Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Boundary Between Man and Machine

Noted futurist, Ray Kurzweil has said that human immortality is probably less than 20 years away. Actually, I didn't hear him say this or even read his exact words. But I read the newspaper headline and that's more than most people do.

I strongly suspect that Kurzweil is predicting the marriage of biomedicine and computer technology so that it will be possible to revive failed anatomical systems (e.g. respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive) and/or replace human organs beyond those that are currently possible (e.g. heart, kidney, lungs). And that therefore it is possible to keep an individual alive indefinitely. Or at least this is what immortality will look like in the beginning.

Some might argue that (if my assumptions are correct) replacing so many parts means that the resulting individual can hardly be considered the same person. I suppose the argument might be made that if I have a 40 year old car and over its life I have replaced the engine, front and rear axles, suspension, interior and enough other components that it really is a misnomer to say I have the same car today that I had all these years.

But no matter, I think that we humans will one day soon have components implanted in our bodies that are intelligent and that are custom designed to respond to circumstances enough so that instead of wearing out over the years, they improve with time. We already have artificial joints and organs so this is not that far off. The big difference is that we will now move into supplementing or replacing our thinking and memory functions in addition to our motor skills, circulation or respiration.This may one day make humans and machines virtually indistinguishable. Or at least humans and synthetic organisms and/or biological parts.

Furthermore on boundary blurring . . .

It seems that boundaries are disappearing everywhere. There is a border between the U.S. and Canada, but aside from a different form of currency, you wouldn't know you're in another country were you to walk across it. I would say the same thing about the boundary between Texas and Mexico; there is very little noticeable difference on either side.

In media, the boundary between the program and the advertisement has been eroding for years. Product placement has been growing in Hollywood film and television programming so that it is not clearly defined which part of the broadcast is paid for by the sponsor and which is part of the creative work.

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