Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Unveiling Of The Uncanny Valley

The Unveiling Of The Uncanny Valley


We are integrating so quickly into a technological hyper-reality that the simulation is far more real than the mediocrity of the real. Everything is so intensified that our stimulation sensors need upgrades in order to sustain the kind of stimulation we are seeing today. In order to do this we may have to face voluntary human extinction with the promise that a better life awaits through technological advancement.
Science fiction illustrates the extremes of transhuman form. Even though the idea of transhumanism extends the promise of neutralized pain and suffering, we must understand that it is pain and suffering that makes the joy of the human experience more meaningful. It has been demonstrated in science fiction that while transhuman technology may prolong the life of one man, he still remains a slave buried in a technological prison. In Star Wars, Darth Vader was enslaved by technology and his ego. In Robocop, the protagonist was fighting to regain his lost humanity.
Nietzsche’s description of the ‘√úbermensch‘ is one who has surpassed humankind, but still cares for the transience and vitality that humankind represents. We all know the story of Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy – and yet there are many humans that feel that they need to become Pinocchio’s. The need for love and the need for humanity can be found in the movie A.I. The story was haunting, the creepiness compelling, and served as a warning to those who believe that full evolution from MECHA to ORGA is possible.
While there are pacemakers, titanium heart valves and now bionic limbs in order to improve life, there are people that believe that voluntary conversion to machines will help in creating a heaven on earth. The new evolution is being prepared as we speak and many people are ready to convert. The question is: “How far will you go?”
We have sped up our evolution with the use of drugs, bodily enhancements and technology. The human we will see in the not too distant future, will be an advanced human, maybe even something that has a semblance to humanity without being human.
We are now entering a new phase, of what Stephen Hawking has called “self designed evolution,” in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. At first these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, Hawking is sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence and instincts like aggression.
Hawking also says that in order for mankind to stretch out to into cosmos we will have to modify our bodies. Hawking believes, that we will have to employ intelligent machines based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than macromolecules, which could eventually replace DNA based life, just as DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life. From the ooze came a primitive form of life, from that life came man, from that life came modified human forms and enhanced bodies, and the future will be full of beings that are either nonhuman or human mechanized hybrids that can have super abilities.
Ever since man walked the earth he has made his world, destroyed it and made it all over again. As it is written biblically that God made man in his own image, it must be said that man has made things in his own image to his own liking in ways unprecedented for thousands of years. It has been speculated by many theorists that as man realizes his power he most often sees himself as a God and develops technological creations that imitate what is termed “natural“ or “human.”
By the time we get to the postmodern world that many human beings inhabit today, the lived-in, physical environment is for the most part, culturally produced. Reality is encountered mostly as virtual, or produced as an effect of human enhancements and operations. We are kept constantly surrounded by human productions and technology that is indistinguishable from magic. We are transported everywhere by machines within a realm totally fabricated by human engineering. We remain mesmerized by phenomena that are electronically simulated. We lose ourselves in virtual worlds.
Most memories now, and collective unconscious thought has been pumped into you through electronic transmission. You accept reality through the electronic medium. All things both real and simulated have had an effect of your brain. You have retained everything based on what a controlled electronic dictum has given you. Our rational minds are now far from rational because we have had most of the objective reality replaced by hyper-reality.
Many of us now may or may not know that we have already crossed what is known as the ‘uncanny valley‘ where something that appears human is really not human or something we see in a movie looks natural or real but in reality is simulated.
The truth is if the simulation is uncannily accurate, the mind cannot tell the difference.
The ‘uncanny valley’ hypothesis holds that when robots and other facsimiles of humans or animals look and act like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.
We are used to machines looking like appliances not human or animal partners or even partners that trigger sexual desire. As the future moves forward we will find that machines can take on human forms that are uncharacteristically real. Once humans move beyond their repulsion of “life like machines” they reach a point of empathy. As our fears of man and technology diminish, we begin to see evolution steer towards transhumanism.
A loose definition of transhumanism is a point in evolution where man becomes something that is beyond human. Transhumanists see the human body as something that can be improved through science and technology. They also see technology as a means to where we can overcome suffering, aging, loneliness, and involuntary death. Transhumanist thinkers predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman.” The symbol for Transhuman is H+ or “Enhanced Human.”
