Friday, June 10, 2011

The Rise of Robots; Friend or Foe?

Computer components implanted in your body to make you feel, think, and physically respond more efficiently. Nanotechnologies awash in your blood as they circulate throughout your system repairing damage on the cellular level to keep you healthy. Artificial nano-cells replacing some of your red blood cells to enhance your immune system's defensive mechanisms. According to one man, a leader in technology, all this and more is on the horizon...and likely within your lifetime.

As a technology buff, I watched with awe the documentary "Transcendent Man". It is the story of Ray Kurzweil, a bright MIT graduate with a talent for invention and technology. He's a man before his time in many ways, and some claim he's a sort of prophet, preaching the doctrine of technology. However you view him, one thing is certain; he will make you think.

Technology is an amazing thing. It absolutely fascinates me and anyone who knows me will tell you, I absolutely LOVE gadgets. I'm all about keyboards and screens and cool applications that let me access huge amounts of information for which I'll likely never have any real use. Since I was a kid, computers have entranced me, and I grin like a schoolgirl in love when I read about the next new shiny bits of silicon. I won't purport to understand how they work. Honestly, don't know...don't care. I just love what they can do. 

But I've struggled before with the boundaries of technology. I've asked myself, how far is too far? Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. This documentary found me of two minds, and struggling with this question, as I contemplated its message. 

My eyes grew wide with excited fascination as I listened to projections of how our bodies might be made stronger and able to outlast the current limitations of life. My geeky side was titillated even more so as we were invited to envision a world in which we live, work, and play alongside humanoid AI robots so life-like that it would be difficult to distinguish human from machine. But what is too far? And more to the point, what are the consequences of crossing that threshold and ringing a bell that realistically cannot be silenced? 

I'm all for change. I'm all for growth. And well, I could be wrong about the likely negative consequences of pushing nature to the brink. But when we begin to be so arrogant that we start calling our technological advances a form of biological  "evolution," I think we tempt the very power of the nature that placed in each of us the drive to create. 

I don't know the answers and can't even articulate all the questions, but I sense they are there. As I watched the experts discuss the possibilities and their criticisms, I was glued to the screen and noticeably uncomfortable simultaneously. There is a sense of momentum that seems to be building with regard to technology. Are we destined to gallop inexorably down a silicon path to the state Kurzweil calls "singularity?" I'm not sure. What do you think?


  1. I think as you get older and the simple act of living becomes painful you will feel more inclined to use whatever technology can improve your quality of life. The forty or so years until this happens is a negligible amount of time in the grand scheme so if you accept that one day you would use this sort of technology then there is essentially no reason why you shouldn't simply start using it now and avoid the pain of later years.

  2. I hear what you're saying @harrymonmouth, I'm just still really uneasy about it. A huge part of me leaps in excitement at the potential. But a still, quiet voice inside my head warns of dangers. I think careful ethical consideration must be applied to these sorts of technologies before we jump headfirst into territory for which we have no functional road maps. I'm not sure that always happens. My concern is that there is a momentum that builds and drags us along the path and we don't know we're sunk until the quicksand is up to our knees and it's too late. I'm just not sure.