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. 

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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: 

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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.

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. I loved the part about the ego being an artificial vitural agent. Almost non local , I think the creation of a.I will lend an interesting angle to the argument of conscience. That being said if we are robots then other sentient beings would be as well and we still destory species , so whos to say what a.I will do to us.

  2. I guess the fact that I don’t know who your intended target audience is for this article makes it difficult for me to fully understand its informational purpose. I will say that to compare the human brain to a computer leaves open for discussion (more than likely an argument) that someone or something, ie: God, designed and manufactured the first prototype and wrote our original program. Making it possible for all life forms to replicate and upgrade without intervention as determined by its perceived needs.
    Also studies have shown that an electromagnetic pulse blast can virtually shut down all manmade “robots” and have little to no effect on the human brain. This is primarily because the biochemical electric impulses of the brain are extremely different than what we understand as electric current. And unlike electrical circuitry our system can be interrupted by EM without causing permanent damage.
    To intelligently argue against Elron Musk’s assertion that humanity can be destroyed with the creation of AI is not possible without knowing what he knows about AI. Elron has access to information coming from companies like DeepMind which allows him a significantly greater understanding of potential dangers than the average citizen.
    Having made these points I personally do not live in fear of AI. I do however live in awe of the yet untapped potential of the human mind.

    • I don’t see what quantum phyciss, which isn’t fantastically well understood in the first place, has to do with life and what happens in it.That’s like saying flowers are pretty, so if you want to look good, eat lots of roses. Thinking positive is a good idea, but it’s not going to change how someone responds to your email. What it’ll change is how you write it.

  3. Zack: What I find interesting about your question is: would the AI do anything to us that any malicious human couldn’t already do? Certainly it’s approach to destroying us might be different, but we already live in a world where anyone intelligent enough and determined enough to inflict massive suffering on humanity can do so. And if we create AI in our image, then won’t it simply have the same capriciousness? I suppose it comes down to how we program emotions.

    Bill: I wasn’t really considering God in my writing of this article. However, given my beliefs in evolution, I have to think that the “manufactured prototype” that you’re referring to was merely a by-product of natures attempt to use energy most efficiently (Something I link to here: http://www.curiousapes.com/physics-has-a-new-theory-of-life/ ). You pose a very interesting point though about the EMP effect on the human body. I imagine the trick there lies in the fact that the bodies functions are, by default, in a more chemical state than electrical. Therefore an EMP may, at best, trip up a moments firing of synapses, but no electrons are rewired or wiped clean, and thus the next surge of mental lightningstorms from the synapses, triggered by the chemicals that spark the 1s ( or don’t spark, leaving us with 0s) are unaffected. My argument, and the point of debate I wish to engage in (which thank you for contributing to) is simply that I think we can find great gains in the untapped potential of the human mind with technology, and I’d like to eradicate any paralysis that would keep us from exploring that avenue because of fears that I think may be emotional responses and not ones based in logic.

  4. I agree with you, I think that we perceive ourselves as something more than we actually are. However, as far as I know, people like Steven Hawking and Elon Musk are not trying to point out that we are getting less human. They are worried about AI because the most sophisticated AI is being developed for military. If we one day create a sentient AI, it will (if trend doesn’t change) be a robot in control of a massive weaponry of some kind, with warmongering the only thing it ever knew. That really is a problem.

  5. Steve

    1. I have to think that the “manufactured prototype” that you’re referring to was merely a by-product of natures attempt to use energy most efficiently.

    …….Your state belief would imply that there was a process of observation and evaluation if this process of deduction was a result of what you called “natures attempt” then nature, which no one has been able to prove at any scientific level even exist, is equivalent to what I call God.

    2. I think we can find great gains in the untapped potential of the human mind with technology.

    …I agree that there is the possibility for great changes to occur with a better understanding of human mind and its untapped potential. I however am more interested in tapping into this potential more naturally. I think that this would benefit everyone on the planet instead of just those few who have access to the electronics, drugs and or financial resources to acquire them.

    3. I’d like to eradicate any paralysis that would keep us from exploring that avenue because of fears that I think may be emotional responses and not ones based in logic.

    …I feel that Elon Musk , Stephen Hawkings and many other brilliant people are not prone to making emotional responses when logical conclusions are available. I have read much about the reasoning behind their cautions of AI and they do not say that we should not research this technology but instead we should proceed with caution. To me that is not paralysis nor will it keep people from exploring AI.

  6. 1. I have to think that the “manufactured prototype” that you’re referring to was merely a by-product of natures attempt to use energy most efficiently.
    Your state belief would imply that there was a process of observation and evaluation if this process of deduction was a result of what you called “natures attempt” then nature, which no one has been able to prove at any scientific level even exist, is equivalent to what I call God.
    2. I think we can find great gains in the untapped potential of the human mind with technology.
    I agree that there is the possibility for great changes to occur with a better understanding of human mind and its untapped potential. I however am more interested in tapping into this potential more naturally. I think that this would benefit everyone on the planet instead of just those few who have access to the electronics, drugs and or financial resources to acquire them.

    3. I’d like to eradicate any paralysis that would keep us from exploring that avenue because of fears that I think may be emotional responses and not ones based in logic.
    I feel that Elon Musk , Stephen Hawkings and many other brilliant people are not prone to making emotional responses when logical conclusions are available. I have read much about the reasoning behind their cautions of AI and they do not say that we should not research this technology but instead we should proceed with caution. To me that is not paralysis.

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