Enhanced Intelligence, Virtual Reality Sex. And Our Cyborg Future

Enhanced Intelligence, Virtual Reality Sex. And Our Cyborg Future
     Will Knight posted a December 30, 2019 article with the title above to the technology and security blog, WIRED.com. He begins with this enticing question: “If you could press a button to merge your mind with an artificial intelligence (AI) computer — would you take the leap?”
     “I would press it in a microsecond,” said Sebastin Thrun, who previously led Stanford University’s AI Lab, Mr. Knight wrote. And the day that humankind will be able to download their minds to an avatar may be a lot closer than most realize. The pace of technological advancement, especially in the AI, and machine learning space is almost breathtaking. “The weird and wonderful worlds of transhumanism and human enhancement are the subject of the 10th Installment of the Sleepwalker Podcast [available on Apple iphones]. The final episode in the first season examines a subject that seems to resonate with techno-optimists in Silicon Valley but, also raises some big questions: Where do we draw the line between humans and machines? How do we maintain control of our humanity?”
     “Thrun, a prominent artificial intelligence expert who co-founded Google’s self-driving car project, and helped develop the ill-fated, wearable – Google Glass — argues that human beings are already the product of centuries of technological progress, so it would be foolish to forego further enhancements,” Mr. Knight wrote. “The human I/O — the Input/Output, the ears, eyes, and smell, and so on, voice, are still very inefficient,” Thrun said. “If I could accelerate the reading of all books in the world, that would be awesome.”
     Yuval Noah Harari, a historian who speculates on humanity’s future, is a leading figure in the transhumanist movement ,” Mr. Wright notes. “In his recent book, Homo Deus, Harari suggests that our ability to enhance ourselves with computers and bioengineering, has already opened up a new era in human history. But, he also fears this era — perhaps accelerated by AI – could pose an existential threat to our species.” “We are really deciphering the underlying rules of the game of life, and are acquiring the ability to change these rules,” Harari warns.
     “For now though,  using technology to alter our intelligence remains a distant dream,” says Andy Schwartz, a neurobiologist at the University of Pittsburgh, who works on brain-controlled computer interfaces for patients with physical disabilities. “Although the technology is advancing,” Schwartz said, “it is a mistake to think it will become a pervasive consumer technology within the forseeable future. That’s actually not true of a medically invasive procedure that involves putting implants on the surface of the brain.”
     “As technology marches forward, there are many who stand to benefit from human enhancements,” Mr. Wright wrote. Noe Socha, an award-winning jazz gutarist with limited vision, is testing glasses that use video cameras and high definition screens in front of the retina to restore some eyesight.”
     “According to Harari the historian, it will be just as important to guard against the capacity for technology to control us,” Mr. Wright wrote. “The power of AI to discover our secrets, our hopes, and our fears, has been a recurring theme through season one of Sleepwalkers.
     “Harari offers some surprisingly simple advice for outsmarting algorithmic manipulation,” Mr. Wright notes. “Once there is somebody out there, a systrem out there, an algorithm out there that knows you better than yourself, the game is up,” he says. “You can do something about it, not just by withholding your data; but, above all by improving your own understanding of yourself. The better you understand yourself, the more difficult it is to manipulate you.”
     I apologize for the length; but, if this subject is of interest to you, below is an article I wrote in September 2019 on the prospects of humankind achieving immortality by uploading our minds to an avatar.
Humans Could Achieve ‘Electronic Immortality’ By 2050, And Attend Our Own FUNERALS In Our New Bodies Futurist Claims; But Warns Our Minds Could Be Enslaved If We Aren’t Careful
     Do you want to live forever?  That question isn’t nearly as outrageously ridiculous as it once was.  Increasingly in the past decade, more and more futurists and scientists are forecasting the possibility that humankind could live forever as early as the middle of this century.  The most notable or prominent of these proponents has been futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has repeatedly predicted that humans will be able to live forever by the mid-2040s, when we will be able to upload our minds to a computer/avatar — a point at which humans and machine will merge, or The Singularity.
