Posts Tagged ‘Singularity’


June 16, 2019

This is the sixth post based on a new book by Douglas Rushkoff titled “TEAM HUMAN.” The title of this post is identical to the title of the sixth section of this book. Rushkoff begins, “When autonomous technologies appear to be calling all the shots, it’s only logical for humans to conclude that if we can’t beat them, we may as well join them. Whenever people are captivated—be they excited or enslaved—by a new technology, it becomes their new role model, too. “

“In the Industrial Age, as mechanical clocks dictated human time, we began to think of ourselves in very mechanical terms. We described ourselves as living in a ‘clockwork universe,’ in which the human body was one of the machines.” Mechanical metaphors emerged in our language. We needed to grease the wheels, crank up the business, dig deeper, or turn a company into a well-oiled machine.

In the digital age we view our world as computational. Humans are processors; everything is data. Logic does not compute. He multitasks so well he’s capable of interfacing with more than one person in his network at a time.

Projecting human qualities onto machines is called anthropomorphism, but we are projecting machine qualities onto humans. Seeing a human being as a machine or computer is called mechanomorphism. This is not just treating machines as living humans; it’s treating humans as machines.

When we multitask we are assuming that, just like computers, we can do more than one task at a time. But research has been shown, and related in healthy memory blog posts, that when we multitask, our performance suffers. Sometimes this multitasking, such as when we talk, or even worse, text, while we are driving, we can die.

It is both curious and interesting that drone pilots, who monitor and neutralize people by remote control from thousands of miles away, experience higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder than “real” pilots. An explanation for these high rates of distress is that, unlike regular pilots, drone pilots often observe their targets for weeks before killing them. These stress rates remain disproportionately high even for missions in which the pilots had no prior contact with the victims.

Rushkoff writes that a more likely reason for the psychic damage is that this drone pilots are trying to exist in more than one location at a time. They might be in a facility in Nevada operating a lethal weapon system deployed on the other side of the planet. After dropping ordnance and killing a few dozen people, the pilots don’t land their planes, climb out, and return to the mess hall to debrief over beers with their fellow pilots. They just log out, get into their cars, and drive home to the suburbs for dinner with their families. It’s like being two different people in different places in the same day. But none of us is two people or can be in more than one place. Unlike a computer program, which can be copied and run from several different machines simultaneously, human beings have one “instance” of themselves running at a time.
Rushkoff writes, “We may want to be like the machines of our era, but we can never be as good at being digital devices as the digital devices themselves. This is a good thing, and maybe the only way to remember that by aspiring to imitate our machines, we leave something even more important behind: our humanity.’

The smartphone, along with all the other smartphones, create an environment: a world where anyone can reach us at any time, where people walk down public sidewalks in private bubbles, and where our movements are tracked by GPS and stored in marketing and government databases for future analysis. In turn, these environmental factors promote particular states of mind, such as paranoia about be tracked, a constant state of distraction, and fear of missing out.

The digital media environment impacts us collectively, as an economy and as a society. Investors’ expectations of what a stock’s chart should look like given the breathtaking pace at which a digital company can reach “scale” has changed, as well as how a CEO should surrender the long-term health of a company for the short-term growth of shares. Rushkoff notes that the internet’s emphasis on metrics and quantity over depth and quality has engendered a society that values celebrity, sensationalism, an numeric measures of success. The digital media environment expresses itself in the physical environment s well; the production, use, and disposal of digital technologies depletes scarce resources, expends massive amount of energy, and pollutes vast regions of the planet.

Rushkoff concludes, “Knowing the particular impacts of a media environment on our behaviors doesn’t excuse our complicity, but it helps us understand what we’re up against—which way things are tilted. This enables us to combat their effects, as well as the darker aspects of our own nature that they provoke.”

If one assumes that humanity is a pure mechanistic affair, explicable entirely in the language of data processing then what’s the difference whether human beings or computers are doing that processing. Transhumanists hope to transcend biological existence. Kurzweil’s notion of a singularity in which human consciousness is uploaded into a computer has been written off in previous posts. The argument that these previous posts has made is that biology and silicon are two different media that operate in different ways. Although they can interact they cannot become one.

Rushkoff’s concludes, “It’s not that wanting to improve ourselves, even with seemingly invasive technology, is so wrong. It’s that we humans should be making active choices about what it is we want to do to ourselves, rather than letting the machines, or the markets propelling them, decide for us.


