Mr. Roboto: Re-Engineering Humanity

“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”  Genesis 1:26-27

Every time I read this scripture I wondered, “Who was God talking to?”  Who’s “US” and “Our” image and “Our” likeness?  Was he speaking to Jesus, a bunch of angels or other Gods who are just as equal (maybe mightier) that look after other realms of dimensions, time/space continuum and realities.  To answer that question we’d have to put ourselves either in God’s position, an impossible task, or in the position of the author who wrote the passage to determine who these people are.   I refer to this biblical passage, because some where…out here on earth., someone is writing a similar story, but this time it is in the form of a manual.  A user’s manual, that one would receive in a software or hardware package for something technical, something that’s machine-like.  However this is different, this is synthetic, it’s methodical, it’s scientific, it’s robotic.

Oddly enough the same basic natural laws and cosmic formulas that man found in our galaxy, the geometric shapes that tells the story of the earth and man’s creation  are used to create a “robotic mini-me”.  While it might be difficult to understand G-d’s motivations in making us human beings and for what purpose,  I suspect he had no real need for us beyond merely being his creations and the same could be said for the robots that we create for ourselves.  What was God’s purpose in making us humans? What was the original function that God couldn’t or didn’t want to do himself?

Source: National Geographic

Since we are created in God’s likeness and image, I suspect we become co-creators as well as stewards of the earth . Are we tinkering with things that don’t need to be tinkered with because we are curious we have to be busy making things; is it the result of living in a neo-liberal capitalist society where the focus is on commerce -for the pursuit/ love of money that motivates us to create or are we naturally this way? Is there a function that these creation can fulfill for us that perhaps we are lazy or uninspired to continue to do ourselves?  Are we suffering from a G-d complex?

Social Robots

At present, I would say the biggest challenges for engineers would be to develop cognitive functions for robots that act as seemingly as humans. I’d  even say the hardest part to program would be human emotions, especially, compassion and empathy.   Robots are inanimate objects, as such, how do we infuse a level of understanding and genuine caring that we humans enjoy among ourselves.  Those function might not be developed and available in robots today, yet they are trying!  Social robots are units that one would purchase for companionship or for social development and could be used in  the home under a variety of different settings.  Perhaps its too early to say, yet I could envision the social robot designed with functional  traits such as cleaning your house, making your meals, do your grocery shopping and the paying of your bills.  The social aspect of the robot would be to converse with you, listen to your problems and provide feedback.

For example, a robot that acts as your butler or a housemaid will ensure that you are awake at a specific time in the morning, breakfast prepared, gas is in your car and leave for work on time, when you return dinner is made, clothes have been laundered, freshly pressed, food from grocery shopping is stored in the kitchen cupboard and the dishes are wash, dried and put away.  While having dinner your robot would sit with you and listen to  how your day went, laugh at your corny jokes,  provide feedback and advice to various professional and social dilemmas.  Some units will be used as doppelgangers, emotional replacements for lost (dead or alive) loved ones; a child, a  lover, family member or friend.  For example the Toronto Star recently reported on a case using a robot,  “Harrisson said he wanted a companion to replace his infant son who had died in 1986. Divorced, he has lived with his mother for 30 years.”  Oddly enough Harrison’s unit doesn’t even remotely look like the child he had lost, his unit is much older but what it does do for him is replace the intimacy that he lost with another human being.

Eventually with the use of mind-clones you could potentially order a unit that looks like yourself and upon your death your loved one could download your personality (taken from your digital foot print, that spans your entire lifetime using and engaging with technologies) that you’ve left behind and download it in to a unit that looks and animates just like you making your loved ones wonder if you are actually gone.  There are so many ethical, legal and social implications to what I have suggested, for which we will discuss  later, but for now let’s stay with the possibilities that currently presented in terms of what we are delivering in today’s robotics technology.  Even with what we have today, we are SO FAR BEHIND in having this thoughtful conversations and implementing safeguards (not to discourage development – it’s impossible to do that – but to guide development) from a legal, government, human rights and social stand points, technology is developing too fast – it’s hard to keep up.

I digress…

The opening song Mr. Roboto plays very well into this conversation.  I performed a quick search about the meaning of Mr. Roboto and I found one that is well articulated for this conversation.  The lyrics to Mr. Roboto reminds me of a previous blog about autocratic, authoritarian societies that handles its citizens with a heavy hand and conversations about human dignity that warns that too much technology can be dehumanizing.   And this is a very important point to remember when developing robots or any technological advancement; to preserve human dignity.   They are accompaniments and should no way be above humans or degrade humans in the making of any unit or of the unit providing its services.  I am reminded by the eugenics movement during World War II, the human experiments performed in the pursuit of creating a “master” race. The same can be said for making robots and it’s no different just because what we are making doesn’t possess moral values or be moral victims.   Bare with me while I explain…

Source: Stereogum

True meaning of Mr. Roboto

The song was written for a play (musical) about a creative free spirited musician named Kilroy where many fans loves his music and then we have Dr. Everette Righteous, the founder and leader of a group called MMM (Majority for Musical Morality), has his own television channel and in his “authoritarian” way preaches about the immorality of rock music. This Interpretation was taken from the album liner notes:

The Japanese lyrics at the beginning of the song are as follows:

どうもありがとうミスターロボット (Dōmo arigatō misutā robotto)
また会う日まで (Mata au hi made)
どうもありがとうミスターロボット (Dōmo arigatō misutā robotto)
秘密を知りたい (Himitsu o shiritai)

The lyrics translate into English as follows:

Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
Until the day we meet again
Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
I want to know your secret

Source: DeviantArt – However, they are easily irritable, as demonstrated by Roboto’s response when Kilroy imitates him.

