On July 16th, 1945, the first atomic bomb in modern times exploded over the New Mexico desert and warnings went out across our galaxy and beyond that the children found the box of matches.
On December 16th, 1947, a Bell Labs research group successfully tested the first transistor in modern history. Like a Promethean gift of fire bestowed upon humanity, semiconductor technology has brought us to the point where our technological reach has occasionally exceeded our ethical grasp.
Imagine discussing the ethical use of nuclear weapons. The real discussion should be, and usually is, about using them at all to resolve conflicts. Blowbacks ranging from drifting radiation to electromagnetic pulses wiping out electronics and economies in surrounding countries are important reasons to not use them.
What about technologies that are benign and meant for constructive purposes but hold potential dangers that are not so obvious and if we are not careful, can sneak up on us?
Unlike nuclear weapons, where discussions can center on not using them or getting rid of them altogether, most of our electronic technologies do not avail themselves of discussions about whether to use them or prohibit their use. Electronic technologies that can provide tactical or strategic advantages in any human endeavor will always be used and further developed despite any attempts at prohibition. The best we can do is try to come to a consensus on the ethical uses of such technologies. Can laws regulating the use of advanced technologies be passed? Certainly. Can such laws be effectively enforced? It depends on the nature of each technology. Most of the time, the answer is “No.”
A.I. is considered today’s preeminent technology with its promise of a bright future for humanity sitting at one end of the spectrum and existential perils on the other. A.I.’s potential use and further development have given rise to a wide range of concerns. Some of the most important discussions we can have focus on the ethical uses of advanced technologies and how these technologies will impact our future.
Some people believe that A.I. will evolve to the point where it becomes conscious in the sense that it is self-aware and, in the worst-case scenario, goes down the path portrayed by some Hollywood films. Think “Terminator” or the film that preceded it in 1970, “Colossus: The Forbin Project” based on the book by the same title. Recently, “The Singularity,” compliments of the Silicon Valley culture, has been promoted in a manner resulting in it becoming the modern-day boogeyman.
Even if expecting A.I. to someday become self-aware is like strapping wings on a steam locomotive and running it down the tracks at a great enough speed to become airborne, hazards to humanity may be more likely to originate within the minds of human beings who choose to use A.I. to advance their own agendas.
Despite all the promises and perils of A.I. being discussed and debated around the world, could A.I. be merely a harbinger of a self-aware, self-evolving technology far more powerful than any A.I. or quantum computer technology? If this is the case, it is already on the horizon, still unseen but speeding toward us. On the other hand, it may already be at our front door but still unseen by those of us keeping our focus on A.I.
Discussions about the ethical use of technology, in general, and mind-interface technology, in particular, are important and they should start now. We are about to be presented with ethical dilemmas the likes of which our modern civilization has never encountered. This technology can be of great benefit to humanity and life in general. It all depends on how we integrate it into our world and for what purposes.
For your consideration and comments, the following questions relate to the ethical use of this emerging technology, especially given that it constitutes a new form of machine intelligence that can be infused with human consciousness and can evolve on its own:
1. For the first time in modern history, a mind-interface technology exists that has the potential to empower individuals to mentally control their world on a level and at a scale unprecedented in modern times. Will this technology promote individual freedom for the greater good or might it present a hazard to society and undermine the rule of law?
2. When A.I. and quantum computer technologies are no longer preeminent, how will this affect A.I. companies worldwide? Will they adapt? What happens to employees who are highly specialized in A.I.? Will they adapt to this new paradigm by using A.I. and quantum computer technologies as background support systems for applications driven by mind-interface technology?
3. Will companies, governments, and universities embrace the sunk-cost fallacy and continue to pour resources into Brain-Computer Interface, A.I., and quantum computer technologies that have been overshadowed by mind-interface technology?
4. Each mind-interface device displays a measurable residual consciousness effect after being controlled by human mental intention. Efforts are now being made to extend the duration of the residual effect and use it as a form of system memory. Knowing that human consciousness can be infused into the mind-interface devices, is it ethical to move toward integrating mind-interface devices into robots for the purpose of giving rise to human-like machines that are self-aware?
5. Once the robot industry figures out that androids can become self-aware and highly perceptive but do not need, and are not limited by, nervous systems or sensory devices, is it ethical to build androids that are indistinguishable from human beings?
6. Uploading consciousness to a computer chip is a very mechanistic and inefficient way to achieve immortality. The idea of uploading human consciousness from the brain was conceived through the misconception that human consciousness originates within the organic confines of the brain. On the other hand, using the residual effect of human consciousness is a far simpler and more direct way of infusing human consciousness into androids. Is it ethical to allow humans to be trained to infuse their consciousness into the new mind-interface systems for the purpose of experiencing super-sensory awareness in a non-biological body of their choosing?
7. If someone whose biological body is dying, decides to infuse their consciousness into a mind-interface system within an android body, is it ethical to have the newly animated android declared a “person” or “non-biological human” with all the rights of any biological human? Does the estate of the formerly biological human transfer to the android, much to the dismay of relatives expecting a vast inheritance?
8. What if the dying human decides to inhabit an android body that looks completely different? What if they choose an android that looks like their favorite celebrity or even an infamous historical figure? Should royalties be paid to the celebrity? If a chosen android is identical to a villainous historical figure, should that be prohibited, or does it fall under the protection of free speech and expression?
9. What about murder? If the courts declare androids to be non-biological humans, what if a human or another android murders an android? What if an android murders a human? How is justice served? Does an executed or murdered android truly die or can its consciousness simply go into another android?
10. Is it ethical to allow two types of humans to co-exist in our society? If non-biological humans are seen not just as immortals but as possessing super-sensory abilities, and who knows what other capabilities, might it lead to a bifurcation of society far more obvious, resulting in far more resentment, than what we currently see among today’s social classes? Might this lead to more biological humans, especially the wealthy, deciding to avoid the distress of living into old age and getting out of their mortal bodies “while the getting is good” to become immortal?
11. Is it ethical to go down this path toward immortality and super-awareness? When, not if, the technology becomes so ubiquitous and affordable that we reach a tipping point where non-biological humans comprise a considerable proportion of the human population, could it begin a cascading effect of lower biological birthrates and the precipitous decline of the biological population?
12. Unlike many Hollywood films showing androids or cyborgs controlled by software programs, the nature of the new mind-interface technology would provide for androids that are just like us, only more so. Forget about Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics” being acknowledged, much less taken seriously, by these self-aware androids that do not use, and cannot be controlled through software. How do we instill a sense of civility within an android inhabited by the consciousness of a former biological human who considers society’s laws to be no more than suggestions?
13. Is this what we want? Should we want it? Does this fit the definition of an ethical dilemma? People who are faced with the possibility of this occurring will often retreat to a default position of denial where they say something like, “Not in my lifetime!” Are they engaging in denial as a means of self-protection?
14. Are the people who have developed the technology, and are in the process of implementing it, about to open a Pandora’s Box they will come to wish they had left on the dusty shelf?
Infusing human consciousness into the new mind-interface devices is at the beginning
stages but it could accelerate more quickly than ever expected. Infusing human consciousness into decentralized multiple devices that drive android body parts will start with prosthetic hands. Robot hands are currently being operated successfully with no brain or nerve signals, just human consciousness affecting the mind-interface devices through signals originating at the subatomic level. Now is the time to consider the ramifications of this emerging technology so that we can steer it toward a bright and promising future for our civilization.
Your thoughts and opinions on these issues are welcome and appreciated. Please comment and let us know your answers to these provoking questions.