Merging Human with Machine?

by
August 18, 2014

In the wee hours on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we were all sleeping soundly. At 3:45 AM, my husband’s phone sounded the text alarm. He shushed it. Within seconds, my cell phone gave off its incoming text signal. Then we heard one of our sons attend to his phone upstairs. Another son awakened about that time, not sure what had happened. Had someone in the family died? Was there a weather emergency? Had some catastrophe occurred? No, no, and no. Our cellular phone company was alerting us that our data usage was 75 percent complete, and we have a few more days left in the month. For an additional sum, however, we could add more data usage to our plan. Artificial intelligence strikes again.

This morning, I might have been at least temporarily pleased to merge my particular machine with the great outdoors. Others, though, are not so inclined. A number of philosophers, bioethicists, and other thinkers have been talking for a while about the merging of man with machine. Indeed, a number of luminaries are quite enthusiastic about the project of a human/machine interface.

Dmitry Itskov became a multimillionaire through his web publishing company, New Media Stars. In February 2011, he founded the 2045 Strategic Social Initiative, and is president of the Global Future 2045 Congress. Itskov wrote to the Forbes list of billionaires in the summer of 2012, to encourage them to embrace his vision: “Such research has the potential to free you, as well as the majority of all people on our planet, from disease, old age and even death.”

What exactly do the principals involved with the 2045 Initiativeintend? Their website lists the main goals of the 2045 Initiative: the creation and realization of a new strategy for the development of humanity which meets global civilization challenges; the creation of optimal conditions promoting the spiritual enlightenment of humanity; and the realization of a new futuristic reality based on 5 principles: high spirituality, high culture, high ethics, high science and high technologies. Specifically, they intend “to create technologies enabling the transfer of a individual’s personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, and extending life, including to the point of immortality.”

Here is no new desire. It is as old as the Garden, and yet as fresh as each New Year. Who doesn’t want to live forever? The question is usually, under whose terms? We tend to like ourselves, and prefer our tastes to those of others. We typically do not really care for unsolicited advice, and certainly do not wish for someone else to tell us what to do. We cloak ourselves in autonomy (“self-law”), and prefer a cafeteria plan, where we can pick and choose what we wish in our lives. Can we really choose our future—our immortal future?

Itskov and the Global Future 2045 principals seem to think so. They sent an open letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in March 2013, outlining humankind’s current difficulties as they see them, as well as proposed solutions:

1. The construction of anthropomorphic avatar robots—artificial bodies.

2. The creation of telepresence robotic systems for long-distance control of  of an avatar.

3. The development of brain-computer interfaces for direct mental control  of an avatar.
Applications:
—rehabilitation of the disabled;
—replacement of people working in hazardous conditions, or those tasked with cleaning up during peacekeeping missions, etc.;
—telepresence technologies for personal and business communications, as well as tourism.

The successful further development of the above three studies is expected to lead to further breakthroughs, including:

4. Development of life-extension technologies involving life-support systems for the human brain integrated with an artificial Avatar body.

(Note: Per the Global Trends 2030 forecast of the US National Intelligence Council, using replacement limb technology advances, people may choose to enhance their physical selves as they do with cosmetic surgery today.)
Application: the significant extension of the lives of individuals whose biological bodies have exhausted their resources.

5. A study of the main principles of the functioning of the human brain, and the creation of a functional model.

6. Development of prostheses for parts of the human brain.

7. Creation of a fully artificial equivalent of the human brain.

8. A study of human consciousness and the possibilities for its future embodiment in a non-biological substrate.
Applications:
—treatment of degenerative diseases and traumas of the brain;
—exploration of regions of outer space hostile to biological human life;
—radical extension of human life to the point of immortality.

Why did Itskov and company write to the UN? It is because they believe that the UN will soon be advising the various nations regarding ways to “realize the strategy for the transition to neo-humanity.”

This sounds less like choosing our own future, and more like a consortium of governments buying into the goals of a self-selected group. While there are some important possible applications for portions of the work, the overall goal seems the vision of a few for a utopia for the masses—usually a recipe for disaster. After all, to save humanity, we are being told that we need to fundamentally alter it. Saving humanity by becoming less human is flawed thinking.

In his Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic Control, Paul Ramsey described actions of “man’s radical self-modification and control of his evolutionary future.” He had another name for such: “a project for the suicide of the species,” and discerned its momentum as “despair over man as he is.” (159)

Man as he is—male and female bodies, minds, wills, and emotions. The Book of Genesis reveals humans as the crown of creation. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, president of the Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, wrote tellingly of our nature when he wrote

To be human is to be made in the image of God, and there is nothing higher to which we can aspire. For to be made in the image of God is to be made as much like God as someone who is not God could ever be. This amazing dignity, which attaches to human nature wherever it is found, is finally proved to us in Jesus Christ, since in the incarnation God took to himself the mode of existence which is also ours. And having once taken it to himself, he has not laid it down. Then and today and for all eternity, human existence is dignified by the astonishing fact that the God who created it has made it his own. (Complete in Christ, 113)

Is the 2045 Initiative offering humankind a new genesis? Perhaps. One photo of

Itskov shows him confronting an anthropomorphic avatar. Astonishingly (or not), the avatar looks very like Mr. Itskov. Another photo shows the founder of Hanson Robotics, David Hanson, with his robotic model of Dimitry Itskov’s head. To reproduce Mr. Itskov’s voice and facial expressions, Hanson will need to use 36 motors.

Genesis 1 and 2 were aptly juxtaposed by Paul Ramsey. He wrote

In the first genesis, men with expectation high savored knowledge and God-head, death following. In the second genesis men with expectation high savor death to the species, of man as he is, God-head following. (160)

2045 may seem far in the future, but we need to spend some time thinking, talking, and, hopefully, modifying these ideas and goals while we have it—time, that is.

Bibliography

Cameron, Nigel M. de S. Complete in Christ: Rediscovering Jesus and Ourselves. London: Paternoster Press, 1989, 1997.

Ramsey, Paul. Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic Control. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970.

Note:  Portions of this article have been previously published in electronic newsletter form by D. Joy Riley of The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture; used by permission.


D. Joy Riley, M.D., M.A.
D. Joy Riley, MD, MA, is the executive director of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics and Culture.