Consumed By Our Creation: AI, Nanotechnology and Existential Risk in the Age of the Singularity

With the proposal to open a “Center for Study of Existential Risk” at Cambridge University, news media are reporting on the possibility that humans may someday produce machines capable of acting on their own and ultimately seeing humanity as a resource threat or, at the very least least, a nuisance. This kind of “science fiction” scenario, then, is now being taken seriously as a potential Tech Endgame. These researchers fear the result may not be the now-popular idea of a Zombie Apocalypse but something much worse: A terrifying Robo-Apocalypse where humanity is destroyed by the ultraintelligent, sentient machines of its own creation.

Renown futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts a point at which human technology produces greater-than-human intelligence. At this point, can sentient consciousness can be entirely expressed through machines? And can a machine-mind function, from human machine singularityits own perspective, in a way comparable to biological consciousness? Regardless of the answer to that question, I view the singularity as a point of human spiritual death. With a species surrending to its own creations, which have achieved intelligence greater than their own, humanity and the human soul render themselves suddenly obsolete. The machinery would have the ability to build upon itself, perhaps leading eventually to its own collapse, but not before it smears humanity off the face of the once-biological earth. Add nano tech into the mix, and you have potential for a nightmare swarm of superintelligent and perhaps even self-expanding microbots small enough to live inside your body.

Extreme: Yes.
Possible: Also, very much yes.

With drones set to buzz across American skies and Internet freedom seriously at stake under the corporate-influenced false flag of media piracy, I have major concerns regarding what I see as an inability of American legislators to keep up with technological advancements. With researchers like nanotechnology-kd-001Kurzweil expressing that technology moves ahead at an exponential pace, however, I also can’t blame them for not being able to keep up. However the danger, science fiction and Cambridge University seem to be warning, could be fatal.

And what happens when Smart tech becomes so tiny it can interact with the micro-world of bacteria, cells and viruses? We don’t really know. It seems to hold the potential for healing a range of diseases but, as with all new technology, we must assume there will be unintended consequences. And, in the case of technology so small we can’t even see it, the unintended consequences strike me as holding particularly catastrophic potential.

I don’t think anyone really knows what happens when we put intelligent nanobots into the bloodstream of a living human, regardless of what those nanobots were programmed to do. Even with the comparably-rudimentary state of nanotechnology today, already we are seeing unintended negative environmental effects as with antimicrobial nanosilver.

But let’s return to the present day. In the course of just a few years, smartphones have gone from being basically unheard of to being nearly totally ubiquitous. Suddenly we live in a society where the mainstream cannot imagine life without their pocket gadget, once only a phone but now a complex technological intersection of every aspect of our lives from business to social and everywhere in between. It’s already becoming apparent that, in the 21st century, The Guy Without A Smartphone is some kind of mild weirdo; at best a luddite and at worst a member of some kind of unspoken, informal technological underclass.

If the trend continues, the only option if you want a new cellphone will be a Smartphone. And then, with the advent of “augmented reality” Google Glasses and similar products from Microsoft and other companies, we seem to be in a fast-moving era of a corporate-driven and child-and-smartphoneconsumer-enabled union of humanity and technology promising to “augment” our reality. But can living in an “augmented reality” possibly bring us to a state of augmented humanity? After all, when the masses are literally seeing their day-to-day world through a lens provided by a machine, what is sacrificed from the human realities of creative inspiration, free thought, appreciation of nature and human independence?

And if Smartphones are now providing a stepping stone to augmented reality glasses, one might reasonably assume that augmented reality glasses could be a stepping stone to augmented reality implants, or subdermal/ingestible microchips. First, they’re presented for soldiers and people with medical problems. Then, the technology is merged with Smartphone functions so that your bank account, email, entertainment and more can be accessed without a physical phone or gadget. Finally, in the last stage, only those with the implant can practically hold bank accounts or otherwise lead normal lives. Make it Too Weird to not be part of it…a complete techno-biological surveillance, marketing and lifestyle system that opting out of would force you to become an instant social and cultural freak.

Let’s consider carefully the implications on the human brain, human evolution and human intelligence when we surrender the management of our own species, and our own minds, to the computers of our own creation. The potential in all of these technologies is almost ineffably enormous. Unfortunately, if we collectively move forward with eager, mindless reception, so could be the consequences.

Additional Reading
DARPA Young Faculty Award Document: DARPA seeks to explore “fusing the synthetic with the biological”.

Update 12/21/2012:
Futurist Ray Kurzweil named Director of Engineering at Google

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