g The Film Panel Notetaker: What is "2B" in the future?

Monday, October 05, 2009

What is "2B" in the future?

This may be one of the most unique film panels assembled in recent history, but how will it measure up to the future? Well, that was sort of the question debated in this very interesting and informative discussion. In conjunction with the World Premiere of Richard Kroehling’s science fiction feature film 2B at the Woodstock Film Festival (that played later on that evening where Kroehling and actor Kevin Corrigan appeared for a post-screening Q&A), leading experts, authors, and scholars in the fields of technology and science weighed in on the probability or lack thereof of the existence of “transhumanism” (virtual eternal life) in the future.

2B Summary:
New York, soon. Technology’s exponential growth is fast and furious. Human life is in the process of being transformed. Mankind stands on the verge of re-engineering its biology—merging with the incredibly intelligent machines it has created. Mia 2.0 (Jane Kim), the world’s first ‘Transbeman’ and her inventor, the eccentric Dr. Tom Mortlake (James Remar), conduct a bold political experiment designed to prove that human reliance on the fragile flesh body is over and ‘eternal life’ is at hand. [The film also stars Kevin Corrigan (Harmony and Me) as the unauthorized biographer of Mortlake and Florencia Lozano (One Life to Live) as the detective trying to capture Mia 2.0.]

Moderator: James J. Hughes, Ph.D. Associate Director of Institutional Research and Planning at Trinity College in Hartford

Martine Rothblatt – Ph.D, MBA, lawyer, author and entrepreneur.

Ray Kurzweil – One of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers and futurists, with a twenty-year track record of accurate predictions.

Wendell Wallach – Lecturer and consultant at Yale University's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.

Below is a summary of the highlights of this discussion.

Hughes asked Rothblatt to talk about the notion of cyber consciousness, to which she replied that for her, it had its roots with both Hughes and Kurzweil. In 2001, she received a copy of Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines. It hadn’t occurred to her why the word “spiritual” could be juxtaposed next to the word “machines,” but she became convinced after reading his book that machines could and would become spiritual. At that point, she decided that there was a secular vision of utopia that to her was tangible and realistic. A few years later, she came across the World Transhumanist Association, which is dedicated to building a popular social movement. She said that cyber consciousness in a nutshell is the consciousness that everyone feels in their minds, but it’s based in software and computer circuitry. Reflecting on the idea of putting together facts or pieces of our lives in such a search engine approach, Rothblatt said if one were to create a copy of one’s consciousness, it’s possible to do that by having in a software form, a robust inventory of your most important memories and feelings. She believes we’re approximately 10-30 years aware from developing what she calls MindWare, a software that will think the same way a human being thinks.

Hughes, a Buddhist, said that in Buddhism there is a notion of self, which resonates in an aspect of this discussion. Hughes went onto ask Kurzweil about this idea of singularity. But first Kurzweil reminisced about his days at MIT when everyone had to share one computer, which have vastly improved since then. He said this is not an episodic phenomena, and actually very predictable. The world changes quickly, and we can anticipate where it’s going. The underlying properties of information technology has predictable trajectories, but some people are startled by his visions and projections of the future, one of which he said is the most important revolution that is coming, that being artificial intelligence. He said it’s not going to be an alien invasion of intelligent beings to compete with, but will extend who we are. There are cyborgs walking around today with computers in their brains, such as Parkinson’s patients. This technology will be a billion times more powerful in 25 years. Kurzweil said that we are a pattern of information in our brains, but it’s not being backed up. People might question about putting a computer inside of our brains, would that be really a part of ourselves? Some Parkinson’s patients with computers in their brains now feel that it has become a part of them. He reminded us that these developments are at an early stage, and they’re going to develop at an exponential pace, and so he feels by 2029, a computer will match human intelligence.

But what of the skeptics? Hughes asked Wallach, whom he called a “friendly” skeptic of the timeline, to share his point of view. Wallach said he’s skeptical because no one has convinced him yet what the progression will be. He’s also confused how the term “singularity” is used. He said there’s no question that a computer can do all kinds of things he cannot do. But looking at other aspects of intelligence, the surface hasn’t even been scraped. Things like consciousness or emotion that are important to human intelligence, it’s not clear that there with the kinds of technologies being developed. When he talks about his skepticism, he talks about it in three different terms: complexity, thresholds and ethical challenges. The complexities are being downplayed a little bit, creating a tight deadline. There may be some wishful thinking and pitfalls. His main concern is how we’re going to navigate these technologies. There are also an enumerable amount of technological thresholds that need to be crossed. And with the societal and ethological challenges, he said science doesn’t develop on its own. He thinks that we still have some ability to make concrete decisions about which pathways are dangerous to go down. Another issue encountered is that some technologies today aren’t getting funded. They are plausible, but unless there are resources being putting into them, they won’t pass quickly.

Speaking of funding, Hughes moved on from the fundamentals previously discussed to the plot of 2B, a science fiction film that deals with the legal status of an electronic version of our personality with a protagonist who is really rich. Hughes asked, what do we need to do to prepare for the prospect over this conflict of inequality? Rothblatt said that the point of view that would be taken by virtually everybody in society is that once they are persuaded that cyber conscious beings value their life, that life will be respected. The value of a life is the value shown by that life. Rothblatt also thinks that Kurzweil has demonstrated that the great thing about technological advances is that there is a corresponding democratization of the access to it, alluding to the rise in popularity and use of cell phones. Kurzweil added that 20 years ago, it was wealthy, rich guys who could only afford to have a cell phone. He said there is a 50% deflation rate in information technology. These technologies start out unaffordable, but they don’t work very well.

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