October 18, 2018

The title of this post is the same as the title of an important book by Maryanne Wolf. The subtitle is “The Reading Brain in the Digital World.” Any new technology offers benefits, but it may also contain dangers. There definitely are benefits from moving the printed world into the digital world. But there are also dangers, some of which are already quite evident. One danger is the feeling that one always needs to be plugged in. There is even an acronym for this FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). But there are costs to being continually plugged in. One is superficial processing. One of the best examples of this is of the plugged-in woman who was asked what she thought of OBAMACARE. She said that she thought it was terrible and was definitely against it. However, when she was asked what she thought of the Affordable Care Act, she said that she liked it and was definitely in favor of it. Of course, the two are the same.

This lady was exhibiting an effect that has a name, the Dunning-Krueger effect. Practically all of us think we know more than we do. Ironically, people who are quite knowledgeable about a topic are aware of their limitations and frequently qualify their responses. So, in brief, the less you know the more you think you know, but the more you know, the less you think you know. Moreover, this effect is greatly amplified in the digital age.

There is a distinction between what is available in our memories and what is accessible in our memories. Very often we are unable to remember something, but we do know that it is present in memory. So this information is available, but not accessible. There is an analogous effect in the cyber world. We can find information on the internet, but we need to look it up. It is not available in our personal memory. Unfortunately, being able to look something up on the internet is not identical to having the information available in our personal memories so that we can extemporaneously talk about the topic. We daily encounter the problem of whether we need to remember some information or whether it would be sufficient to look it up. We do not truly seriously understand something until it is available in our personal memories. The engineer Kurtzweil is planning on extending his life long enough so the he can be uploaded to a computer, thus achieving a singularity with technology. Although he is a brilliant engineer, he is woefully ignorant of psychology and neuroscience. Digital and neural codes differ and the processing systems differ, so the conversion is impossible. However, even if it were understanding requires deep cognitive and biological processing. True understanding does not come cheaply.

Technology can be misused and it can be very tempting to misuse technology. However, there are serious costs. Maryanne Wolf discusses the pitfalls and the benefits of technology. It should be understood that we are not victims of technology. Rather we need to use technology not only so that we are not victims, but also so we use technology synergistically.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Brain, Mind, and Body

August 7, 2010

This blog post is another in the series inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 That book presents a table contrasting the way the brain once was regarded, the way it is presently regarded and some conjectures about what tomorrow might hold. This blog also draws upon a recent book published by National Geographic,2 which will be reviewed in a subsequent post.

According to The Scientific American Brave New Brain, brain, mind, and body are separate. Now this was true quite some time ago. According to the National Geographic book, the ancient Egyptians thought the brain to be worthless, thinking that the heart contained the soul and the mind. Although there seemed to be some dispute regarding this among the ancient Greeks, Hippocrates wrote that “The eyes and ears and tongue and hands and feet do whatsoever the brain determines. It is the brain that is the messenger to the understanding [and] the brain that interprets the understanding.” So it was fairly long ago that it was believed that the brain and the body were linked.

Apparently, it was not until Descartes came along that the mind was addressed. His famous cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, made the mind central. External reality was not known directly but rather was interpreted in the mind. Good science, as well as successful negotiations with and in the environment are dependent upon our internal reality being in some correspondence with external reality. There still is some question as to what is meant by mind. Is it consciousness? What role does it play. Some might contend that consciousness is epiphenomenal, that it is like a movie playing in our head for our own entertainment. They would argue that the brain determines our decisions and behavior and that consciousness has no role. This is a rather extreme view that will be addressed in later posts. Brave New Brain contends that the current belief that brain, mind and body are intertwined and inseparable. That, indeed, is the current consensus.

Brave New Brain offers the conjecture that tomorrow brain, mind, and body are enhanced by machines and computers. Here a little thought might give rise to the question, “are not our brains and bodies already enhanced by machines and computers?” There are already seemingly countless machines aiding our bodies, and computers aiding our minds seem to be omnipresent. I believe that Brave New Brain is offering the conjecture of sci-fi type interventions of machines and computers along the lines of Kurzweil’s singularity.3 Kurzweil believes that in the near future technology will advance to the point where silicon chips will replace neurons, that we shall transcend biology and become effectively immortal. Kurzweil himself has change his lifestyle and diet to extend his life to the point where technology will be ready to take over before he dies.

It should be noted that an enormous leap is involved here. We have the conscious experience of our own senses and minds. And we can look at electronic recordings of our minds and senses and view brain images of our mind and senses. Nevertheless, we have no understanding of how this occurs other than to say our consciousness is an emergent phenomenon. Whether consciousness will emerge from silicon is a very large question indeed.

1Horstman, J. (2010). San Francisco” Jossey-Bass.

2Sweeney, M.S. (2010). Brain The Complete Mind: How It Develops, How It Works, and How to Keep It Sharp.

3Kurzweil, R. (2006). The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.