TRANSHUMANISTS AND THE QUEST FOR GODHOOD — MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN THE MACHINE

HUMANITY STRIVES FOR IMMORTALITY AND MISTAKINGLY BELIEVES WE ARE ON THE CUSP OF ACHIEVING IT.

That is the warning of brilliant author Eric Metaxas.  He posted a brief article on February 28, 2017, in ChristianHeadlines.com. CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE.

Here is the heart of his short assessment, reinforcing the thinking of Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, referenced a couple of days previous.


Take billionaire SpaceX and Tesla founder, Elon Musk. As I told you back in October, Musk puts the odds that we’re not living in a Matrix-like computer simulation at one in a billion.

Now he says it’s time for humans to merge with machines, or risk becoming irrelevant in the age of artificial intelligence.

 “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological and digital intelligence,” he told the World Government Summit in Dubai. Musk thinks we’ll have to add a new layer to our brains—an implant, perhaps—that will allow us to tap into artificial intelligence and think at the speed of computers.

He admits that so-called “deep A.I.,” “smarter than the smartest humans on earth,” strikes him as dangerous. But he seems to believe that combining our wetware with hardware is the answer to human limitations.

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CNBC uses the word “cyborg” to describe the concept, but Musk’s musings sound tame in comparison with fellow Silicon Valley billionaire and PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel.

A self-proclaimed “transhumanist,” Thiel already takes human growth hormone to prolong his life, and says he hopes to achieve immortality by “uploading” his consciousness into a computer. And last year, Jeff Bercovici of

ERIC METAXAS

Inc. magazine published an interview in which Thiel described a new plan to extend his life: injecting himself with the blood of young people to reverse the aging process.

The procedure is called “parabiosis.” And yes, of course many have already made the obvious comparison to vampires.

Referring to death, Thiel remarked that “You can accept it, you can deny it, or you can fight it. I think our society is dominated by people who are in denial or acceptance, and I prefer to fight it.”

Of course, much of the work being done to delay aging and overcome our human limitations is good. Lifespans in the developed world have drastically increased in the last 200 years mostly because of improved medicine and nutrition. But the transhumanist impulse—the urge to not only delay death but beat it and become like gods—is lurking in the background, not to mention in Silicon Valley.

“Aging,” declares the BBC article, “is not an inevitable fact of life.”


THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO MAKE HUMANITY IMMORTAL

But the possibility of humanity extending its life biologically is perhaps less diabolical than expanding it mechanically, through avatar machines and even the “network” taking on a life of its own — literally.

This article, pulled from Gonzo Shimura’s Chapter devoted to the Man-Machine interface, addresses the proposition that the “network” itself can become ALIVE.  This networked beast is called the Technium.  As the previous article, you should find this writing especially insightful and discomforting.  In the last post, we discussed the dystopian future foreseen by E.M. Forster.  Gonz picks this up and continues the story by explaining the notion of the network coming to life.


THE METAPHYSICS OF THE TECHNIUM

BY GONZO SHIMURA, WITH S. DOUGLAS WOODWARD

from REVISING REALITY: A BIBLICAL LOOK INTO THE COSMOS, VOLUME 1

Clearly, Forster’s outlook on the relationship between mankind and technology seems precognitive. However, he did not foresee the merging of metaphysical understandings with the knowledge base of natural law. While unforeseen to Forster, our world has boldly redrawn the line (better yet, thinning the line almost to non-existence) distinguishing between religion from science, ignoring the rebuke of the Enlightenment in its outlook on the realm of the supernatural.