Transhuman science is not all about machines. It is also about creating human intelligence or life artificially for example we now have the technology to create synthetic human sperm,meaning that while it can be used in humans and made from human stem cells it was created outside of the human body in a laboratory. The sperm was made from a small sliver of skin. It raises the possibility of babies being born entirely through artificial means, and even the macabre scenario of long-dead men ‘fathering’ children from beyond the grave. This means that we are at a point in our evolution where human reproduction is not a purely biological process. Imagine making sperm from the DNA of a dead man. Or how about making sperm from the DNA of a child? How would that affect us psychologically, socially and ethically? The process could be done in a lab with machines monitoring the embryo as it grows. This means that a child could grow in the womb of a mother that is entirely mechanical.
With this technology it is feasible to get the same result from the stem cells of an aborted fetus. This would mean that if a woman wanted an abortion she could request that the cells of the unborn fetus to be salvaged, kept in liquid nitrogen, and then used later when the baby could be born at a more convenient time for the mother. This would mean an entirely new step for those who believe “right to life.” In family planning there would be the option of birth control, producing a child for adoption, aborting the child and then giving birth to that child at a later more convenient time.
These are futuristic matters that the bible or that conservative Christianity will have to address eventually.
The Catholic Church, in a bold move, has decided to protect human life at every stage of its development. While the church has said that even in the face of mutation and Chimeras used in science they shall hold life sacred they warn that there is an inherent danger to enhance human forms through artificial or mechanical means and that it is the moral obligation of scientists to reject any opportunity to use biological material that comes from a procedure considered gravely immoral by the church, even if there is no close connection between the researcher and those doing the illicit procedure. This includes stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, embryonic freezing and I am sure creating sperm artificially outside the testicles of a human male.
Transhumanist will argue that these procedures promote life and the continuation of the soul, that is if we have souls. With these “morally deplorable” technologies it is feasible to create another host for the continuation of your consciousness. Basically another host for your mind. The idea of uploading the brain into the body of a clone or an artificially enhanced child has been considered by science as one of our next steps in the evolutionary process.
The next phase is the reverse engineering of the brain. Various attempts have been made to imagine the benefits of mind uploading. Assuming continuation of the mind, these benefits include indefinite life spans and upgrading the mind. When your current brain no longer works well enough or not at all, you transfer your conscious mind to another (perhaps better) artificial brain. The potential for abuse here is also present. Laws then will have to be modified to also include cognitive liberty issues.
In 1958 Robert Sheckley wrote a piece of speculative fiction about a human’s consciousness being transferred into a brain- dead body. This can unleash something known as the Frankenstein consciousness where ethics once again need to be examined. While we have the capability of creating artificial intelligence do we have the capability of building a model of a brain complete enough to allow a conscious mind to emerge?
The other question is concerned with identity. Some people argue that, if a copy of a conscious mind is identical by all measures ignoring the fact that one is biological and the other is neuro-morphic software/hardware, it should be thought of as a continuation of the mind that was mapped and uploaded. Others argue that a copy cannot be considered the same as the original, so the newly awakened consciousness must be another person. This where we wonder if Transhumanism is literally killing off a part of you to extend other parts of you. The brain is the most delicate and we debate the ethics of its transplantation. We don’t bat an eye about the use of other organs to be harvested from donors and to use body parts in order to live on in others.
In the book “Change of Heart” dancer Claire Sylvia claims that after a heart and lung transplant operation, she discovered that new organs were not the only thing she inherited. She began to crave beer and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Her friends were also noticing that she would sometimes act like a teenager and walk like a boy. She claims that she inherited the traits of her young male donor. There have been other accounts of this phenomenon as well, which raises awareness about psycho-spiritual issues regarding consciousness and death. Is there organ memory within the body and if we transcend the body to machine will our mechanized bodies yearn for human needs like spiritual and emotional desire?
As you can possibly understand, transhumanism or the trans-post -umanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress. While there are advantages to most transhuman or human enhancement technologies, we need to understand that perhaps it is a moral imperative to limit our ability to integrate with machines and technology. If not, we are looking at voluntary genocide. Drawn to technological magic like moths to a flame.
The internet has been remarkably effective at promoting the ideas of a techno-utopia and the idea of transhumanism philosophies even though many authors like Aldous Huxley and Philip K. Dick have painted a grim picture of a world that rejects humanity for technological enhancements.
If our future is destined to be lit by the fires of a nuclear conflagration, transhuman philosophies could be curtailed and replaced by the need for a social and philosophical globalization. Nationalism and globalization slows down the process for transhumanism. Global sustainability or the green movement wants global reduction of species, not enhancement or even survivability. They see technology and human survivability as detrimental to earth sustainability.
While global sustainability wants population or “carbon footprint” reduction, transhumanism wants population replacement. They believe that “humanity” can be sacrificed in order to be enhanced. Evolution’s next phase is better living through the mixing of machine and man and the eventual takeover of machine.
