Here's another one for the transhumanist scrapbook. Recently I blogged about the growing perception of some scientists that some animals seem to have rudimentary linguistic skills, or, to put it in the Chomskian manner, a rudimentary innate grammatical competence. These raise the questions of consciousness, intelligence, and "self" in a rather direct manner. Likewise, my co-author Dr Scott deHart and I raised similar issues in Transhumanism: A Grimoire of Alchemical Agendas, and here on this website I have blogged numerous times about the growing debate on what human-computer/internet interfaces might mean: will it mean a greatly enhanced individual consciousness and intelligence, or will it lead to the creation of a borg-like "hive mind"? I suspect that the former is true unless one factors in the already existing capabilities - for you mind-control technology followers - for the direct manipulation of emotions via neural implants. The dangers that such technologies spell for the creation of a "hive mind" of complacent quasi-robots. Indeed, such technological prospects in the transhumanist "singularity" scenarios come quite close to approximating, if not being actual technological versions of, possession.
Then, recently, I have also been speculating in some blogs that the creation of greater and greater networked computational power might indeed lead to the Robert Heinlein scenario, where some computer, or better, the network itself, "wakes up". The network scenario intrigues me, for it would be a kind of group consciousness version of the scenario that Heinlein first presented in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
But there's another possibility that is now gaining the attention of transhumanist thinkers and scenario-gamers:
I was particularly struck by the fact that Michael Anissimov at least appears to "get" the inherent dangers of all the transhumanist speculative euphoria:
"What potential psychological side-effects may emerge from a radically enhanced human? Would they even be considered a human at this point?
"One of the most salient side effects would be insanity. The human brain is an extremely fine-tuned and calibrated machine. Most perturbations to this tuning qualify as what we would consider "crazy." There are many different types of insanity, far more than there are types of sanity. From the inside, insanity seems perfectly sane, so we'd probably have a lot of trouble convincing these people they are insane.
"Even in the case of perfect sanity, side effects might include seizures, information overload, and possibly feelings of egomania or extreme alienation. Smart people tend to feel comparatively more alienated in the world, and for a being smarter than everyone, the effect would be greatly amplified.
"Most very smart people are not jovial and sociable like Richard Feynman. Hemingway said, "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." What if drunkenness were not enough to instill camaraderie and mutual affection? There could be a clean "empathy break" that leads to psychopathy."
This possibility was something that Dr. de Hart and I discussed numerous times while writing Transhumanism, and indeed, the scenario that concerned us at the time was not only the effect of such technologies on producing individual insanity and psychopathy, but also what would happen if these technologies, in "waking up" a kind of networked or "hive" or "Group persona or consciousness", also made it quite insane or sociopathic?
Anissimov gets this, or at least a part of this danger:
"The problem with IA is that you are dealing with human beings, and human beings are flawed. People with enhanced intelligence could still have a merely human-level morality, leveraging their vast intellects for hedonistic or even genocidal purposes."
We can look to these new technologies as signs of hope, certainly, or as "lights at the end of the tunnel." But as one alternative researcher, Jordan Maxwell, recently put it, the light at the end of the tunnel might be a train...
See you on the flip side.