Human 2.0: Trading Individual Power for Collective Consciousness

As cold as it seems, it’s always interesting to see a robot is coordinating humans in any given activity. Even more so when you consider the juxtaposition of Honda’s ASIMO conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to perform “The Impossible Dream” (See song’s origin).

While it’s more compelling to see this in the flesh, throughout history we’ve been trading individual power for collective consciousness by way of signaling machines. In the name of efficiency, we’ve obeyed traffic lights, referenced Google search ranking, and even shopped based on Amazon’s recommendation engine.

What’s happening here?
Computing machines are incredibly apt at mundane, complex decision processes, and we often use it as signals for coordinating our collective behavior. Given too much power, humans might not be able to cope with too many inputs and they have been subject to corruption. We are intrinsically selfish creatures after all. If you were to reduce our key evidence of existence, it could be narrowed into the action of mimicking for survival, or what we call memes.

As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a gene. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Selfish Gene (1976), recounts how and why he coined the term meme to describe how one might extend Darwinian principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples include tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, and fashions.

Given that machines do not have intrinsic motivations of their own survival (yet!), they are ideal at performing less appealing tasks. I do wonder if that leads them to exist outside the sphere of our cultural evolution… hard to say since we design them, bit of ourselves exists in them.

If our goal is efficiency, it is not hard to imagine us putting machines to coordinate larger sets of human behavior. We might often think of a future outcome of this in light of the fictional Skynet, but does it have to be that dreary?

Ray Kurzweil's Countdown to Singularity

Alex Halavais pointed out a great video on what the next version of humans (2.0) would be. There is a moment in the near future that scientist believe will transform the notion on what it is to be human. Ray Kurzweil depicted this in The Age of Spiritual Machines (1999), which spoke of the future course of humanity, where he sees a merger of artificial intelligence and human consciousness. Such a moment is what he calls Singularity.

After the jump is a documentary about how Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity could occur, and the arguments for and against it:

3 thoughts on “Human 2.0: Trading Individual Power for Collective Consciousness

  1. As our technology becomes ever more powerful, I think it becomes easier and easier to accept our own brains as being (wonderfully!) complicated entities, but deterministic nonetheless.

    Given a known (vast) set of inputs, could you model the actions of humans? Our knee jerk reaction is to assume not – but that could quite easily be a side-effect of our (relatively) limited brains.

    Most importantly, at what point do you rename “behavioural goals” (as predicated by your environment) to “desires, self will”?

    ASIMO and similar projects are fantastic in bringing this to the collective consciousness in a very tangible way.

    The next few decades are going to be very interesting as we are forced to come to terms with these ideas.

    Loving your blog, fascinating content.

  2. I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lectures on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book.

    Recently read another incredible book that I can’t recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil’s work. The book is “”My Stroke of Insight”” by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor’s talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It’s spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I’m not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I’ve read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they’re making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)
    If you haven’t heard Dr Taylor’s TEDTalk, that’s an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it’s 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational).

    There’s a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best “”Fantastic Voyage”” , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!

  3. That is a pretty neat article you have here. I am certain that singularity will happen to some extent as we strive for idealistic expectations, such as modeling after a “role model”. However, I am not certain that collective consciousness will ever happen due to the humanistic nature we all have to be about to decide for ourselves.

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