaws. So too would augmentation that occurs in conjunction with human intelligence be more likely to carry forward characteristics of humanity that we want to preserve than pulling a drastically more foreign mind out of the space of all possible minds. By constructing enhancements on top of something that we are familiar with and know to hold humanistic values, namely a human mind itself, we can rest assured that fundamental aspects of what it means to be human will remain intact within a greater whole.
The final and most drastic problem we could imagine that the prioritization of cyborg technology could mitigate is the extinction of all known sentient life. As discussed above, super intelligences will be vastly more powerful than anything we can currently imagine. Their superior intellect inherently makes them completely unknown to us, both in their actions and desires. Though it can be argued our tendency towards violence has decreased throughout history, the potential of individual acts has increased. The super beings will have more options and access to weapons with greater destructive power than atomic warfare in the future.
How could cyborg technology possibly reduce the existential risks of future super beings? It’s hard to say exactly… as we are now.
We can easily solve problems that plagued us in the past with the help of the Internet, computers, and other tech. Though physically separate from us, these tools are indeed enhancements to humanity. Similarly, the enhancements of the future may make plagues of the present look like trifles of the past.
What we can say definitively is that the sooner we augment our own intelligence the sooner our enhanced problem-solving capabilities will enable us to better understand and address current and future existential risks.
Though potentially unnerving to some, by carrying around a smart phone or using the Internet you have essentially adopted proto-cyborg technology already. By continuing to actively participate in our human-machine civilization, the trends in technology point to your role as an ancestor to beings with greater capabilities and intelligence than you. Your actions will influence the results of our shared offspring. All of us have a function in the development of future technology. You can estrange yourself like an unwilling parent or aim to pass along your best traits to the next generation.
Will Hiltman is a performer who has studied at New York University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He has spent many hours learning about radical futurism through books, lectures and the Internet.
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