The Human Race: From white collar to shock collar

The puppet Pinocchio and the android Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” shared a common dream: they wanted to be human.

I can understand why a wooden construct with a predilection for elongating his proboscis might want to become flesh and blood. But why would a formidable artificial being like Data want to clutter his positronic brain with feelings and emotions?

In many ways, I think the oft-stated desire of a robot becoming a human is just a literary trope. It’s a way for writers to assuage readers’ concerns about the perceived advantages of the man-made creations. The assumption seems to be that as long as humans have something that robots can never have, we will remain superior to them. But I think the race to be human will never get started.

Many people worry that robots will take over our society. We’ve already seen blue-collar jobs disappear through automation. Now, white-collar jobs are in jeopardy due to increasingly powerful software programs. Are we doomed to an end game of shock collars for humans dominated by dictatorial machines? I don’t think so.

Tilley to speak on artificial intelligence

If thinking machines do evolve from the marriage of tomorrow’s robots and artificial intelligence, it would be arrogant to assume they would become just like us. For example, they may view humans very differently from how we view ourselves. Instead of wanting to rule us, they may choose to ignore us. Their path may lie along a completely different trajectory of growth – one that would completely obviate the need to become human at all.

I think it’s more likely that humans will become more robotic in the coming years. Consider all the medical advances we already enjoy, such as hip and knee replacements and pacemaker implants. New developments in bioengineering may make artificial organs possible in the near future. Neural implants may augment our knowledge to give us the appearance of being more intelligent — like having Google hard-wired into our thought processes and always available when we need it.

As I age, I often think of the advantages of transhumanism. If we could enhance our intellectual or physical abilities, why not do so? Faulty body parts could be swapped out as needed — no more daily medications for aches and pains. If there were a reliable synthetic pancreas that produced insulin available today, I’d schedule the surgery tomorrow.

Even Isaac Asimov’s long-lived human form robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, needed to replace his components over time. Ironically, as Olivaw became more sophisticated, he ultimately had to replace his mechanical brain with a biological one. Maybe humans will win the race after all.

Scott Tilley is a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. Contact him at TechnologyToday@srtilley.com

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