     The latest to join the immortality train is British futurologist, Dr Ian Pearson. He believes that “within the next few decades, humanity may be able to achieve a sort of immortality by merging our minds with machines,” Cheyenne MacDonald posted on the July 24, 2018 edition of the Daily Mail. “This could mean we live on through androids, even after our bodies die, allowing us to attend our own funerals and get back to life with a highly upgraded body.”  “But,” according to Dr. Pearson, “it could also mean you no longer own your own mind.”
     Dr. Pearson warns that “a shift toward ‘electronic immortality’ will require careful planning — otherwise, our cloud-connected brains could be used for purposes beyond our control.”
     “Rather than creating a backed-up copy of your mind,” Ms. MacDonald wrote, “most of your intelligence would simply be running from a place outside your [our] physical brain[s].”  It isn’t uploaded, it simply grows into the new platform seamlessly; and, as far as you are concerned, it is still very much you,” Dr. Pearson wrote in a recent blogpost. “One day, your body dies, and with it — your brain stops; but, no big problem, because 99 percent of your mind is still fine, running happily on IT in the clouds. Assuming you’ve save enough and prepared well, you connect to an android to use as your body from now on, attend your [own] funeral, and then carry on as before, still you, just with a younger, highly upgraded body.”
     “As this would require the use of a purchased, or rented android and cloud space ultimately owned by a cloud company, however, Dr. Pearson warns “we could run into problems with the fine print,” Ms. MacDonald wrote. “Companies could use it [our mind] to enslave workers after their death,” Dr. Pearson warned, “by maintaining ownership of the [your] mind for their own benefit down the line.” “Maybe the cloud company could replicate your mind, and make variations to address a wide range of markets,” Dr. Pearson wrote. “Maybe they can use your mind as the UX on a new range of home-help robots. Each instance of you thinks they were once you, each thinks they are now enslave to work for free for a tech company.”
     “It ultimately comes down to planning. Get it right, and you can live in deluxe cyber-heaven, hopping into the real world as much as you like, and living in unimaginable bliss online,” Dr. Pearson wrote. “Have too many casual taster session, use too much fully integrated mind sharing social media, sign up to employment arrangements, or go on corporate jollies without fully studying the fine print, and you could stay immortal, unable to die, stuck forever as a corporate asset, a mere slave.”
Will We Ever Be Able To Upload Our Mind To A New Body? 
     The title/question above is from Beth Elderkin’s February 4, 2018 article which she posted on the technology website, GIZMODO.com   I would amend that question on one very important way…..When will we able to upload our minds to an avatar and live forever?
  “In Altered Carbon,” [Netflix series] Ms. Elderkin wrote, “the [physical] body no longer matters.  As one character quipped:  “You shed it like a snake sheds its skin.” “That’ because the human consciousness has been digitized; and, can be moved between bodies — both real and synthetic,” she wrote.
     “The Netflix series takes place hundreds of years into the future; but, references versions of technology that have been in development for years, like brain mapping, human and AI neural links, and mind uploading to computers,” Ms. Elderkin wrote. She adds that “millions of dollars have been pumped into technological ideas that promise, one day, our brains will be turned into digital. That said, there are those who believe the human mind is too complex; and, our consciousness too nuanced, to be recreated in a digital product. And, none of that even goes into what would happen if someone’s digitized mind was placed into real human flesh.”
     “Will we ever be able to upload our minds into other bodies?,” Ms. Elderkin asks.  “And honestly, if we ever achieved such a feat, could we even call ourselves human anymore?”  And what about the human soul?  In an attempt to find the answers to the questions Ms. Elderkin posed, GIZMODO “reached out to experts in neuroscience, philosophy, and futurism.”
