Friday, 8 November 2013

Would you be willing to merge with machinery? [ TechSc1ence ]

A British boy has become the first individual in Britain to receive a special implant which allows the young child to walk unaided. The boy in question, Eddy Parry, was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer at a very young age, and was sadly forced to have his leg amputated. This unique surgery has resurrected his physical ability, though, and now Eddy is able to walk thanks to what he calls his ‘robot leg’.

Such an expression makes one think of science-fiction, with its predictions that we will incorporate all sorts of mechanical and electronic implements within our bodies at some point in the near future, and that this will become normal practice. Indeed, with the technology already available to implant microchips into the human body, and technologies such as Google Glass blurring the distinction between man and machine, such concepts as trans-humanism are not merely the preserve of science-fiction novels.

One of the foremost writers on futurism, Ray Kurzweil, has already predicted that once the technological singularity is reached, human-beings will willingly merge with artificial intelligence to create a race of essentially super beings. The singularity refers to the point at which artificial intelligence exceeds that of human intelligence, and Kurzweil believes that such a time is not far away at all.

Others have dismissed this view and such concerns, though. The infamous linguist and political commentator, Noam Chomsky, has suggested that the singularity is absolutely science-fiction, at least for the time being. Chomsky believes that the creation of a super-intelligent form of artificial intelligence, which even comes close to human intelligence, is inconceivable at present, due to how little we know about how human intelligence actually works. After all, it is human intelligence that will have to build artificial intelligence, no matter how far it develops once this initial process has been completed.

Whichever one of these prognostications is correct, the concept of merging human and machine, particularly with regard to something so fundamental to our identity as our thought processes, is very scary for some. And understandably so. While the future direction of artificial intelligence has yet to be decided, what can be demonstrated by this transplant is that the merging of the human and the artificial need not be viewed as something threatening, as in the right context it can certainly enhance our existence and quality of life. This must be borne in mind as much as we consider the potential dangers of such technology.

Christopher Morris is a regular contributor to Yahoo on television, cinema, video games, technology and politics.

More articles from Christopher Morris:

Do we really want to live in a world where household devices are connected to the ‘net?

Can Apple’s new iPads push them back to the forefront of the tablet market?

Is 3-D printing really going to change the way we live?