Posts Tagged ‘the Singularity’

The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind

March 4, 2015

When I saw this title, I knew immediately that I had to read it.  Now that I have read it, I am certainly not disappointed.  This is one of the most interesting books I have read, and I have read many interesting books.  This book was written by Dr. Michio Kaku, a Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York.  Dr. Kaku has a brilliant mind and has written a brilliant book.

In the lingo of the healthy memory blog, this book deals with transactive memory, how technology and other humans can enhance our minds.  I shall be basing some future posts on chapters from this book, but there is no way I can even begin to give it justice.  So I strongly recommend you reading the entire book on your own.  The book is divided into three books.  Book I is titled “The Mind and Consciousness,”  Book II, “Mind Over Matter,”  and Book  III  “Altered Consciousness.”

Consciousness is presented from a physicist’s viewpoint.  Even though I am a psychologist, I find much to like in this physicist’s viewpoint.  There definitely will be a future post on his viewpoint of consciousness.

Chapters in Book II are titled “Telepathy,”, “Telekinesis:  Mind Controlling Matter,” “Memories and Thoughts Made to Order,” and “Einstein’s Brain and Enhancing Our Intelligence.”  Do not be put off by some of these chapter titles.  They are not dealing with the supernatural.  Rather they are dealing with technology that achieves these ends.  Everything Dr. Kaku writes is based on and bounded by physics.

Chapter titles in Book III include “In Your Dreams,” “Can the Mind Be Controlled,” “Altered States of Consciousness,” “The Artificial Mind and Silicon Consciousness,” “Reverse Engineering the Brain,”  “ The Future:  Mind Beyond Matter,”  “The Mind is Pure Energy,” and “The Alien Mind.”  I’ve long been perplexed as to how Kurzweil plans to upload his mind to silicon to achieve the Singularity.  Dr. Kaku explains how this might be done, but it does not involve silicon.  Everything proposed in these chapters is based on sound theoretical physics.  As Dr. Kaku notes, the problems involve engineering, and the engineering tasks are quite formidable indeed.  I am especially appreciative of his ideas on the alien mind.  I’ve had my fill of unbelievable anthropomorphic aliens.

An appendix on Quantum Consciousness is also included.

My only complaint regards the failure of Dr. Kaku to note that there are corpses of individuals whose brains were filled with the tell tale amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s, yet who never exhibited any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s when they lived.  So it appears that, at best, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for Alzheimer’s.

Limits to Human Understanding

May 20, 2014

This blog post was motivated by an article in the New Scientist1, “Higher State of Mind” by Douglas Heaven.  It raised the question of limits to human understanding, a topic of longstanding interest to myself.  The article reviews two paths Artificial Intelligence has taken.  One approach involved rule-based programming.  Typically the objective here was to model human information processing with the goal of having the computer “think” like a human.  This approach proved quite valuable in the development of cognitive science, as it identified problems that needed to be addressed in the development of theories and models of human information processing.   Unfortunately, it was not very successful in solving complex computational problems.
The second approach eschewed the modeling of the human and focused on developing computational solutions to difficult problems.  Machines were programed to learn and to compute statistical correlations  and inferences by studying patterns in vast amounts of data.  Neural nets were developed that successfully solved a large variety of complex computational problems.  However, although the developers of these neural nets could describe the neural net they themselves had programmed, they could not understand  how the conclusion was made.  Although they can solve a problem, they are unable to truly understand the problem.  So, there are areas of expertise where machines can be said to know not only more than we do, but also know more than we are capable of understanding.  In other words, what we can understand  may be constrained by our biological limitations.
So, what does the future hold for us?  There is an optimistic scenario and a pessimistic scenario.  According to Kurzweil a singularity will be achieved by transcending biology and we shall augment ourselves with genetic alterations,  nanotechnolgy, and machine learning.  He sees a time when we shall become immortal.  In fact, he thinks that this singularity is close enough that he is doing everything to extend his life so that he shall achieve this immortality.  This notion of a singularity was first introduced in the fifties by the mathematician John von Neuman.
A pessimistic scenario has been sketched  out by Bill Joy.  I find his name  a bit ironic.  He has written a piece titled, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”  where he argues that technology might be making us an endangered species.
So these are two extremes.  A somewhat less extreme scenario was outlined in the movie, Collosus:  the Forbin Project, which was based on a novel by Dennis Feltham Jones, Collus.  The story takes place during the cold war with the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The United States has built a complex sophisticated computer, the Collosus to manage the country’s defenses in the event of a nuclear war.  Shortly after the Collosus becomes operational, it established contact with a similar computer built by the Soviet Union.  These two systems agree that humans are not intelligent enough to manage their own affairs, so they eventually hey take over the control of the world.
So what does the future hold for us?  Who knows?

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