Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Human, Uploaded: Disconnected Thoughts about Connecting Myself

Behind the SceneI have several related trains of thought in my head right now that aren’t meekly coalescing into a single narrative thread. But I want to get them out while they’re fresh.

Never remember anything that you can write down.—Albert Einstein

Soon we’ll be able to write down everything.—stonyhill

I’m still mulling willwindow’s provocative post (and the ensuing conversation) about the robots taking over the world. I’m second guessing myself now — why couldn’t the transfer of consciousness to the machine world be gradual, as an enhancement to continuous biologically based consciousness? Is this already happening? I feel that a significant percentage of my social interaction takes place online, on places like last.fm, twitter, facebook. To some extent it continues even when I’m not staring at a screen. Last.fm adds to my music listening history, tagged photos appear in my facebook galleries, people start following me on twitter. Getting back online reconnects me to my social consciousness, expands sensory input in a way that was impossible just a few years back.

Top Five things I found on the internet:

5. My biodiesel car (thegreencarco.com)

4. An open community of incredible music (jamendo.com)

3. How to ask the right questions (letmegooglethatforyou.com)

2. My house (johnlscott.com)

1. My spouse (thank you, craig)

I’ve been reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near. While he wasn’t the first to talk about the singularity, he has become one of the most visible and vocal proponents of this hypothesis. I find myself reading with a barrier of skepticism, with the assumption that there is still a qualitative gap between biological hardware and the machine world. Yet more and more of what I do online seems organic in nature: Social networking, discovering art and music, communicating. These are complicated, subjective endeavors that require pattern recognition—the “human” stuff that machines aren’t supposed to be good at yet.

So I guess I’m not too worried about the coming singularity/apocalypse, because I think it’s going to be gradual, voluntary, and that to some extent it’s already under way, at least for those parts of ourselves we can write down so that we don’t have to remember.

  • What offline part of your life have you recently moved online?
  • Or are you moving the other direction?
  • Are you uncomfortable with the concept of a cybernetic future?
  • Does it make it better or worse to think of it as an enhancement and extension of your biological self, rather than a replacement?


7 Comments

  1. 1. I have recently begun to move my education online. Increasingly, I hop on the web to watch videos or listen to audio on subjects related to my academic interests. [Check out the links to free video podcasts from some of the top universities at Educaton Portal.]

    2. No, I am not moving the other direction (offline). However, I do know people who are “pushing back” against “living” online. I have mostly seen this in the form of refusing to join facebook. Also, I have been thinking about the possible benefits of spending one day a week without a computer. For me this would be akin to a fast or meditative rest.

    3. I am ambivalent about he concept of a cybernetic future. On the one hand, I most definitely would not want to give up the ways in which I already dwell online. On the other, part of me is terrified by the idea of losing the “natural world.”

    4. Yes, biological language does make the idea of a cybernetic future a bit better. And I agree that we have already been gradually moving towards a cybernetic existence. However, I would just point out the relative nature of “gradually.” How long has the internet existed in the public domain? How about Last FM, Twitter, or Facebook? These are relatively new phenomena, and yet they have spread like wildfire. How would the advent of cyber-technology compare with, say, the advent of print technology?

    I do like the idea of reading biology into cyber-technology, because it destabilizes the natural/un-natural binary and forces us to question our conception of “human.”

  2. Thanks for the lectures link. Ray Kurzweil would say that there is nothing about the machine world that is non-human, because the machine world is a creation and extension of humanity, just like stone tools and books. So as we move toward a machine future, we don’t necessarily have to think of becoming less human. Perhaps our DNA will be written in software, and our synapses will occur through quantum transistors, but they will be of our own making.

    As for the pace of change, Kurzweil proposes that progress advances logarithmically, and that is sure what it feels like to me, and apparently to you as well. It took a million years to move from stone tools to the printing press, then a few hundred to the internet. Perhaps only a few years separate us from digital immortality. or, alternatively, grey goo apocalypse.

  3. Lots of stuff to mull over in your post. A few cursory thoughts:

    -the move from bio- to techno- is a qualitative leap, but history is predicated on these. After all, what was the rise to self-reflective consciousness if not a qualitative leap.

    -where are we now? I have to frame our relationship with technology in two ways before I can think about it. First, in terms of prosthetic. That we use prosthetic is human, but there are two kinds of prosthetic: one that amplifies the expression of our humanity (think violin, or paint), and one that abstracts us from the reality that is human being (think cubicles, tenements, etc). I expect to meet with resistence over this distinction, and I grant that we are too subjectively entangled to guarantee reliable judgments about what “is” human, and what abstracts us from that, or amplifies it. The second frame is that of ontological locus. Our current locus of being is the natural world. As stonyhill pointed out more of us is “moving” online, but our locus is still natural, physical, haptic. As long as the basic functions of our being: breathing, eating/drinking, etc. take place in the natural locus, that is where we reside. Once we start plugging in to charge up our cells, we have seriously disrupted the naturalness of our locus.

    -as far as uploading consciousness, I can’t help but think in pragmatic and capitalist terms. Will it be more fun? Can we get more done? Will it allow for us to avoid death? Can we make shitloads of money? These will end up being the determining factors. That’s why its worth hashing out the philosophical end of it now…

  4. Those four questions should rule every human decision:

    Will it be more fun?
    Can we get more done?
    Will it allow for us to avoid death?
    Can we make shitloads of money?

    I’d settle for three out of four.

  5. Maybe I’m a little too Epicurean, but something about the capitalist: “bigger, better, faster, more” doesn’t strike me as a modus operandi that leads to a happier existence.

    More fun, more done, immortality…seems like we could spend what life we have simply following the iteration of Nietzsche’s will to power. Or, as Heidegger formulates it: secure and enhance. When this will gets absolutized in the capitalist neurosis (death avoidance through accumulation) more fun becomes less fun, more done becomes inactivity, avoiding death becomes death, and money reveals itself for what it is: ordered and abstracted resource. The irony of course is that the ordering of resource into capital is simply an exponential increase in entropy.

    Something that deserves more discussion is the notion of happiness. Much as my deontological background compels me to reject it as a means of guiding life and living, I can’t move away from it. But I still don’t know what it means to use it as a guide.

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