21 March 2007

Steve's grand ambition

If machines are able to reason and experience emotions like humans, what would be the difference between the two?

Steve Grand, CEO of Cyberlife Research, which is trying to create forms of synthetic life, says,
“People are sometimes fearful that artificial life research will reduce us all to machines and explain away our souls... On the contrary, I believe it will give us a new understanding and a new respect for ourselves, as the most sublime machines in the known universe.” [1]

Come on! Humans as the most sublime machines in the known universe?!! What does this mean? That humans are the ultimate machines? That, out of a desire for a perfect understanding of himself, man is intent on artificially creating the perfect replica of himself in the form of a cyborg or a synthetic man? Is this sheer narcissistic pleasure, or what?

Maybe that explains Western civilisation’s fascination with science fiction over the last 60 years or so (the East is conspicuously blank in this territory). What’s more, some of this thinking may already have fructified into synthetic life forms. For, artificial life (or A-Life) research has a grand ambition. This is what Steve Grand has to say when he is asked about his life ambition (in an interview with www.homecreatures.com):

“To be the first person to create an artificial conscious being and be insulted by it. I’m supposed to say that I want to do this in order to create new kinds of technology that help people. When I’m in business meetings I’m supposed to say that I want to make lots of money for our shareholders and make myself rich. The honest truth, though, is that I want to understand what makes life tick. Life is such an odd concept, and minds are such strange things – I’ve got one of each, and I don’t understand them at all! What more can any of us want than to understand ourselves and each other? My feeling is that the best way to understand life is to create it. Building things is a great way to ensure that you’ve got your ideas straight. Fancy words can hide sloppy reasoning, but a computer will never let you get away with anything.”

To me, the thought ‘should technology be available, machines would become human’ is as fascinating as it is scary. Would these new machines be self-aware like human beings? Would they have morals? Would they be a threat to human life? Would the world be a better place to live in if humans and machines were equal? Would there be any difference between the two when we are all one?

[1 Citation: Steve Grand quote from ‘The Anxiety of Obsolescence, Chapter 2: Machine', by Kathleen Fitzpatrick]

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