The Past
Dr. Everett Righteous, founder and leader of the MMM, (The Majority for Musical Morality) became influential in American politics through the use of his own cable T.V. network. He spoke about the evils of rock ‘n’ roll music, and how its permissive attitudes were responsible for the moral and economic decline of America. He was charismatic, entertaining, and above all, he understood the media. The MMM soon gained enough power to have rock ‘n’ roll banned.

Robert Orin Charles Kilroy was a world famous rock ‘n’ roll star. As this new law was passed, Kilroy and his band were finishing a national tour. Their last performance, at the Paradise Theatre, would serve as the test case. On the night of the concert, as Kilroy played to a packed house, the MMM marched in and stormed the stage. When it was over, a MMM protester was dead…Kilroy was convicted of murder and sent to a prison ship with other rock ‘n’ roll mistfits…

Source: Douglas Harr’s Media Blog

The Present
…is a future where Japanese manufactured robots, designed to work cheaply and endlessly, are the caretakers of society. “Mr. Robotos” are everywhere, serving as manual labor in jobs that were once held by humans.

Dr. Righteous enforces his own morality by holding nightly rallies where crowds hurl rock ‘n’ roll records and electric guitars into huge bonfires…Jonathan Chance, the rebel leader of an underground movement to bring back rock ‘n’ roll, has made Kilroy the symbol of his cause. Meanwhile, Kilroy has spent a number of years in prison. With no hope of release, he is subjected to the humiliation of mind control via the MMM cable network. In an attempt to contact Kilroy, Jonathan jams the airwaves of the MMM network, replacing a mind control session with outlawed footage of a Kilroy concert. Inspired by Jonathan’s message, Kilroy plots his escape. Late one night, he makes a daring attempt to free himself by overpowering a Roboto guard. Disguised as a Roboto, Kilroy moves freely throughout the city leaving graffiti coded messages for Jonathan. Jonathan discovers the “Rock Code” which leads him to the old Paradise Theatre, now the site of Dr. Righteous’ Museum of Rock Pathology. There he sees the last Kilroy concert mechanically depicted by Kilroy look-alike robots as the violent end of rock ‘n’ roll…and there, he and Kilroy meet for the first time.

Source: In Music History – Songfacts

This song tells of Kilroy’s escape from prison disguised as a Roboto. It exposes the thoughts in Kilroy’s mind during his escape, as he reflects on the irony of his circumstances.

Another explanation is offered about ” the true meaning of this song is hidden in the words and expresses Dennis DeYoungs (the lead vocalist and writer) thoughts about the average blue-collar worker. He first educates the listeners about the workers in their meaningless lives. He sings of how the workers are human on the inside, but on the outside, treated sub-human, as if they only exist for the company’s profit. “My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain I.B.M I’m not a robot without emotions-I’m not what you see.” This is a metaphor about how being forced into working in dulldrum factory jobs is dehumanizing. He explains the futility of the workers efforts to get out of this type of work. “I’m just a man whose circumstances went beyond his control Beyond my control-we all need control I need control- we all need control” There is no way for these workers to escape their jobs, except through the use of robotos to do take their place. He starts thanking the robots for taking their jobs in the third verse.

Source: Ultimate Classic Rock

This might seem contradictory to his entire ideal that robots are bad, but he is merely being facetious and sarcastic. The entire third verse is devoted to thanking the robotos for taking their jobs so they don’t have to suffer any more. The irony is explained in the part after the thanking when he states: “The problem’s plain to see: too much technology Machines to save our lives. Machines dehumanize.” He sympathizes with the workers because machines are taking the place of human jobs. This can be good or bad. Good in the sense that now peoples intelligence doesn’t have to be insulted anymore, but bad because people are losing their jobs. But what if the recently fired worker does not have the education to go out and find another job? In short, they are screwed. Mr. Roboto is a song that addresses the issue of class, specifically the lower working class. In a world that technology is advancing so rapidly that robots and other automated machines take over human jobs, its too easy to overlook how this can affect people on the personal level. In fact the end of this song explains the workers getting fed up. They throw away the mask, so everyone can see who they really are, human beings with feelings.

Mr. Roboto explains what it feels like to lose your job to a machine.

 Jobs: Competing with Robots

The above interpretation is not too far from what we feel about the formal introduction of robots in the workplace environment.  We’ve seen already where, especially in the factory environment, where jobs that were once held by humans have now been replaced by  machines.  Taken out of the factory environment today’s robots that are being developed can now potentially take on more human tasks that aren’t quite so labour intensive, repetitive and mundane.  In fact, these robots will mimic cognitive social skills of humans.  Lets review just some of the uses for robots, that I found in a book entitled Living with Robots,  that could potentially replace human activity – meaning jobs.

External Social Robots: These doll-like units with noisy body movements express pleasure, excitation and even express fear.  Their receptive modality is tactile and visual through a video camera. Their principal use as a Therapeutic mediator for autistic children and for entertainment.

KASPAR: is a child-like unit. That moves its head, arms, hand and eyelids. It possesses simple gestures, has facial expressions and can  speak with a tactile receptive modality.  Its principle use is used as a Therapeutic mediator for autistic children.

Saya: is a human-like robots with realistic facial expression, posture and voice with visual and aural receptive modality.  Saya  is used in the educational environment as a teacher or outside education, it can be used a receptionist.

Face: another human-like robot with realistic affective facial expression but at present is limited to joy, sadness, surprise, anger, disgust and fear.  It’s receptive modality is facial expression and eye  movements.  Face is another unit used in the therapeutic environment for autistic children.

Geminoids: again, human-like, that is known for its head movements, posture and voice with visual and aural receptive modality. It’s principal use is for research on human-robot interaction and for entertainment (theater).

