Don’t Worry. . . You’re Already A Robot, Part 1: Perceiving Self
In the past year alone, many of our greatest thinkers and innovators ( everyone from Elon Musk to Stephen Hawkings) have declared loudly their fears of AI, warning humanity that we may one day be destroyed by machines of our own creation. This, I believe, is a fallacy, one that I will be exploring throughout this ongoing series. But still, these renowned voices carry great influence and their words of warning have only added to and exacerbated a trending zeitgeist that fears “machines”.
But why? What’s the root of this fear? Well, as more and more of our daily lives move into the digital realm, the main argument that seems to be coming from those who embody this stance is that: we are losing our humanity–the emotions, thoughts, and flesh bodies–that make us who we are.
But I’m here to tell you that’s an erroneous fear, because, well… you’re already a robot.
Don’t believe me? Well, I ask that you suspend your disbelief for just a moment and bear with me while we dig deeper.
First, let’s get in our minds the definition of a Robot:
A Robot is a mechanical or virtual artificial agent, usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by a computer program or electronic circuitry.
Now let me explain why that’s a definition that could already be applied to humans, and why there’s no reason we have to “lose our humanity” in the process of transforming into something we already are.
You see, everything in your reality, every thought you’ve ever had, everything you’ve ever felt or perceived–it’s all generated by your brain. More specifically, by the firing of synapses, by an electric signal carried between neurons. At any given moment amongst the sea of synapses that is your brain, some regions are alive with lightning, and some are not. For every moment, let’s denote the synapses that are firing inside your mind as a 1, and those that are not as a 0. (Sounds like electronic circuitry…)
I could stop here to be honest, because we’ve already reduced our brain, our decision-maker, down into the same basic operating process as a machine, which is the usage of…
…1s and 0s, my friends. It’s all ones and zeros. Hard drives are simply electronic disks broken up into a massive amount of fragments based on memory size ( a terabyte hard drive would have a trillion fragments, a gigabyte memory system would have a billion). And each one of these fragments can either have an electrical charge or not, a 1 or 0– just like each synapse in your brain.
Every time a machine performs a function, whether it’s an industrial robot cutting metal, your phone turning on, or when a movie displays on a screen, you’re simply seeing these 1s and 0s paired together, coalescing from this binary primordial-soup of electronic memory into the function and form of your experience. Just like every movement you make is an electrical signal (a 1) sent through nerves to contract muscles (sounds like en electro-mechanical process). Just like everything you perceive is the synapses of your brain firing, a sea of 1s and 0s coalescing through cortexes, through memories, filtering through ego, to deliver sight and thought, to show you symbols, to let you attach language to those symbols, defining them with the memories of your experience with those symbols.
And thus you have the matrix of self:
These 1’s and 0’s are the snapshot of your mind. They are the shapers of your mind over the course of your lifetime, wiring your brain together when two synapses frequently share a spark, pulling apart when they don’t, creating and destroying connections between the fragments of your own personal hard drive. Each charge of electricity or lack thereof alters the form of your brain. And the distance and strength of these connections between neurons and their synapses can play a significant role in how easily you can recall a memory ( or a fact ), which is likely why study heightens recall: you’re firing the synapses that correlate with the memory sector of that study, and thus, with a mind sharpened by critical thought overtime, you can become an expert at a subject matter.
These memories define you by shaping your personality, motivating you to make or avoid actions based on your memories of their results, by whether they were met with laughter and reward, or perhaps by cold shoulders or anger. By whether your understanding of a symbol and its functions was met with success or failure of your desired outcome. Regardless, it is all these memories combined that create the individual filter of our shared reality that we call ego. (Sounds like a computer program, or operating system.)
And that ego, that personality, isn’t really a tangible thing, it is the combination of things. It is a projection of self that lives inside your brain like an ethereal ghost that guides you. (Sounds like an artificial virtual agent.)
So as you can see, all those nerves and synapses that make up your thoughts and that control your body are the result of biological electronic circuitry. No less natural than a lightning storm, but still no more complex than the same 1s and 0s that power your phone. So will we really be losing anything—other than pain, sickness, and death–if we just replace nerves with conduit and brains with hard drives? It doesn’t appear so, since the same functions will happen either way.