Before I get into the breadth of this discussion piece, I’d first like to say that Joe Rogan Questions Everything is a show you must watch! For anyone who is interested in the extraordinary – whether that be extra-terrestrial beings, mythological cryptids or technological and human advancements – this is the show for you.
Of all six episodes of the first season, one in particular stood out to me and truly made me think. That episode was the third, titled Robosapien. The premise of the episode is Joe Rogan exploring the technological advancements which will inevitably make the concept of trans-humanism a reality. For those who aren’t familiar with this concept, trans-humanism is the idea that once a human body’s ability to function deteriorates, everything that makes you who you are (your consciousness, thoughts, beliefs, and interests) can be downloaded and transferred into a robotic body. Essentially it is merging man and machine into one immortal being, capable of transcending our physical limitations as humans.
For those of you thinking I should surrender into a mental institution, I assure you that this is a real thing that many believe will be possible in the not too distant future. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take Ray Kurzweil’s. This is a man who Joe Rogan describes as “one of the smartest men in the world” and who correctly predicted the invention of the Internet, universal search engines and speech recognition technology. He is now predicting that we will be able to transfer our human consciousness into a robotic body by the year 2045 (a mere 31 years away!). Backing Mr. Kurzweil’s prediction is Russian billionaire, Dmitry Itskov, who is funding the Global Future 2045 Initiative – a gathering of scientists all working towards the common goal of making Ray Kurzweil’s prediction a reality. With so much support, the traditional flesh and bone vessel that we are used to may soon be obsolete, with more people resembling a rendition of the Terminator (none of whom will ever be as bad-ass as Arnie) rather than what we are now.
What this does now is bring up a plethora of questions. The first of which that I would like to discuss is: does becoming a “Robosapien”, and potentially creating a new species, fit in with the laws of nature? Simply, is it natural? And on another plane of thought, is it right? There are some that would argue technology on a whole is against nature given that it is made by man and perpetuated through our culture, but Joe Rogan makes an interesting assessment which I find a solid concept of what we are. He describes that just as bees make honey, humans make technology, implying that creating technology is just natural to us. If this is the case is it also true, then, that the “Robosapien” is part of the progression that humans make naturally? This would mean that our inevitable merge with technology is not unnatural but it is actually necessary in order for the human species to keep evolving. On the other hand, it can be argued that, although creating and using technology may be natural to the function of the human species, harnessing it to transcend the need for our own biological bodies – bodies that are a huge part of what we believe make us human beings – is a step too far. Up until this point technology has been used in an innumerable amount of ways. But – when used productively rather than destructively – it has essentially been used to prolong and increase our quality of life. Trans-humanism surpasses all ways in which we have used technology to impact our own lives, to date, by making it possible to extend life and manipulate the concept of our lives being finite. It would make our species immortal beings. Is this a step too far? Should the human species be forever indebted to their biological clocks ticking time away day after day? Or is it only a natural progression that we finally have the right to choose how long we live? Those are questions to which I just don’t have the answer – I’m only human after all. For how long I will be considered human, though, is another question entirely.
A concept I find hard to accept is the idea that these robots who house everything that we know and are, will be us and not just replicas of ourselves. If you make a copy of a file on a PC, that copied file will never be the original file, right? It has the exact same properties of the original but it can never be the original. Does that same theory apply to downloading someone’s consciousness into a robot? There is so much more to being a human than just being aware of your existence. What makes a human being want to live? Motivation, emotions, everything that makes a human being do what they do and live how they live; would they also be able to be transferred into this robot body? If they are not able to be transferred, can these creations even be considered human? Without all the aforementioned attributes which make us human, a “Robosapien’s” existence would essentially be a hellish one devoid of any goals or motivations to live life. Even if a “Robosapien” cannot be considered to truly be us, how can it even be a representation of ourselves without carrying with it everything that makes us do what we do? It simply cannot and this leads me to believe that whatever is being worked on will be more closely considered a piece of art – bearing an uncanny resemblance to ourselves – as opposed to an extension of our lives whereby we are actually living, just as we were when we were human, through this carrier.
Onto a more dark tone, all this talk about these robots having no emotions poses more food for thought. Could we be creating a new type of robot that is not only emotionless but also potentially possesses limitless power? Philosopher Dr. Massimo Pigliucci elaborates on this trail of thought, stating that, by definition, a human without emotion is a psychopath. If these “Robosapiens” cannot embrace emotion as an influence of action and thought, they are effectively robotic psychopaths. This could turn into a dystopian society – a freaking real-life I, Robot. As much as I like Will Smith’s role in the movie, I do not want envy being in a position where robots turn on their creators and forcefully end the human race as we know it. As hyperbolic as that sounds, it’s something to think about. The success or failure of the “Robosapien” – regardless of what your opinion is – seems to be dependent on whether those studying making trans-humanism possible in a practical nature really know what the implications of such technology are. I just hope they know what they’re doing.
With everything said, the main point of the matter is that trans-humanism is an extremely complex subject and I am finding it difficult to agree or disagree wholly with one viewpoint or the other. Whatever your standpoint, this is something that, as a species, we will have to deal with and that is both an exciting and deeply scary prospect.