There are robots designed for helping others (i.e. nurse’s aid), instruction (i.e. museum guide), but most are used for exploring human-interaction since we are still in the early stages of  developing the cognitive functions of robots.  However, even with what we have managed to create thus far we can see its increasing potential for all sorts of human activity especially in the care-taking, labour, hospitality, military and medical environments, that could potentially reduce opportunities for future employment and perhaps create an even greater inequality divide among humans.

Sex Robot:  Religious Perspectives 

Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them.” Ezekiel 16:7

Let us return to the opening paragraphs of this entry. The above scripture opens a chapter in Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications about religious perspectives regarding robots made for sex.  The chapter basically guides the reader by providing religious viewpoints about the end-usage for these types of units concluding that, in a theological sense, having sex with a robot would be an equivalent to idolatry.  “Biblical scholars generally interpret Ezekiel’s reference, above, to whoredom with images of men in a spiritual context, as a warning to Hebrews not to pay homage to the idols of other tribes in what would constitute infidelity to the one true God.  Yet the advent of sex robots gives this text a new poignancy. “Would sexual robots be merely an occasion for “whoredom,” or do they present a new opportunity, in the words of Sherry Turkle, for a love that is “safe and made to measure?”  I am wondering can we still pose this question regarding social humanoid robots where its primary function (for it doesn’t have the equipment) isn’t for sex?  It’s replacing intimacy, whereas sex is replacing the act.

“The danger lies in our using relationship” continues the author “with a robot as a template for relationships with other persons.”  The author also calls in to question about where to draw the line in the usage of these units in terms of adultery and fornication?  “If our primary experience of sex is with one that we can turn off or turn away from at will, might we not wish to do the same with persons?  Human relationships can be fraught with difficulties, they can disappoint.  But so will sex with robots.  Robots may be less demanding, less challenging, but therein lies the problem.  Love and life are never “safe and made to measure”. (See: Mr. Roboto Interpretation #2)  In the life and death of Jesus, we see the truly challenging nature of love, one that might take us even to the cross.”  Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen notes that “lack of genuine empathy underlies much of human cruelty,” a cruelty he describes as “people turning people into objects, a process that changes us over time so that in the end we relate only to things, or to people as if they were just things. We must remain aware of the distinction between them, as things, and us as persons. “[Robot Sex, 2017, p. 91,95,99]

Van de Poel notes, technologies like the iPhone have two key properties at their time of launch:

  1. They have significant impact potential (i.e. they could change society in dramatic ways);
  2. They have unknown and uncertain effects.

Sex robots [and I’d say any robot-making whether it is to replace human jobs, a helper at home, or a simple companion] would seem to share these same two properties.  It’s the social implications that are usually not well thought out and as mentioned before in a previous blog (See: KAYOG) the next generations will have to deal with the creations that  we make.  We as a community and as a society are very far behind in studying those implications, in sustained public forums for the general public to provide feedback,  we lack timely legislation from government (who should be regulating these industries), legal, human rights, education which are usually reactive in responding to changing trends rather than having the foresight,  proactively providing the frame work for which explorers, engineers, scientists and governing bodies can work within – their business is making money they shouldn’t be relied upon but instead be consulted when creating this framework.   These frameworks should be entrenched in law.

Line Between Man and Machine

Sociobiology is the study of all aspects of social behavior up to and including the evolution of social behavior in man.  It can be studied from scientific, epistemological, philosophical, political, and historical points of view.  Sociobiologists are convinced that this new science can explain phenomena as diverse as war, sexual deviation, the search for power, xenophobia, altruism and egoism, and even religion, morality and culture.  In fact, sociobiologists do not even try to hide their ultimate ambition, which is, to replace by their field of study the human sciences as practiced today. (Yves Christen, in L’heure de la sociobiologie – the Time of Sociobiology) Human science meaning: law and political science, economics, philosophy, psychiatry and anthropology.  This had humanist, Jacque G. Ruelland, alarmed and advises other humanists to feel the same.  Can human behavior be understood from genetic analysis?   Edward O. Wilson believes that not only is human social behavior the result of genetic programming, but that individual behavior is the result of such determinism.  According to sociobiologists what was once considered instinctual behavior is now seen as the product of genetic action. Thus aggressive behavior, maternal instinct  and sexual preference, in both humans and animals, are dictated by one’s gene pool.  Is human behavior genetically determined? Are we dehumanizing our fellow human beings?

I had a hard time with this because I was taught  and understood that God gave us the gift of free will. Both Adam and Eve used their free will to go against God’s commands to eat the fruit from the tree they were told not to touch.  Now being “perfect” human beings one would think  “determinism” would have had them obeying God’s instruction.  Yet the first couple used their Free Will meaning their  autonomy, agency and self-determination that enabled them to choose otherwise.  In the case of sociobiology, we should bring determinism and free will into the conversation because  if we are “programmed” to act a certain way and it’s all “predetermined”; what are we passing on in terms of programming robots and various types of behavior?   Can machines think?  Can humans not think? Can humans be Engineered to be incapable of thinking?  I ask this because there’s “app” for that’ for  just about anything that we desire or we just Google for just about anything  and everything for which Google will seemingly provide the best answer after farming its vast analytical data. Are we  getting to a point where basic decision making, especially ethical and morals ones will be handled by a computer machine and/or program that tells us what we should do whenever we have difficulty making decisions? Will machines be doing all the thinking for us while we intellectually digress because by relying on these programs we are not challenging ourselves intellectually and thinking critically?

