Biotechnology Annotated Bibliography
The following annotated sources do not necessarily reflect the Center's positions or values. These sources, however, are excellent resources for familiarizing oneself with the all sides of the issue.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines. New York: Penguin, 1999.
In The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil asserts that robots will one day overtake humanity both intellectually and spiritually. This will occur, Kurzweil believes, because humanity has reached a point at which it is capable of building intelligences greater than its own. Kurzweil asserts that the triumph of robots will be every bit as important as the creation of the human intelligence from which machine intelligence springs.
Is it even possible for an intelligence to create an intelligence more intelligent than itself? The history of evolution, he believes, bears this out. In a world where machines surround us to such a degree that we hardly think to notice them, Kurzweil posits that they are beginning to take an active role in the "society of minds" within each person, and within the society as a whole. In fact, machines already compete quite well with humans when it comes to solving complex problems, be they mathematical or otherwise. In the future, computational power will advance to the point that the "idiot savants" of the machine world will become multidimensional -- capable of not only thinking, feeling, and perceiving in superhuman ways, but also of reverse-engineering the human brain and storing the information it contains.
The suggestion here is of a sort of human immortality granted by machines, in which a person continues his or her existence in the braincase of a machine. Kurzweil sees an easy transference from computational advances and the maturing of embryonic technologies such as nanotechnology to full-fledged computer consciousness. Initially, electronic implants will be used to physically repair damaged "memory circuits" in the brain. Given that capability, it will then be a short leap to fully porting one's memory and -- if one assumes that such a thing is merely an outcropping of physical processes -- one's entire consciousness to a machine.
This begs the question, what will our bodies look like? If we do indeed still insist on having bodies, they will likely be modeled after our natural ones, replacing biological cells with self-replicating nanobots built at the atomic level. On the other end of the spectrum, Kurzweil asserts that all of the elements of what we now consider our "spiritual" life will be easily replicated (given enough processing power and memory capacity) in machines. Thus, machines of the future will laugh, feel hurt, sense the presence of "God," go to houses of worship, meditate, and play. Regardless of whether machines are really experiencing these things the way humans do, we will have no right to question their subjective experience.
Moravec, Hans. Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
In Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, author Hans Moravec welcomes the evolution of machinery from non-reasoning, non-perceiving instrumentation to self-aware, super-human consciousness. Moravec outlines the continuing advances in computer and robotic development and asserts that if one extrapolates from this "evolution," it is easy to imagine robots that outperform humans in every conceivable way. While such advances will make the world "a nicer place to live," they will also push human beings out of the essential roles that we now fill. Moravec is not alarmed by the possibility that humanity will be displaced completely. On the contrary, he sees these future super-beings as our "mind children," and, as such, the logical next step in our own evolution. While he is quick to point out that presently the machine's "mind" is unlike ours in almost every way, he attributes human capacities for reasoning, perceiving, and acting to millions of years of human evolution. He asserts that the equivalent of such evolution is currently taking place in the robot world and will continue at a fevered pitch through the middle of this century.
Moravec conceives of four evolutionary stages in robot development, each with a corresponding parallel to the biological world. By 2010, first-generation robots will have the intellectual capacity of lizards; by 2020, second-generation robots will be at the mouse stage; by 2030, third-generation robots will be as smart as the average monkey; and a short decade later, fourth-generation robots will have made the short journey from monkey- to human-level capabilities. With each corresponding robotic generation, evidence of "internal life" (consciousness) will mount. Although the continuing development of robots will herald the end of capitalism, and presumably most other human bases for society, Moravec optimistically imparts a level of compassion to future robots that humanity now lacks. He hopes that, as our children, they will be compelled to take pity upon us.
Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage, 1992.
In his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman, cultural critic, communications theorist, and Chair of the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences at New York University, sees technological development void of cultural controls as one of the greatest threats to western civilization. While conceding that technology has lessened life's burdens, he posits that it poses a great threat in the way it redefines old words. Terms such as "information," "intelligence," "public opinion," and "wisdom" all now mean different things in light of the technological developments of the last century than they did in previous periods of human history.
Postman defines three kinds of cultures: tool-using cultures, technocracies, and technopolies. In tool-using cultures, beliefs direct the invention of tools. In technocracies, the symbolic becomes increasingly subject to the requirements of tool development. With inventions like the mechanical clock and the telescope, technology began to subvert the traditional symbolic world, contrary to the intentions of the inventors. In a technopoly, the primary goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, technical calculation supercedes human judgment, subjectivity is regarded as an obstacle to clear thinking, and affairs of citizens are best guided by experts. In short, society is best served when people are placed at the disposal of technique and technology.
Technopolists are convinced that technical progress is humanity's supreme achievement and the means by which our most serious problems can be solved. Postman asserts, however, that such a culture is one whose theories do not offer guidance about what is acceptable in the moral domain. He offers as case studies advances in medical technology, computer technology, and "invisible" technologies such as language, statistics, and management. Each in its own way has redefined humanity in quantitative terms and has devalued the importance of the symbolic world. In fact, the trivialization of significant cultural symbols is necessary for a technopoly to survive. Such an outlook, which Postman defines as "scientism," implies that faith in science -- and the technology it produces -- can serve as a comprehensive belief system in and of itself: one that gives meaning to life, as well as a sense of well-being and even immortality. Postman offers what he sees as ways for individuals and cultures to resist this trend, even going so far as to provide tenets for the "loving resistance fighter" to follow. In culture, he sees education as an antidote: an education that emphasizes the purpose, meaning, and interconnectedness of what is learned and that is largely nontechnical in its viewpoint.
Updated March 2009