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Commonly, denizens of the post-modern world declare a given person “spiritual” without reference to his or her being particularly “religious.” “Being religious” now conveys constricted thinking and attenuated behavior, personal immaturity, reliance on failed institutions, and perhaps ironically, strongly inclined to moralizing which is itself deemed immoral. Nevertheless, by ascribing spirituality as an admirable attribute – meager as it may seem to devoted Christians – our culture admits humanity’s quest for transcendent qualities in its existence. Life retains a certain sanctity for us all, even the most ardent atheist. Likewise, the nihilist must grudgingly admit that he or she must identify purpose too, however illusory, if our lives are to be satisfying. Therefore, so it is that human civilization will confront a profound paradox when we encounter “intelligence” in the Technium, the Machine cast as the image of the beast of Revelation 13.[1]

The more science advances the more it uncovers evidence for realities surpassing the purely empirical (that is, transcending the five senses).[2]  Scientific perspectives are no longer divorced from magical thinking. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from Magic.”

The word Technium, coined by co-creator of Wired Magazine Kevin Kelly, supposes collective interrelationships between all machines on the planet. According to Kelly, this network of interworking machines forms a life of sorts. An everyday example Kelly uses: a fountain pen. The pen itself is a technological tool in its own right, but to come into being, it required other technologies from many different disciplines. The independent development of ink, metal, plastic, and ball bearings all journeyed to an intersection where a fountain pen was formed. While the pen may be mightier than the sword, it does not possess self-awareness. Nevertheless, Kelly employs this analogy to illustrate the concept of his Technium.

KEVIN KELLY – THE TECHNIUM

Therefore, the Technium is the ultimate network of all mechanized technologies combined in a supportive fashion, supplementing one other, which equals more than the sum of its parts. The Technium even exhibits life-like behaviors in the same way that a single neuron in your brain doesn’t “think”, but together the network of neurons acts as a fused collective to form an idea.

Consequently, we see the network of all the world’s technology – past as well as present – forming a virtual ecosystem which appears to possess its own urges and ambitions. Like any kind of a system, it has certain biases, and those biases derive from the system. It doesn’t really matter whether particular humans are present to influence it. (It’s okay for the tree to fall in the forest and not make a sound). The system acts in accordance to its own volition – whether real or implied.  The question I’ve asked myself is, “What are the biases of the global Technium?” I have come to conclude if we could understand those biases, we could predict what this “collective” intends – what it deems to be its mission and goal.

It logically follows, from my vantage point at least, that since I see this as a life-like system, I find its origins within life itself – life is self-directed to lead to intelligence and perhaps to some level, self-awareness. To say it another way, the Technium is an extension of the same impulse that self-organized into life, and that continues to advance through the Technium, so that the Technium is not in its essence anti-life.  My perspective (and it may reflect only my view and not those of my fellow authors), is that this collective network of machines, the Technium, derives from and remains compatible with other living things. It may be materially comprised mostly of metal and silicon instead of carbon, but in terms of the Cosmos, it perpetuates, advances, and accelerates the processes that life and evolution (to the extent it operates as a mechanism within the Cosmos) were already undertaking on the planet.

Kevin Kelly says it no less provocatively in this way:

It’s moving in certain directions, and I would say that if we were to make a list of where it’s going, it’s not a destiny but kind of a direction. It’s moving towards complexity, and it’s moving towards more sentience—more mind. It’s moving towards more specialization. It’s moving towards more energy density, and there’s a whole set of other directions that life is also moving towards. So if we want to imagine where technology will be in 100 years or 1,000 years, we can go down the list and say it’s going to be more complex than it is today. There’s going to be more minds and artificial minds everywhere. Whatever we make today, we’re going to have more specialized versions of it in the future. It becomes more mutualistic, in the sense that technology becomes more dependent on other technologies. We ourselves, our society, will become more mutualistic. These are all some of the things that I would say technology wants because the system itself is biased in these directions, inherently outside of what humans like us want.[3] [Emphasis added]

Kelly has experienced stern criticism for his views on the Technium. But such reaction to his position evinces the breach that traditionally exists between physical and metaphysical realities. His assertions have generated contrary philosophical viewpoints, mostly ardent defenses for the distinction of biological and mechanical forms of life.

