August 6, 2002


When brains meet computer brawn (Ed Frauenheim, August 5, 2002, CNET
People linking their brains together to form a global collective intelligence. Humans living well beyond 100 years. Computers uploading
aspects of our personalities to a network. These could all happen this century with the proper investments in technology, according to a recent report from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Commerce.

Titled "Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science," the 405-page report calls for more research into the intersection of these fields. The payoff, the authors claim, isn't just better bodies and more effective minds. Progress in these areas of
technology also could play a key role in preventing a societal "catastrophe." The answer to human brutality and new forms of lethal weapons, it suggests, is a kind of tech-triggered unity: "Technological convergence could become the framework for human convergence."

Published last month, the report could one day be remembered as a seminal road map to the future. But it's not clear whether its recommendations will be followed--or should be. [...]

With research in converging technologies, it's possible some disabilities will be eradicated completely and normal standards of healthiness will soar, Roco and Bainbridge wrote. "The human body will be more durable, healthy, energetic, easier to repair and resistant to many kinds of stress, biological threat and (the) aging process." [...]

The report thinks big when it comes to peering beyond the next two decades to the rest of the 21st century. Taking visionaries such as Ray Kurzweil seriously, it imagines robots so advanced they may deserve political rights, building surfaces that automatically change shape and color to adjust to the weather, and the prospect of personality uploads that make death itself ambiguous.

Merging human consciousness with machines is tied to another mind-boggling concept: brain-to-brain connections. The report discusses the possibility of "local groups of linked enhanced individuals" as well as "a global collective intelligence."

Creating such a networked society could play a vital role in overcoming today's social and political crises, Roco and Bainbridge suggest. "The 21st century could end in world peace, universal prosperity and evolution to a higher level of compassion and accomplishment," they write. "It is hard to find the right metaphor to see a century into the
future, but it may be that humanity would become like a single, transcendent nervous system, an interconnected 'brain' based in new core pathways of society."

Obviously the prospect of relieving disabilities and conquering diseases is attractive, but I just find the price intolerable. A future where machines have more rights than fetuses, where individuals are submerged into a group mind, where the natural political tension between humans disappears into a bland and homogenized shared consciousness--it all seems repellant and anti-human. Hand me my sabots. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 6, 2002 8:32 PM
Comments for this post are closed.