On the other hand, modern humanists (as opposed to socio-biologists) believe that aggression, tolerance, prejudices, emotions, and other aspects of personal reactivity are not programmed by genetic determination but learned within their environments.  As free thinkers they believe in personal responsibility and that free will is the prime directive of human social behavior.   They depend on elements provided by culture and learned by experience. An article entitled, Humanism in the Next Century, Harry Holmes writes concerning “restless energies of our species. On the outward searching and thrusting machine-addicted and weapon-making side we are supremely confident.  These are qualities admired and rewarded by the new religion of infinite economic expansion….[yet] On the inner side we are dangerously undeveloped.  It is now the inner side, the empty spaces in the human heart that we need to explore and cultivate as never before.”

In the book Re-Engineering Humanity, The Turing Test draws a line between human and machine. “Perhaps, as some scientists and philosophers believe, humans really are just meat machines performing pre-determined biological scripts.” Whatever you believe there is a line-it exists.  This line differentiates humans from machines and it serves as a marker as to when we have finished or reached that point.  AI , machine learning, robotic and other adjacent fields look to Turing who demarcated something specific to aim for when constructing machines and programming systems, although, it is still left to see just exactly what “that” is. One can venture how does our thinking make us different than machines.  For example, we sometimes act instinctually, its impulsive and usually brought on by emotion.  It’s not a rational nor deliberate way of thinking however, our instincts are brought on and involved by mental states. This is a very human function not machine-like that would also fall along the lines of irrational behavior. Would that mean our irrational behavior is what sets us apart from the machine?  What if we were placed in an environment that would constantly be nudging us towards rational behavior and thinking; would that environment be dehumanizingWould we then, in constructed environments, be distinguishable from the machines?

Engineered Determinism and Free Will

The standard version of Turing Tests, machines and humans are separated from an observer who poses a series of questions to identify which agents are human.  The machines attempt to exhibit human like conversational behavior to trick the observer into making the wrong identification.  Answers are typed to avoid any biases possibly arising from information that is irrelevant to attribution of thinking/intelligence.  And it matters that the humans are in one room while the machines are in another, separate from observer and one another.  The underlying question is whether the machines are capable of thinking in a manner distinguishable from humans.

Alan Turing – Source: New Scientist

Techno-social engineering tests are used to identify potentially problematic techno-social engineering of humans.  The question is:

Is there value in running observations tests that distinguish humans from machines based on stimulus-response exchanges focused on the specific capabilities associated with free will?

The researchers were looking for a valid and reliable means to produce evidence to show that techno-social engineering can rendered humans indistinguishable from simple machines, resulting in the diminished or loss of meaningful aspects of humanity.  Free will is often defined in terms of self-determination and self-authorshipAutonomy can be broadly understood in terms of the intentions that determine our engagement with the world.  It is the line between will and action and the internal process by which humans create their intentions to act.  An autonomous person engages the external world pursuant to self-created intentions.  As such, a person who lacks autonomy is merely a puppet.  Therefore autonomy can thus be understood as a special component of free will.

Agency is another component of free well. Agency is about freedom to exercise one’s will including acting in accordance with one’s own intention.  Therefore crossing the Turing line when it comes to agency might entail degeneration to autonomy into simple stimuli-response behavior by humans.  Such degeneration can occur with an “over-determined” environment that has no practical freedom to exercise their range of free will and be authors of their own lives. “Constrictive” environment can be constraining to the range of actions one can take to the extent that there is no escaping the constrictive environment.  In one extreme, over-determined, leads to slaves and the other, “constrictive”, leads to simple machines.

Slaves are humans with free will who due to circumstances beyond their control lack agency meaning the practical, situated freedom to exercise their will.  In other words, the “slave environment” dramatically reduces the scope of opportunities for humans; its constraints impede our ability to act and be authors of our lives.  Nevertheless, slaves retain their free will; they can think for themselves, have dreams and desires about their lives that can transcend the status quo.  Slave-owners have tried, and in some cases may have succeeded in effectively turning slaves into machines by determining their beliefs, preferences, tastes, and values there by depriving them of free will.  Machines, on the other hand, what ever will is possess, beliefs, preferences, tastes, or value that might be attributable to the machine  is fully determined by the antecedent causes of its programming. Humans that are completely brainwashed or subject to mind control can thus be considered functionally identical to machines.  This brings us back to our earlier conversation about sociobiologists and their theory of determinism.

Philosopher, J. Delgado states,”Human beings are not born free but are products of their genes and modifiable by their culture.” Meaning we are “modifiable” by our “environments” and much of what we discussed transpires in a constrictive environment  to observe how the constrictive environment diminishes our free will, it can just as easily be applied to expansive environments enabling an agent to exercise his/her autonomy, agency and self-determination to fully express his/her own  beliefs, preferences, tastes, and values to his/her own fulfillment.  One can also easily identify the above with Mr. Roboto where we find Kilroy in jail while Dr. Righteous enforces his restrictive morality, encouraging the crowd to destroy rock and roll by throwing guitars and records into huge bonfires.  Kilroy himself is subjected to the humiliation of mind control, in his cell, via the MMM cable network.   Prison by its very design is to diminish your agency and autonomy (solitary confinement is meant to fully extinguish all aspects of free will).  Kilroy receives a blast of hope when Jonathan, the leader of the rebel movement, jams the air wave and plays the outlawed music for Kilroy and he plans to escape.  Now if you can take a moment read the second interpretation of Mr. Robot it provides another example of the effectiveness of the Turing Test using  social techno engineering vs free will.  Here’s the link:  Interpretation #2  