Let’s return to the example of the collection of neurons creating ideas.  Ideas are non-physical constructs. As a Christian, I believe life amounts to more than its material, biological composition.  Life involves the spiritual, non-physical elements – namely, a soul – which reveals itself in the physical realm through its space-time manifestation. We can consider an analogy of chalk and a chalkboard. Copious equations and sentences can be written on a chalkboard with a piece of chalk, all communicating ideas on every topic under the sun (and many others beyond our solar center!) Yet, once the eraser sweeps across the chalkboard, the chalk turns to dust swirled into the air and accumulating on the eraser. Molecularly, the chalk particles still exist although the ideas conveyed with these chalk marks vanish just as certainly as the chalk particles scatter. The formation of the chalk markings represents various symbols conveying information expressing letters, numbers, pictures, and equations, but more generally – ideas.  To communicate, the writer and the reader must share a common interpretation of the symbols independent of whether they’re written with chalk on a chalkboard or with a heavy marker on butcher-block paper. Those symbols presented and interpreted represent ideas. Ideas are independent of the chalk and the chalkboard. They transcend our biological hardware (our ocular organs and the gray matter between our ears), but they require the biological “machinery” to send and receive the data.

In a similar fashion, Kelly asserts a non-physical reality to the network of machines when supposing the collection of mechanical technology evokes or emits ideas that pulsate beyond mere electrical currents and emulates qualities comparable to what we identify characterizes life. And while Kelly’s pronouncement may seem absurd when presented before us in the “everydayness” of our typical real-world awareness, there are more and more voices in the scientific community echoing his sentiment. This shift in thinking constitutes a breathtaking redefinition of the nature of existence for future generations, especially as it relates to the message of the Gospel. Whether we applaud it or not, it remains true that just as our understanding of physical matter progresses in the realms of science (whether the large or the small aspects of the Cosmos), so does our appreciation of the meaning lying dormant within the biblical text. In other words, we believe that what we learn today in physics or astronomy has been in the Bible all along, just awaiting our discovery. This isn’t accidental.  The God of the Bible experiences the past, present, and future all as one.  He could and did encode truth in the ancient text anticipating that future day we would decrypt it – when our minds were ready and circumstances would lead us to draw such conclusions.

Kelly continues on to affirm a force exists within matter organizing it into life. With no explanation offered (let alone evidence of who or what that force might be), Kelly calls upon metaphysical supposition to explain what the pure materialist would regard as nothing more than physical substance without any intrinsic meaning. And while Kelly doesn’t propose knowing where the Technium will wind up, he does express faith in its direction, which includes attributes such as intelligence, consciousness, and “energy density” (the amount of energy retained in a specific space expressed in a pertinent the form of units). Indeed, going farther, in the closing portion of the citation Kfurtherplies that the Technium has a mind of its own.

IDOL OF THE CREATOR FROM THE MOVIE, PROMETHEUS

However, what should concern us comprises much more than the construction of the Technium. Instead, humans should be made aware of our involvement with it and response to it.  We interact with the Technium constantly.  We continue to expand its reach and deepen its presence each time we go online.  We should not draw the conclusion that the machine in and of itself grows into a monster, as if all machines are evil and the biggest machine is therefore the “baddest” monster of them all.  Nevertheless, for Kelly, humans imbue the Technium with what we ourselves constitute in our inner core.  Indeed, some that study this phenomenon suggest that the Technium reflects who we are in accordance to our true nature. Frighteningly, we appear to be empowering a life-form mirroring the sinful nature of humanity.  So it is, humankind is making a machine in its own corrupted image.  As we consider the potential of transhumanism with its hoped for integration of biology and information technology, the product of the merger may be most grotesque. What we wind up with may be the very beast of Revelation, truly a monster of our own making.   A chimera-colossus!


NOTES

[1] I will capitalize Technium throughout conveying it possesses deity – not because it actually does, but because the cultural thinking about it assumes that it is a god.

[2] In philosophy, this view is known as logical positivism or simply positivism. It is more commonly referred to as “naturalism” – a naturalist assumes no miracles occur.

[3] Kelly, Kevin., Edge.org, ‘The Technium: A conversation with Kevin Kelly” 2-3-2014 Link: https://www.edge.org/conversation/kevin_kelly-the-technium


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