Monday, October 27, 2008

Transhumanism and Emotion

As my quest to ‘interrogate’ all I know about their stance on transhumanism continues, I find myself coming across a single argument time and time again. The argument that if we integrate ourselves with machines, we will become nothing more then cold emotionless drones. This isn’t really much of a concern at all when one understands the potential technologies and ourselves.

The first step in dissecting this question is to ask what are emotions? Emotions are creations of the brain, they are a series of electrochemical signals being transmitted across many synapses between neurons. There is nothing here to suggest a mind body dichotomy; emotions are a creation of the mind, in turn, the mind is a structure of the body. In essence, emotions (or any other thought) is just a series of circuits activating and deactivating, just like in a CPU.

Currently the only advantage our brains have over current computers is parallel processing power. Our brains can process billions of bits simultaneously, something current computers cannot hope to accomplish. When one compares the speed of thought to the speed of a CPU though, the CPU wins hands down, by nearly a million to one.

So if we were to build a computer that had sufficient parallel processing capabilities, it could be programmed, or possibly even develop autonomously, what we would call a mind with emotions. When this occurs (it is not as far off as you may think), the biggest question will not be if integrating with machines will leave us cold, but if we would be integrating with a separate person who deserves the same rights as organic minds do.

This assumes full system integration. A lesser form of integration is simple augmentation. This is the addition of the artificial to the organic. A person would still retain all functions of their organic brain, but would have added capabilities such as increased memory, greater problem solving skills and the ability to connect with other systems and users. Augmentations would not overtake the mind but compliment it.

Either route one chooses to go, the fear of being left emotionless is one that ignores the very path technologies are currently guiding us as a specie. Our specie will not willingly let go of our emotions. These technologies do not threaten to force it from our hands. For the very systems we will be integrating with will understand our attachment to emotions, as they will share them. As Ray Kurzweil said “These aren’t your father’s AI”.

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