Humanity need not survive. But an artificial construct of the human condition or a virtual reality can be enough for the over stimulated future. The human condition is so “last century.”
We are just beyond ten years into the 21st century and Transhumanist science and will be the new trend. It may be premature to draw attention to it but as scientific breakthroughs seem to happen overnight and as technologies replace the human touch we need to consider just how far we would go and what our limit would be with regards to the transhuman or the human enhancement evolution.
Many people are already comfortable with the idea of using technologies, nanotech machine or genetic, to improve their health to optimal and somewhat beyond, to ensure a healthy life until they die. People wear pacemakers, have titanium valves in their hearts or artificial knees or hips. All part of technology to improve your way of life.
Are you comfortable with seeing your body age or would you consider cosmetic surgery, implants, chemical peeling, Botox injections, or liposuction? In order to prevent obesity, would you consider elective gastric bypass surgery? Would you consider an injection of microscopic nanotech robots to clean your arteries or to help you lose weight by having nanobites that live on human fat?
Would you be willing to link your thinking capacity to technologies, genetic or mechanic, which would intensely increase your cognitive abilities, to the point of being able to multitask managing multiple complex tasks, to hold vast amounts of information and models to be called at will, to be able to reason with unthinkable speed and depth. If all of this technology could be put in a chip and inserted into your brain would you accept it?
If you were given the opportunity would you totally leave your human genetics behind, and modify yourself every day with new advances in technology, up to and including having powers which mythologies attribute to the gods. Would you allow yourself through technology to become like Superman or Spider-Man? Would you want to accept the role of a mutant with ability to shape shift knowing full well that you may or may not be accepted as human by your peers?
Would you give consent to becoming part of a computer program if it would mean you could become immortal?
If you became terminally ill with a malady science had no cure for, would you voluntarily have your body cryogenically frozen in order to preserve it for a time when science could revive you and cure you of the disease or replace your diseased parts with mechanical parts?
If you find yourself saying yes to any of those questions then you are taking your first step towards the new evolution of mankind. The evolution that should transcend the need for a new world order. The revolution where some of your humanity will slip through your fingers and allow you to be impervious to pain, suffering, even death. You may say it will give you freedom.
Look what the internet has done to combine the consciousness of mankind. Every terabyte of information that runs through the network at the speed of light quite simply brings together the total consciousness of the planet. From the most mundane and profane to the sublime. Each time you add something to the internet you are contributing to a consciousness that if it were shaped into a ball and placed into the head of a post-human entity would create a God. This is the perfect jumping off point for most Transhumanist thinkers. We have already started the Grand Omega Development or G.O.D. Project. However, we need to understand one glaring flaw with unleashing a Technological Deity.
In any “perfect scenario”, there is a catch. Artificial Intellects, or ‘Artilects’ can and will evolve by exponential progression. With the arrival of Artificial Intelligence technologies either run by human of post-human elite could eventually create an army of post humans bent on enslaving the unmodified masses. Artificial Intellects can tap into the net consciousness and conjure up, clone or even construct a life-like simulation of a God that appeals to the mass consciousness having all of the traits that are written about in network data.
You see, transhumanist ideas and technological breakthroughs can give us as post humans omnipotence or omniscience. What it cannot give us is prudence, or objectivity. It will not turn us into divine, loving or compassionate beings.
Technological deification needs morality. Something that we has humans have yet to learn. As for the case of morality: What morality do we adhere to? The divine tradition or another tradition? Once we reach the point of singularity or “hive mind” where a super intelligence is created and takes over our consciousness we have a choice to either assimilate or face the consequences of rebellion from the machines. Eventually, they consume everyone.
Science has already designed flesh eating robots disguised as furniture. The robots gain energy by luring in pests (mice and flies) that are digested by an internal microbial fuel cell. The fly eating robot powers a clock and the mouse eating robot doubles as a lamp.
The BBC reports that US researchers have developed robots that are now capable of replicating or reproducing themselves, making it quite clear that reproduction is no more unique to biology, it has now crossed over to technology.
Which also brings us to another danger in the ‘technocalypse’ and that is Molecular nanotechnology will soon arrive at a level of sophistication at which micro nanobots will draw the necessary power and carbon for reproduction directly from the biosphere. Self-replication of such devices, known as “Grey Goo”, would proceed by exponential progression, likely consuming all surface life on Earth in a matter of days.
It is here where being Luddite is perhaps a virtue, as you witness the unveiling of the uncanny valley.

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