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Artificial Eternity

Extinction via merging with AI brings the promise of immortality.

September 3rd, 2005 · Written by · No Comments

Extinction via merging with AI brings the promise of immortality. Even Kurzwell cheerfully professes that by the end of the 21st century, “life expectancy will no longer be a viable term in relation to intelligent beings.” Kurzwell implies that intelligence may rise up to circumvent the impersonal omnipotence of the universe itself.

It’s easy to understand why Extinctionism strikes an intuitive chord. Even the coldest, most logical skeptic is motivated by the human desire to make sense of the outside world. In the animal world, any act that promises copious amounts of positive feedback is called a super-key stimuli. Animals will pursue super-key stimuli to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, because the promise of the rewards overrides all other desires.

Knowledge and survival are the chief motivations of modern human; thus, omniscience and immortality are humanity’s super-key stimuli. Religion promises both, which explains its enduring hold. So too does the extinctionists’ view of AI, with far fewer rational voids to leap. A scenario with the promise of such a magnificent reward need only be plausible to gain favor among skeptics.

By definition, each night we die, and each morning we are born again.

But while the impetus that drives exctinctionists may be innately human, the true nature of human consciousness could preclude the realization of their fantasies. For a human mind to meld with AI, it would first need to be entirely extricated from the biological world and transferred intact. The problem is that what makes us human will never be tangible or translatable. By definition, each night we die, and each morning we are born again. Our cells die and regenerate, and the matter that comprises us is discarded in a myriad of ways and replaced. Each person is a fundamentally different collection of molecules at present than he or she was ten years or even ten days ago. The force that binds a human consciousness as its life unfolds is a mentally constructed conception of self. Even that conception evolves over time. So if the capability to “cut and paste” a human neural net is developed, we cannot be assured that the synergistic quality of the mind will also make the trip.

Some humans have succeeded in extricating themselves from the most inhibiting aspects of the ecosystem. For that they’ve paid a price, as they’ve subjugated part of what makes them human. To completely cut ties with the chemicals, hormones, emotions, and pain that comprises humanity in all its intricate beauty may well be to become something else entirely.

The reckless abandon extinctionists display in their eagerness to transcend their biological existence denotes a fundamental lack of appreciation for the true human experience. Some contend that machines will become indistinguishable from humans, as if abstraction and computational power were all that defined us. But the human experience, though perhaps entirely explainable, is deeper and richer. Salvationists notoriously undervalue this life in favor of a utopia that they believe awaits them in the next.

Extinctionists would be well advised to avoid making that same mistake.

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Tags: Philosophy · ·

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