We all get into our “robot armored suits” from time to time for emotional protection.  Every human being  has the capacity to cross that line acting cold, robotic, distant, void of emotion like a schizophrenic, empty, hollow  in an attempt to protect ourselves when facing challenging times.  Some people live in it for so long that forget to remove the cold steal robot armor.  Sometimes you see it on the face of a factory or a 9-5 worker who goes in day-in-day out working in an assembly line, or behind a sterile desk, doing repetitive uninspiring work. You’re neither stimulated nor challenged, its just the same ol’, same ol’, it’s the boring office job, it’s all that and then some for that matter, it’s any environment where you feel unchallenged, undervalued, unappreciated and an over all general sense of huge boredom.  It’s worse for those who get a double dose of t his boredom because their home life reflects the same family routines; fight the same traffic (or transit route) to and from work, watching the same TV shows, having the same conversation, having the same arguments,  eating the same foods, go to bed and wake up at the same time (etc.), day-after-day and into the weekend.  We all at one time or another have created alter egos to cope with monotony yet eventually we just snap out of it.   Interpretation #2 sings it succinctly towards the end of the song:

This should remind us of what was asked in the above paragraphs. “Can humans be engineered to be incapable of thinking?” Especially if one is living in a constrictive environments due to lack of skills or the lack of opportunity to make yourself relevant by learning  new skills therefore on the employment front there is a category of individuals going no where since robots now perform their jobs. This would be the same affects reported from those who are subjected to solitary confinement  (See: Bell Let’s Talk) and perhaps why Mr. Roboto is also set in prison environment.  At the same time playing video games, watching movies and TV, texting, emailing, googling, engaging with various social media platforms all this engaging with technology to pass the time is designed to the viewer”dumbed-down” because you’re not challenging yourself when you’re just “liking” this and “liking” that. Instead of solving problems you’re relying on “google” search engines and relying on “there’s an app for this and an app for that” and there’s pretty much well an app for everything else.  In the book Digital Minimalism, author Cal Newport writes how “tech companies encourage ‘behavioral addiction’ (See: Ender’s Game – Video Compulsion): intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social approval.  Our brains are highly susceptible to these forces.”  He continues,  “This matters because many of the apps and sites that keep people compulsively checking their smartphones and opening browser tabs often leverage these hooks to make themselves nearly impossible to resist.”  That’s the song’s lyrics ends by saying:

My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain I.B.M.
Here he is telling us that while he has feelings, his mind has full control over them. Kilroy is the flesh and blood of man, Mr. Roboto dwells within the more logical brain.

The problem’s plain to see: too much technology
Machines to save our lives. Machines dehumanize.

With such predictions, we just might as well live in a vegetative state where robots make all your decisions for your including your career, with whom you should marry, be friends with, where to eat, what house to buy, when to start a family (etc.) all with its”predictive” AI technology built comfortably into their units so they could literally spoon feed what you need to know, make decisions for you and tell you what to do.  And you most likely wouldn’t question these programs because their answers are based on a series of probabilities on various outcomes, minus the emotional investment, making them better decision-makers than humans (in some cases).  It may be the right decision BUT is that what you want?  (i.e. Sure broccoli is good for you but you’d prefer to have a plate of french fries.) There goes your autonomy, there goes your agency, there goes your free will. What machines don’t have and humans do is intuition. Life is full of chances you gotta take the ups with the downs – makes your life challenging and constantly learning – have confidence in your decision-making capabilities.   That’s was meant “my heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain IBM and that’s why Kilroy makes Mr. Roboto as referred to in Interpretation #2.  To get away from all of that feeling of inadequacy, boredom, numbness, and lacking any positive contribution to general society but underneath is a human being that is very much alive and thriving.

Deep Space Travel Poses Unique Threat to Astronauts, Researchers Say – Source: sci-news.com

Yet just as the song says robots can also save our lives, for example, robots can be used to perform duties that bring certain death to humans (i.e. fighting a war, extinguishing an angry blaze of fire, decontaminating a toxic environment or perform exploratory missions in out space).  In the book The Future of Humanity, Michio Kaku, predicts that robots would be particularly useful for space exploration,  They are not susceptible to the various atmospheric, radiation, and gravitational conditions when establishing first contact on a planet.  Mighty in strength, they can start building the foundations  for buildings and bases and do all the back breaking dirty work in building settlements on Mars, our bases on Titan and exoplanets and astroid mining projects .  Fixing space ships, man would have to put on a heavy suit equipped with oxygen tanks and still move very slowly to make repairs whereas robots will have its might and speed without any of those considerations.  They don’t age as humans do so they can be deployed on space missions for years even decades.  If accidents occur robots can be easily repaired or replaced in a variety of dangerous situations. They can defuse dangerous explosion, walk through fire, working freezing environment like the moon, the can even be deployed for rescue missions.  (See: Deep Space Travel Poses New Threat to Astronaughts)

Another option scientists and engineers are actively pursuing the use of robotics  to bring back second chances to those who’s lives  have been diminished in one way or another and do not have full capacity of their bodies. By merging machine with the human body individuals will get a second chance of full body automation by replacing limbs lost, repairing hearing and eye sight and strengthening the spinal cord.  Remember the hit television series Bionic Woman and Steve Austin the Six Million Dollar Man?  We now have the capacity today to equip individuals with hi-tech machinery and it’s rapidly advancing  under the classification of “transhumanism”.