Susan Schneider – Department of Philosophy, and Cognitive Science Program, at the University of Connecticut
     Professor Schneider explained to GIZMODO that “an upload would not be a homo sapien, so strictly speaking, it wouldn’t be human, but it may have traits that we think of as “human” in a loose sense, such as rationality and human-like concerns and emotions.  It could be human-like.  It might, over time, morph into something far less human-like as it becomes immersed in its new environment.”
     Professor Schneider said that “this may strike one as incredibly cool, and science fiction-like.  So, could you even upload your mind into another body? I am skeptical for several reasons,” she explained: 1) Suppose you go into a brain uploading center, Mindsculpt.  You’ve just learned you have a terminal illness, and you are eager to upload. There at Mindsculpt, they aim to measure every feature of your brain that is relevant to your personality, sensory experiences, memories, and so on.”
      “Is it truly feasible, at least at some point in the future? At this point, we don’t have a remotely complete picture of what features of the brain give rise to thinking, personality, sensations, etc.  If the features involve microscopic quantum phenomena, then a precise upload of you cannot be created, as there is a fundamental limit on what we can know about a quantum system (see Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal).  This would me we….you, cannot really upload your mind. Sorry.”
     2) But suppose a computational duplicate of your brain can be created.  And suppose uploading technology was perfected? Should you go to Mindsculpt?  No.” Professor Schneider contends.
     “Suppose while at Mindsculpt, the process does not involve destroying your biological brain.  Wouldn’t you still be there, on the table, after your brain was scanned and “transferred” to a program.  Why would your mind “shift” from your brain to a computer, leaving your still biological brain there?  This seems magical to me.  A more reasonable hypothesis is that you are still on the table; and, a program is created that specifies the workings of the brain.
     “If this seems at least plausible to you, you definitely shouldn’t sign away your legal rights to an upload, or sign up for the kind of uploading that is likely to be developed (destructive uploading”)! Destructive uploading destroys the biological brain in an effort to measure its biological features.  And, non-destructive uploading may simply be a total waste of money, or worse.  If the program was downloaded, maybe it creates a duplicate of you that lives in a computer simulation, or in a body like yours, trying to take your job, or date your partner. After all, it will be convinced it is you.  And, you might have legal obligations to take care of it.”
     3) Finally, we have little sense of whether AI can be conscious.  The jury is out. So if you aim to transfer your mind, it may be that your upload isn’t conscious — it doesn’t feel like anything to be them.  This again, suggests that the upload really isn’t you. (see David Chalmers) (See: Can A Machine Feel?”)     
   “And. we haven’t even delved into the question: What is a mind? To know whether you survive uploading, it would be important to have a sense of what a mind is. If the mind is just the brain, then, you do not survive. Some say the mind is a program.  But a program, like an equation, is an abstract entity.  An equation doesn’t exist anywhere, although inscriptions of it do.  Presumably, your mind is a concrete thing, having a location. Perhaps you are a program installation — some thing, running a program (akin to a computer in some sense.)  But, what is that thing?  This just brings us back to my original question: what is a mind?” Professor Schneider postulated to GIZMODO.
Anders Sandberg – Research Fellow At The University Of Humanity Institute At Oxford University
          Can We?
     Mr. Sandberg told GIZMODO “there are two problems with uploading our minds to another body, one philosophical, and one technical.”
     “The philosophical problem is whether this is a transfer of personal identity, some kind of cloning/copying making a new person with the same or different identity, or something else entirely,” Mr. Sandberg said.  “Many people think the answer is intuitively obvious; and, get very annoyed when others strongly disagree.  Myself [Mr. Sandberg], I agree with the philosopher Derek Parfit who famously analyzed similar cases (often involving Star Trek-like teleporters) in his book, Reasons And Persons (1984):There is no true fact of the matter about who is the “real” continuation of the original person, what matters is at most is – psychological connectedness.”
