I watched a pre-screening of the movie “Transcendence” today.

Some cliches, like wildly flashing and scrolling consoles and computer-generated voices, as well as the somewhat rapid end aside, the movie was well-made and thought-provoking. Below are some thoughts that occurred to me during the movie, in stream-of-consciousness form (or should we say, Stream<Consciousness>?).

I’m pretty sure that technological, digital evolution is indeed the next step for humanity, if there is one. I’m not sure that I feel too bad about it. I do feel that in some way, machines with consciousness would be our children. Not biological, but most likely cultural, if you cast a wide net around culture. I’m not convinced that we can engineer something as advanced as what is necessary for artificial intelligence, but we can probably give it a good starting point for evolutionary tinkering, evolution@home-style.

Combining Moore’s Law with evolution would lead to incredibly rapid changes, possibly even for the better. “Transcendence”, as well as other stories, such as Asimov’s laws, wonder whether humans would accept a superior technological intellect, even if it is, on the whole, good-natured towards humanity. And is “the whole” of humanity really what matters to humans?

I doubt it, but a digital consciousness would not be human anymore. It wouldn’t be bound by the limitations that make us humans: Hunger, fatigue, death. And in a strange way, these limitations make us bigger, even though what we can achieve is so much smaller. If we had all the time we needed, perfect recollection of our past thoughts and actions, as well as access to all the information gathered by our digital peers, how large would our accomplishments have to be to feel worthy?

Nor would our digital successors have our pleasures. In fact, I wonder if a digital consciousness would not get bored. On the one hand, there is the vastness of the unknown-but-knowable; on the other, there is the enormity of timelessness.

Which would win?


About Mathias

Software development engineer. Principal developer of DrJava. Recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University.
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