Transhumansim 

Transhumanism Definition:  Those who transcend human biological inheritance by modifying their DNA, their bodies, or the substrate for their minds, and/or by leaving the Earth to live in space habitats or on other celestial bodies.” Martine Rothblatt, PhD

“Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations as well as the ethical limitations of using such technologies. Emerging technologies include a variety of technologies such as educational technologyinformation technologynanotechnologybiotechnologycognitive science, psychotechnologyrobotics, and artificial intelligence.   The most common transhumanist thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the current condition as to merit the label of  post-human beings.”[Wikipedia.com/transhumansim]

Have you ever thought of all that’s involved in making a robot?  More specifically to make one that looks and act as a human?  To do so, scientists and engineers would require access to human subjects (volunteers/research participants) to learn various functions about being human. There’s the general physical make up height, weight, walk, stance, general body movements, facial expressions, how limbs work, internal organs, circuitry, the hearing and seeing through a visual cortex, the cerebral cortex, how we think, learning personality, cognitive functions and human emotion.  We are rapidly developing and deploying technologies that operate on the human side it’s no wonder that we could possibly engineering humans to be obsolete.

Here’s caveat:  Because of its clandestine nature the human trafficking industry can be a wonderful provider for such individuals, but those subjects would be used for experimental studies that were flat out rejected, either didn’t get approval and/or funding, because the projects were too risky, their projects expose the subjects to inhumane activity (and therefore criminal) thus escaping their responsibility in duty of care if under an approved study or the experiment is so high risk, they don’t expect the subject to mentally and/or physically survive the study.  And here’s where it could get sticky as I said in the opening paragraphs of this entry. There are so many ethical, legal and social implications to all of what we have discuss, we are SO FAR BEHIND in having  thoughtful [general] public conversations/consultations and acting upon recommendations to implement safeguards to protect and preserve our human dignity.

We further see this god complex (meaning, copying God as in co-creators) come to reality in the area of bio-technology, where advancements in the medical and gene technology have enabled us to beat diseases before the human fetus comes to full term.  In other cases bio and neuro-technology could potentially provide those who have lost limbs or cognitive ability even their eye sight  to attain once again what they have lost through brain computer interfacing to limbs, or even ‘resurrection’ by uploading your consciousness to a computer hard drive if brain dead [or just – dead] or bringing a person back to consciousness through cryogenics. “In theory, genetic manipulation may be considered ethical and acceptable for the therapy of mongolism and other functional abnormalities and degenerative diseases’ to those who are suffering and to improve their quality of living.  However, it becomes rather gratuitous even dangerous and frowned upon by those respected in the field, when these technologies are used as “improvements” of human qualities, to “enhance” what we already have i.e. designer babies, enhance cognitive a mobility issues to compete or to bring a new level of elite class, or to create a class of super soldiers for war.  We need the public debate and updated or new legislation to fit our new reality certainly not to discourage development – it’s impossible to do that, nor do we want to – but to guide its development.

Source: BBC.com

Three Laws of Robotics

(often shortened to The Three Laws or known as Asimov’s Laws)

The Three Laws of Robotics are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov.  The Three Laws, quoted as being from the “Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.”, are: [Wikipedia]

First Law – A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law – A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.[

Detailed theoretical frameworks and practical guidelines that have been developed to enable biomedical researchers to comply with appropriate ethical standards.  These standards are a great starting point in bio-technology (nano, AI, cyborg, etc.) The leading framework is probably Beauchamp and Childress’s Principalism and is based on four key ethical principles:

Non-malefience:  Human subjects should not be harmed.

Benefience: Human subjects should be benefited

Autonomy: Human autonomy and agency should be respected

Justice:  The benefits and risks of experimentation ought to be fairly distributed.

________________________________________________________

Van De Poel took Beauchamp and Childress’s Principalism and expanded upon them for technologies:

Van De Poel’s Principles for Ethical Technological Experiment

Non-Maleficence: Do no Harm by ensuring…..

1.      Absence of other reasonable means for gaining knowledge about risks and benefits.

2.      Monitoring of data and risks while addressing privacy concerns.

3.      Possibility and willingness to adapt or stop the experiment.

4.      Containment of risks as far as reasonably possible.

5.      Consciously scaling up to avoid large-scale harm and to improve learning.

6.      Flexible setup of the experiment and avoidance of lock-in of the technology.

7.      Avoiding experiments that undermine resilience.

Beneficence: Do good by ensuring that it is….

8.      Reasonable to expect social benefits from the experiment.

Responsibility: Be sure that there is a….

9.      Clear distribution of responsibilities for setting up, carrying out, monitoring, evaluating, adapting, and stopping the experiment.

Autonomy: respect autonomy by ensuring that…

10.  Experimental subjects are informed.

11.  The experiment is approved by democratically legitimized bodies.

12.  Experimental subjects can influence the setting up, carrying out, monitoring, evaluating, adapting, and stopping of the experiment.

13.  Experimental subjects can withdraw from the experiment.

Justice:  Ensure that there is a fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of the technology by ensuring that…

14.  Vulnerable experimental subjects are either not subject to the experiment or are additionally protected or particularly profit from te experimental technology (or a combination).

15.  A fair distribution of potential hazards and benefits.

16.  Reversibility of harm, or, if impossible, compensation for harm.

________________________________________________________

We do have regulations that are guided by each industry’s governing body (i.e. associations or regulators), however, their reprimands are mostly disciplinary without an overarching set of principals that is enshrined in law to ensure that there is a fair distribution of the benefits, potential hazards and burdens of the technology. In a conversation with Albert Schweitzer he was noted in sharing his disappointment in humanity after the Great War of 1914-18.  “he did not share the widespread optimism and belief in the inevitability of progress, which the spectacular scientific and technological advances of the previous hundred years had helped to maintain and foster.  Instead, he saw around him a society characterized by realpolitik, and short-sighted nationalism in which humanity, superficiality, and lack of concern for the well-being of others were very much the norm.  Why the failure of personal behavior to be guided by more humanity, he wondered.  How could the individual experience “the habit of humane thought” as personally convincing and necessary?” [More on Schwitzer’s Ethical Humanism, Humanist, 2000] One hundred years later, which includes the atrocities of WWII and with even more advancement in technology, we would be wise to adhere to is cautions.