     “The technical problem is of course, how to actually do it,” Mr. Sandberg told GIZMODO.  “Currently, our minds emerge from, or are our brain activity. We need some way of creating a brain that does the same.  I [Mr. Sandberg] have written a fair bit on ‘whole brain emulation,’ the hypothetical future simulation of entire brains in software.  That would involve scanning a brain (possibly destructively), reconstructing the neural network from the scan; and, running the simulation on a suitable computer.  In Altered Carbon, this is achieved by having a cortical stack implanted, presumably constantly scanning the brain neural network using some form of nano-technological fiber network.”
     “There is a lot of information in a brain,” Mr. Sandberg noted: “About 100 billion neurons, each with about 8,000 synaptic connections to other neurons that we need to keep track of; and, quite likely, several pieces of information for each synapse. To scan that, you would need a 3-D resolution of a few nano-meters:  actually doable with current microscope technology, albeit only for small (a few micrometers), and frozen/plastinated brain tissue.  The connectivity and synapse information may run into maybe 10 petabyte; the actual 3-D scan is far bigger. This, and running all the relevant electro-chemical processes, may sound like an extremely tall order.  Today, it is impossible. But it is relevant to remember Moore’s Law (in various forms), and science marches on — if things continue for a few decades, this may not be too hard.”
     “Scanning a living brain is likely much harder than scanning a nearly frozen brain, since everything is moving about, there is an active immune system that tries to interfere; and, the scanning method better not interfere with function.  I [Mr. Sandberg] think it is physically possible, but likely much harder. We need not just great technology; but, also a fine understanding of how to interface brains to electronics on a truly vast scale: it is going to take much longer than getting the first uploads to work from frozen scans.”
     “There is an extra issue in Altered Carbon and, that is the recipient bodies,” Mr. Sandberg explained.  “These are either grown clone bodies, or donor bodies, nearly totally organic.  I [Mr. Sandberg] can easily imagine (given the above assumptions of technology) how a computer running the brain software could control a biological body; but, I have a far harder time imagining how to download a brain network into a recipient brain. Somehow, we need to rearrange all the connections to correspond to the downloaded person. That is an extremely tricky thing — even with mature nanotechnology, since many neurons stretch across much of the entire brain; and, now need to be re-routed.  This is the part I definitely don’t believe can be realistic.”
Should We?
     “There is an obvious ethical issue when using donor bodies — what do we do with the “homeless” minds?,” Mr. Sandberg told GIZMODO.  “And, many other issues easily come to mind:  Can you lose your right to have a [new] body?  Can you sell it?  Rent it?  Is it a bad thing that you can treat as disposable? (The role playing-game, Eclipse Phase, plays with many of these issues, from refugees who had to flee a disaster by uploading and now are software, “over the clanking masses” who cannot afford organic bodies and have to make do with shoddy robot bodies, to fancy designer — bodies for those who can afford them.) But, this does not really say anything about whether it a moral thing to move between bodies, just that there are a lot of social context that matters.  It is like discussing healthcare: how it is provided, to whom, what practice is allowed, mandatory and banned, all these things have huge ethical implications; but, really doesn’t really tell us whether [this kind of] medicine itself is moral.”
     “Some people would say the whole idea is wrong because it is against nature: humans are not meant to be immortal body-hoppers,” Mr. Sandberg explained.  “But, that something is natural, does not mean it is moral, or acceptable: we do fight cancer and cruelty, despite both being parts of natural life.  A slightly more sophisticated version argues that human life is shaped by its mortality and other features, so a change would make us something not – human; and hence, it is not good for humans to aspire to it.  But, by this argument, monkeys should not seek to become humans enjoying art, science, religion, sport, etc. — since such higher pleasures are not monkey pleasures. This seems backward to me: we can enjoy monkey pleasures too; and, we have removed many of the limitations of being a monkey.  Similarly, being a potential immortal body-hopper removes some pretty big limitations in life — yet still allows us to limit ourselves, if we so choose. Is it possible to turn off one’s stack?”
