QUOTATION • batcave, bc • 2002.05.24
Source- "Two different types of cutting-edge technology are promising (or threatening, as the fearful might see it) to radically change human abilities and capacities -- and even our identities. One – already the subject of plenty of political maneuvering -- is the biotechnological revolution. The other, not yet of major political significance, is nanotechnology -- the ability to manipulate matter precisely on the atomic level.
The meeting featured a colorful debate on the relative importance of nanotech and biotech between Ray Kurzweil and Gregory Stock. Kurzweil is an inventor of note and the author of a number of books, including The Age of Spiritual Machines. Stock is the director of the program on medicine, technology, and society at UCLA, and author, most recently, of Redesigning Humans. Billed as the "Debate of the Decade: ‘BioFuture or MachineFuture?’" their discussion ranged from gee-whiz gadgetry to the question that bedevils most human beings: "What is the purpose of life?"
Stock began by challenging Kurzweil’s brisk timetable for the cyborgization of humanity -- which Kurzweil sees happening within a few decades. "I know some of you are eagerly anticipating transmogrification into some sort of cyborg chipheads," said Stock. "I know biological enhancement sounds so stodgy compared to some of the things talked about by Ray. But I don’t think that a migration to a non-organic substrate is going to happen any time soon."
Stock foresees instead that rapid advances in biological research will soon change how we manage our emotions, how we have children, and how long we live. New psychoactive drugs will enable us to short-circuit the emotional pathways that have evolved to reward behaviors that increase our chances of surviving to reproduce. These new side-effect-free drugs will allow us to feel really happy and fulfilled all the time. "Are you going to be able to resist that?" Stock wonders.
"I know that many of you are thinking, ‘why talk about biology when we’re going to achieve personal immortality by joining a superconsciousness that is nonbiological?’" noted Stock. He admitted that he found that vision "very seductive, but even with exponential advances in technology, we are still not going to become cyborgs." Why not?
By 2030, electronics will utilize molecule-size circuits and be organized in three dimensions instead of the two dimensions used today. Also by 2030, nano-electromechanical systems combining computational power and the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level will be common. The accelerating rate of progress will make human-level intelligence available in a $1,000 computer by 2029. Humans will incorporate nano-scale electromechanical devices in their bodies because "we are not going to be able to expand our biological abilities. There are profound limitations on biology, but nanotechnology is infinitely expandable." Kurzweil foresees the replacement of the nuclei of cells with nanotech structures that contain genomic information and can make the proper proteins. (Of course, cell nuclei are already, in a sense, bionanotech devices.)
Kurzweil also suggested that nanotechnology will succeed because it is not controversial. He pointed out that biotech is already politically and ethically controversial. Kurzweil asked, "We’re already putting computers in people’s brains and are there any people protesting against them? Is there any controversy over that?"
Stock wondered, "What is the purpose of life when nonbiological intelligences of the sort you’re talking about are more creative than we are?" Kurzweil answered, "As we become more intimate with our machines, biology does become trivial. The nonbiological part will accelerate and become a million trillion times more powerful than biology. Because it is the nature of the nonbiological intelligence to grow exponentially, it will eventually dominate. This whole period of transhumanism is just an interim period." Although humans as such may disappear in the nanotechnological future, that which will endure beyond our biology will be an expression of our civilization, Kurzweil asserted.
Stock noted, "There is this strange urge in us to transcend our biology. If you can’t buy Christianity, there is a strong desire to create those same visions of heaven and transcendence through our technologies." Kurzweil admitted that the technological future he projects has similarities to the Christian vision of heaven.