The Coming Robot Takeover!: NBC News Goes Sci-Fi on the Singularity
|by Vincent Board|
File under: Fake Tech08 May 2013 2:09 EDT
NBC News has come out with an article on the singularity that echoes Orson Welles' 1938 radio broadcast of the alien invasion drama The War of the Worlds, which many terrified people mistakenly took as real. While at least Mr. Welles had an aesthetic vision behind the manufacture of such hysteria, we can only imagine that desperation to scare up an audience motivated the network to run this kind of sensational nonsense:
Ahhhhhh! Everybody panic! This is real, science says so- because nothing builds scientific credibility like beginning an article with mentions of robot overlords and an image from Terminator. Writer Tia Ghose then goes on to quote 'futurist' Ray Kurzweil extolling the power of computers over that of humans:
This is a claim made in something like Scientology- it sounds plausible at first glance in a vague and impressive rhetorical way, but when you use that inferior old noggin on your shoulders you quickly realize it's just verbiage. As "smart" as humans? Smart how? Aren't they already smarter than humans in some respects- namely that function of computation a computer practices? There isn't a human on this planet that can perform millions of calculations in a second, like a computer can.
Conversely, we know that there are domains of intelligence that a computer cannot even approach but humans can master. This includes anything involving any kind of self-awareness, which can never be attained by inorganic matter that's been constructed rather than evolved as a unified organism. This whole 'living' phenomenon seems to escape these prophets of the singularity who supply living motivations to these machines without realizing the firm class difference between life, which has motivations to solve problems intelligently, and non-life, i.e. all computers, which are constructed rather than born, and so can never have interests of their own. No computer program ever thought creatively about how to debug itself, to use the nearest analogy to living health possible. It would have no reason, and no capability regardless of increased processing power. It doesn't care if it malfunctions. Understanding, synthesizing, summarizing, creating, fixing- these all imply a unified self-awareness, and computers are never going to get there until some Dr. Frankenstein brings them to life- but that's probably NBC's next story. In the meantime, Ms. Ghose is forced to quote a more restrained computer scientist and concede that humans still have some value:
But we're not interested in boring human realities. Forget that stuff. It's the computers that are going to save us! We're all going to live forever with machine parts and have magical computer economies!
This part tells you really everything you need to know about the cult of the singularity. Observe the social conditions in which it is growing- a crisis in every trusted institution of human affairs. Humans must be worthless compared to machines- look at the world we've created, in which we are already little better than them. Don't worry about the actual mess occuring in the economy, but take comfort in the expectation of a world in which heroic computers productively replicate disposable humans. We're the soulless, inorganic servants of state power, corporate corruption, and media trends, so who really still recognizes much of a distinctly human life? That implies concepts like self-creation, free-will, and contemplative (as opposed to artificial) intelligence. Unable or unwilling to rescue these virtues, we seek validation in wild fantasies of computer hegemony. Yet this is just an abdication of our humanity, a late Christian echo of the effacement of the ego in deference to an objectified pseudo "science", whom we imagine as having motivations in the form of anthropomorphized robots. The end of the article hints at the social reality underlying the scientific rationalizations:
We're just energy for the corporate-technological apparatus- at whose initiative? Certainly the computers didn't do it to us. Maybe what we need is less technology and more outdated introspection. Perhaps some therapy sessions with some empathetic robots can help us work through our 'human issues'.
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