     “Many like to say that it is the human limitations that make us human,” Mr. Sandberg observed.  “But, the world of Altered Carbon is full of limitations — just because people are potentially immortal, doesn’t mean heartbreak, cruelty, oppression, faulty technologies, and all the other bad things worth fighting against have disappeared. I [Mr. Sandberg] suspect no matter how advanced we become — we will always bump into limitations that we will struggle with.”
     “Some thinkers worry that if we enhance ourselves, we will try to control everything in our lives,” Mr. Sandberg notes.  “Everything of ourselves will be a potential object of design and engineering; and, this both will make it [life] less authentic; and, make us frustrated as we constantly tinker with it.  There is some truth to this: we are suffering from a fair bit of “first world problems” today with our free and flexible lives (compared to our ancestors).  But, that just seems to mean we should culture the virtue of enhancing ourselves wisely, and responsibly; rather, than not being able to enhance oneself.”
What Should We Call Ourselves?
     “Would it make sense to call oneself human, if one is actually moving from cortical stack, to cortical stack?,” Mr. Sandberg asks.  “I think so,” she wrote.  “Being human is about a particular perspective on the world, a human-style mind with peculiar biases, motivation system, ways of thinking and feeling, and so on. A working mind transfer, will transfer our human minds to whatever substrate can run them — pure software, a robot, a biological body — and that means that it will now….at the very least…house a human mind.”
Randal Koene – Neuro-Scientist & Founder Of Carbon Copies Foundation
     Can We?
     That is the question that Mr. Koene asks.  “Probably yes,” he notes.  “For most scientists, the default hypothesis is that everything about our mind and conscious awareness is an emergent consequence of the operations carried out by the biological machinery of the brain. That hypothesis has withstood every test so far. In principal, if we can understand those operations and implement them, then that new implementation will again produce the mind and conscious awareness.”
     “The principal operators in the brain are called neurons,” Mr. Koene explains.  “Those tiny processors know nothing except that incoming excitation, or inhibition, changes their membrane potential.  At some threshold they respond with an electric discharge of their own.  Together,the orchestration of billions of neurons is the information processor that plays the symphony that is our experience of being.”
     “Uploading a mind involves recording enough data about a person’s working brain to replicate its cognitive functions mathematically, then to implement those mathematical functions in another device that will produce the same mind when it is active. Because you can then move a mind from brain to brain (device), we say you have achieved substrate-independence.  The neural engineering used to do that is called whole brain emulation.”
     “The biggest challenge,” Mr. Koene says, “is to access the brain’s relevant data.  In neural engineering today, the first steps toward whole brain emulation are efforts to build neural prostheses — replacement parts for small parts of the brain.  Examples are retinal prostheses and the ambitious hippocampal neural prosthesis project at the Berger Lab of the University of Southern California, which should enable patients with a malfunctioning hippocampus to regain the ability to create new memories. If you create each part of the brain with an equivalent neural prosthetic device that is essence…the same as whole brain emulation.  At a later stage, when we know how to recover dynamic function from 3D structure scans as well, there may be wholesale methods for whole brain emulation from such scans, yet another path to — mind uploading.”
Should We?
     “Yes, at Carboncopies, we think it’s very important that we do,” Mr. Koene believes.  “It’s already pretty easy to see why medical neural prostheses are useful and desirable to cure a patients brain dysfunction.  Beyond that, neural prosthesis holds the promise of enhanced [mental] abilities.  Imagine, for example,” Mr. Koene notes, “that you can explicitly choose which things to remember, and which ones to forget when you have a hippocampal neural prosthesis. It’s also pretty easy to see why mapping and modeling brain functions is important to science, medicine, and to learn what could be implemented in artificial intelligence.”