Schweitzer continues  saying: “ethics are not first and foremost a matter of reference to external rules and regulations, but rather of the attitude that animates these.  Ethical decision making must be informed at its deepest level by “the longing to preserve and promote life…by [obstinacy] in resistance to the necessity for destroying or injuring life…by a feeling of  the highest possible responsibility towards other life.”  Schweitzer gives primary importance to economic considerations closely related to technological advances and the expansion of machine production. He lays heavy emphasis on the constitutionality of veneratio vitae as an ethic:  “It is good to maintain and encourage life; it is bad to destroy or obstruct it.”  because of this, ethical choices are a matter of having to chose between evils:  “I get my food by destroying plans and animals.  My happiness is built upon injury done to my fellow human beings.”

In addition, I personally prefer our attentions to turn to public education and how we teach and steer our next generations toward a “just society”.  Technology has advanced but human development has stagnated. Less emphasis on globalization, international competition and profit oriented aims of capitalism that is reflected in our institutions that places less value on creating well educated citizens.  We need a system that supports teachers who can nurture the values which promote citizenship, community and responsibility.  Following the template of modern humanism we want to encourage the betterment of humanity through “rational morality, human self-determination, and a reasoned compassionate approach to human needs”  and addresses such concerns as human rights, freedom of conscience and world peace.  What better place to instill those values by investing in our educational institutions from Kindergarten to earning a PhD (See: Bildung). Our next generations should be exposed to empathetic teachers who serves as both a role model and a conveyor of knowledge.  This knowledge should emphasize a practical and ethical approach to life that will teach young people the choice they make have an impact on those around them, to learn to accept responsibility for their choices as well as the integral role they have to play in society and instill within them a sense of “social responsibility”.  As such, if we really want to re-engineer humanity, I think its best done through our educational institutions. Our answers aren’t “out there” in outer space – it’s right here on Earth among ourselves.

Augustine and the Resurrected Body

We were discussing God’s intentions when he made man and woman because, as co-creators, we seem to be following the path of God in making robots that are in our likeness and image or by merging with technology, turning ourselves into God.  “God created man in His own image, in the image of God HE created him; male and female, HE created them.” (Genesis 1:27), “Let US make humans.” (Genesis 1:26).   In answer to my question in the opening paragraph, a possible answer could be that Genesis was not referring to God speaking to a heavenly court, but to God’s plural nature, a Trinity (like: Me, myself and I) that contains both an “I” that can issue a call and a “Thou” capable of response.

In the Future of Humanity, author Michio Kaku continues to predict technological advancements classified as transhumansim.  He speaks about manipulating our genes to expand and enhance to control  muscle mass, using technology to sharpen our senses, using cochlear implants for hearing deficiencies, artificial retinas for the blind and exoskeleton to strengthen the human body biologically to live on planets with greater gravity, atmospheric pressure, and composition, temperature, radiation etc. (See:  NASA’s Twins StudyResults Published in Science Journal) “So far, astronomers have found a large number of Super Earths (rocky planets, within the habitable zone that might even have oceans).  They seem likely candidates for human habitation except their gravitational field can be 50% greater than Earth’s.  This means that it might be necessary to increase our muscles and bones in order to thrive on them.”   He continues to provide examples of a “transhumansim” that advocates in embracing technological trends to enhance our skills and capabilities.  We would have to do so in order to survive and flourish on distant worlds.  Instead of being repulsed by technology or fighting its influence, transhumanists believe that we should embrace technology and relish in the idea that we can “perfect” humanity.  They believe our current condition is a by-product of evolution and that our bodies are the consequences of random, haphazard mutations and to use technology to correct these “quirks”.  Therefore, the ultimate goal for transhumanists is to create a new species, the “post-human”, one that will transcend humanity.

Post-Human

And here’s is where I personally become conflicted.  There certainly seems to be an evolution of the human body that is to transpire but from what- to-what? or is it a de-evolution of the human body into machine, crudely performing the same skills as to what God intended for us to be and do?  And this is, for me, is where a rift between science and religion occurs.  In many instances science and religion can and do co-exist, especially when proving theories of the past and into the present but when we turn our attention to the future there seems to be two paths with different perspectives and it’s up to the viewer to determine which path fits for them.  For example, we know the minds and bodies we have today and how they function wasn’t part of the original grand design, so we’re in a fall back position.  From a religious perspective we are to wait until we die, or continue to live waiting for the second coming of Christ at Armageddon for our new bodies.  From a scientific perspective – we’re not waiting for that to happen and as such we are turning to machine technology to provide that future for ourselves through the use of for body enhancements to enable space travel to explore new worlds.  One is a holistic enhancement that’s fleshly and mystical, while on the other, hard, steely and almost “Frankenstein-like” breathing life into inanimate objects to merge with the human body.

How A.I. is inspiring imaginations and shaping our vision of the future. – Source: Time.com

In the City of God, Augustine’s discourses on the edenic transhumans sets the stage for an investigation of his conception of human embodiment.  In his view, the earth is not the proper home for human beings: with their minds distended in time and their mortal bodies heading for death, they dwell on earth with a “pain for homecoming”.  As Augustine claims: “After the Fall ‘the eyes of both were opened, not to enable them to see but to enable them to distinguish the good that they had lost and the evil into which they had fallen.  God “justly” condemned the edenic being to be mortal humans eventually die and enter the food chain.  They not only fell into mortal bodies, they also fell into a twofold temporality: earthly time and psychic time.

