With today’s post I’m going to explore a common issue in the realm of futurist thought, and one that has been regularly examined in science-fiction literature and film over the past fifty years or so: sentient androids. Are they possible? What would it mean if they were? And how is it going to impact our own sense of identity? More acutely, I’m also going to ask whether or not a belief in metaphysical reality will impact our reaction to such advancement.
To begin with let us start with a central hypothesis – that the creation of technology capable of perfectly mimicking the activity of the human brain will become possible at some point in the future.
Many argue that this point might be a lot closer than we realise; whilst there are others who believe the true complexity of our consciousness is yet to be unveiled, let alone recreated. Regardless of the timeframe, most empirical scientists seem to believe that it is only a matter of when, not if, such an advancement will be made.
Whether or not such an achievement is actually possible is outside of the remit of this post, what I’m interested in is what happens if it is possible? It’s something that despite the many issues and problems raised throughout the vast library of science-fiction I don’t think we are yet acutely aware of the consequences – and there is mainly one consequence involved that I think needs extra attention. What happens when the human race is made obsolete?
Consider this: with the creation of a purely technological, as opposed to biological, form of human consciousness we might fall from the top of the pecking order. If you follow a purely secular, and atheistic, point of view then what argument can be given against the idea that our biological forms are no longer relevant? I would like to hear your thoughts on this…
Even for those of a more religious or spiritual persuasion, there will be an incredible amount of complexity and confusion involved in figuring out at what point an activity or sensation becomes spiritual or metaphysical as opposed to purely biologically deterministic (or maybe spirituality is just biological). But even if such experiments with sentient technology help prove this core human question one way or the other, our own personal beliefs will shape and dictate just what we do with the information.
Despite what many might initially think; I would argue that people who harbour a world-view that includes a metaphysical reality will be much more equipped to cope with sentient androids than those who do not. Actually, let me clarify that statement: metaphysical belief will allow for a stronger continuation of human identity and value once biology has been superseded.
If one holds a purely biological understanding of human consciousness and our role in the physical universe then it becomes difficult to deal with sentient technology that can better human activity. Why become a mathematician or physicist when an android can work infinitely more efficiently than you can? Why become a chef if a chemically perfect dish can be created every time, but just not by you? Why strive for excellence in any field for that matter?
Human identity has become so individualistic over the last century that for many of us our entire sense of self-satisfaction comes from our ability to excel and stand out from the crowd…so what happens when we become the lowest common denominator and the only sentient forms that can excel are those which are synthetic?
From a purely physical perspective, it would surely mean that we would reach a point where there is little purpose in continuing to be solely biological beings. Everything that makes us human, in an atheistic world-view, could be replicated and improved upon: a ‘Human 2.0’ would surely emerge, and why would you want to be left with the old model? Upload your consciousness (or, more likely, duplicate it) and move forwards into the immortal future as a synthetic human – is there an atheistic argument against such a conclusion (presuming, of course, that the replication of sentience was perfect)?
Well, there is one that immediately comes to mind – and that is a love of human essence, a kind of nationalistic (speciestic?) pride in our biological and genetic heritage. Fall back on a sense that we can love what it is to be biological, feel an inherent connection to it without the need for any other qualifying criteria. But then, does this not just become a form of metaphysical religious belief, that there is something inherently better about biology than technology?
In the end, we have a conundrum to deal with: will synthetic humans lead to the extinction of the biological human species? I’m not talking about Terminator-style Armageddon here, but merely through the process of making us obsolete in every activity that we pursue. For the pragmatist, what purpose would there be in remaining biological? Particularly if you could duplicate your consciousness and still retain a sense of personal identity?
Now, don’t get me wrong and presume that I am merely picking on atheists here – although I do like the idea of facetiously throwing out the controversial question: will atheism lead to the extinction of the human race? Even though I personally hold deeply metaphysical beliefs I actually do not see any inherent conflict between them and a lack of biological form for our consciousness – in fact, my own personal beliefs label technology as natural and not inherently opposed to biology in a dualistic sense. I still have my questions about whether or not purely synthetic consciousness will be able to achieve the same kinds of spiritual states that we are capable of; but I’m very excited to see the answer, without desire for any particular result over another.
I’m not even really being as opinionated in this piece as I often am, and that is mostly because these are questions that I don’t yet feel fully equipped to answer. So I thought I would share them with you all to see how you would respond, and please do understand that I’m not entirely decided as to my own position yet and am being more than a bit facetious with my line of antagonistic questioning.
So, who would have a harder time dealing with the identity crisis that might result from synthetic androids: atheists or theists? Physical empiricists or metaphysical mystics? Could a belief in a metaphysical reality help formulate a greater sense of identity when we are no longer the dominant life-form? Is it possible for an atheist to choose biology over technology without forming metaphysical beliefs? Could atheism lead to the extinction of the human race as a biological entity in this manner? Do you now think I’m just a Bible-bashing evangelical for even asking the question?