     “When our skills at building neural prosthesis reach the point where whole brain emulation is possible, we [will] reach a very special milestone,” Mr. Koene observes. “Up to that point, the need to interact with the remaining biological parts of a brain mean that there are hard limits to the sort of cognitive functions that are possible.  For example, biological neurons will never be able to react fast enough to be aware of, or respond to events that happen at the microsecond scale, a dynamic part of our universe that only our machines can experience.  Overcoming these, and other limitations is the “human thriving” argument for mind uploading.  It means that we gain the choice to expand our range of possible experience and capabilities, to participate in more, instead of ceding the bigger picture to our machines, as we remain constrained to a narrow subset of what the universe has to offer.”
     “There is also an important “survival argument” for mind uploading,” Mr. Koene observed.  “If we cannot modify our mental abilities, then we are constrained to an evolutionary niche.  If the history of evolution has shown anything,” Mr. Koene noted, “it has shown that those niches tend to disappear.  Present developments for example, in artificial intelligence suggest that human thought might soon play an ever-decreasing; and, minor role in the future society of intelligences.  Adapting to change may well be a survival requirement.”
What Should We Call Ourselves?
     “I [Mr. Koene] can’t say that I’ve ever thought of a human who uploads as anything other than human.  When a person has prosthetic limbs, or a cochlear implant, we don’t call them anything other than human.  So, I imagine that we can still call ourselves human, even if we have prosthetic bodies.  If anything, augmenting our abilities through technology has always been a uniquely human characteristic.”
The ‘Father Of Artificial Intelligence’ Says Singularity Is 30 Years Away 
     If the above article ‘sounded’ too science-fiction for you, you may want to think again.  Jolene Creighton posted a February 14, 2018 article in the publication, Futurism, with the title above.   Ms. Creighton begins: “You’ve probably been told that the Singularity is coming. It is the long-awaited point in time — likely a point in our very near future — when advances in AI lead to the creation of a machine (a technological form of life?), smarter than humans,” she wrote.
     “If [futurist] Ray Kurzeil is to be believed, the Singularity will happen in 2045,” Ms. Creighton wrote.
     At the recently concluded World Government Summit in Dubai, Ms. Creighton interviewed Jurgen Schmidhuber, who is Co-Founder and Chief Scientist at AI company, NNAISENSE, Director of the AI lab, IDSIA, and Ms. Creighton wrote,”heralded by some as ‘the father of artificial intelligence,” to get his views on just how close, or not, humankind is approaching the threshold of immortality.
     Dr. Schmidhuber “is confident that the singularity is just 30 years away [2040s], if [current] trends don’t break; and, there will be relatively cheap computational devices that have as many connections as your brain, but are much faster,” Ms. Creighton wrote.
     “When biological life emerged from chemical evolution 3.5 billion years ago, a random combination of simple, lifeless elements, kick-started the explosion of species populating the planet today,” Dr. Schmidhuber said.  “Something of a comparable magnitude may [soon] be about to happen,” Ms. Creighton noted.  “Now, the universe is making a similar step forward, from lower complexity, to higher complexity ,” Schmidhuber beams,” she added.  “And, it’s going to be awesome,” he ended.
     Whether it is the 2040s, or a little longer, it seems that humankind is on an inevitable march toward having the potential to live forever.  If you are interested in reading the latest thoughts in this area, you are in luck.  In February, Dr. Michio Kaku’s new book,”The Future Of Humanity: Transforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, And Our Destiny Beyond Earth,” was published by Doubleday. Dr. Kaku is the Professor of Physics at the City University of New York, and is also a very recognizable figure to many of us, often appearing on the Science Channel, discussing a wide variety of subjects such as black holes, alternate universes, interstellar travel and other topics about the universe and whether there is intelligent life elsewhere than Earth.
     While we may be able to upload our consciousness and brain to an avatar and ‘live’ forever, what about the human soul?  Were we, at some point, meant to live ‘forever,’ and, can we do so — without losing what it means to be human?  As the late Leonard Nimoy/’Dr. Spok’ used to say, “Live Long……….And Prosper.”  V/R, RCP, fortunascorner.com

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