Though he celebrated the bodily and psychic integrity enjoyed by Adam and Eve, Augustine had no interest in returning to Eden.  In Christian theology the Fall is a forward movement in a teleological narrative that ends on Resurrection Day.  Augustine’s conception of the resurrected body determined the entire scholastic debate in the Middle Ages.  In his early, Platonic works, Augustine did to believe in bodily resurrection; only the soul or spirit moved into eternity after death.  But he changed his mind in 400 CE:  The spiritual body referred to by Paul now had bodily substance.  As Augustine put it: “What will the body be like, a body that will in every way be subject to the spirit – being made fully alive by the spirit, it will need no food to nourish it! For it will be not an animal body but a spiritual body, having the substance of flesh but without any fleshly corruption”.

Augustine of Hippo – Source: Aleteia

For Augustine, humans live as wanderers and resident aliens on earth, exiled from their homeland and his description of the transhuman condition sets the stage for his discourses on human embodiment in the earthly world.  In his theology, Eden, earth and heaven are different “chronotopes” – “time-place” zones- where people dwell in different topographies and temporalities. Augustine offer’s a detailed account of the resurrected transhumans at the end of time. After the last “atomic” moment passes into eternity, the humans – whose bodies and souls are pervaded by nothing-something  – become eternal “somethings.”  Augustine then continues to offer detailed meditations on the life of the resurrected saints in heaven.  In this peculiar chronotope, there is no garden or earthly life: the saints live in an eternal “city”.  And these saints in the City of God will dwell in divine presence. With their perfect and unchanging bodies,…And they also admire the beauty of each other’s bodies, whose inner organs are now visible: the stomach, intestines, womb, etc. reveal God’s design to the transhuman eye.  Yet as Augustine points out, these parts of the once-human body are now “useless” but are now a vision of the digestive and reproductive organs that reminds the saints that they have been wrested out of nature and the earthly food chain.

Augustine City of God – Source: pi-nu

The spiritual body, is a physical body that is completely “subject to the spirit”.  It does not have animal needs (such as hunger or thirst) since it has no needs at all:  “The bodies of the saints, after the resurrection, will not need any tree to preserve them from death or disease or old age, nor will they need any material nourishment to prevent distress from hunger or thirst.”  The resurrected body according to Augustine will look like its human original, but with all its deformities removed. Every individual will be completely beautiful and perfectly proportioned: “When some ugliness is innate in a human body – which is a sign of punishment for the present state of mortals – the restoration will be such that the ugliness will disappear while the basic substance is preserved intact.”  One has to wonder, what was God’s original intention for us?  Through transhumanism, are we attempting to make Augustine’s resurrected body – a new body suit fit for us to explore our space to find our original home?

Harry Holmes continues in his article asking what form and direction is the humanist tradition likely to take in “the next century because certain conditions are essential for the good life on earth, as we have known it.  Unfortunately many of these conditions are fading fast. The vast resources of our planet that used to nurture millions of species. Now they are channeled towards just one. And that homo sapiens seems set to befoul its own – and only – habitat.”

Source: Renfrew North Parish Church

“Within this global context” he continues,  “the role played by the world’s most powerful religion is crucial.  I mean, of course, the current post-Christian religion.”  The neoclassical economics has taken the place of Christian theology in our accepted system of values.  Christianity is a spent force.  It lingers on from old habit and institutional inertia: and perhaps also a longing for the old comforting certainties.  Its ancient gospel wonders cannot match the modern magic of the market place.  Indeed, of its seven deadly sins, all but one – sloth – have been triumphantly transformed into positive virtues.  What were once recognized as natural human frailties are now hailed as indispensable economic assets.

“The new church is superbly organized.  Its daily sermons  – preached from a variety of media pulpits across the land – extol the power and the of wealth.  Its grand vision for the future of humanity is the constant pursuit, on a small finite planet of limitless economic growth.  Its not one of the nobler aspects of the human dream.  Like its predecessor the new faith claims exclusive salvation. Behind its missionary pieties lies the awesome military and political might of the imperial superpower.  It has imposed its own rigid orthodoxy on the world’s financial and development institutions.  What should be the response of humanists to this near universal ascendancy of the new materialistic, post-Christian, religion?  Will the humanist of today and tomorrow examine and judge the new materialism with the same scholarly skepticism that was previous applied to Christianity?  Will they turn their criticism to the prevailing orthodoxy of our time, rather than to the fossilized relic?”

Source: Baha’is believe all religions ..BahaiTeachings.org (No, I’m not endorsing Bahai – but it’s a good image of praying, a function within all religions)

It is at such times that we have to ask ourselves, “what role does religion play in our personal lives?”  Michel de Montaigne often used to say “that our real doctrines are reflected in our daily lives.  Our true religion is not necessarily what we profess to believe.  It is in how we think and feel, the way we see, judge and act out our lives.  And in this view the practical daily religion of modern Western society becomes instantly clear.”

“Where does your faith take you when you read biblical accounts of the signs of the ‘end times’ and a Christian’s duty in  such times?  In this sense participating in certain technological advances would have to be deeply meditated upon because the bible doesn’t flatly tell you “yes” you can do this or “no” don’t do that, on these new age subjects and technologies.  It is for the individual to best interpret the meaning of the ancient scriptures and to ascertain if participating in projects, purchases and general overall usage of advanced technologies fit in line with your interpretation of God’s divine plan.  We are altering our bodies, relying on our own creation for salvation.  And in doing so consider for a moment that we might be acting similar to Adam and Eve, saying ‘We are Gods and we no longer need you’.  “No ideology, law, or tradition can adequately beat back the toxin in our collective system.  At the end of the day, we must admit that we are in a spiritual battle.  Either man will be like God or we will humble ourselves and live accordance with reality.” [Epoch Times]

_________________________________________________________________