Jewish World Review August 20, 2001 / 1 Elul, 5761

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

I robot, you Jane -- A book by Ray Kurzwell, THE AGE OF SPIRITUAL MACHINES: WHEN COMPUTERS EXCEED HUMAN INTELLIGENCE, makes the case that human beings will soon abandon the meat bags that presently house their souls and minds, and become some kind of cyborg-robot. This will occur when computers become more intelligent than we are; at that point, out of a kind of computer envy, we will become computers ourselves.

He writes, "We will be able to reconstruct any or all of our bodily organs and systems, and do so at the cellular level.... We will then be able to grow stronger, more capable organs by redesigning the cells that constitute them and building with far more versatile and durable materials."

In short, he says, "We will be software, not hardware... There will not be any difference between us and robots."

I've read a lot of this sort of thing over the past few years, in the pages of Wired and Mondo. The idea that we're going to leave our bodies behind for new rugged ABS plastic versions with state-of-the art sensors to make sex bigger and better is always greeted seriously and with an odd gung-ho kind of enthusiasm.

I'll say it here. This is just silly. First of all, the idea that computer consciousness is "intelligent" in the human sense is just ridiculous. Sure Deep Blue gave Gary Kasparov a run for his money, but does Deep Blue even know what chess is? Or is it just manipulating the symbols that its programmers dumped into it?

And why are we so eager to want to abandon our smelly little vessels? We can always take a shower. I'd prefer a shower to cleaning myself twice weekly with a damp static-free cloth. If I had any kind of system breakdown, I couldn't visit a doctor. I'd have to call tech support. And how would I be powered? By battery?

Dentists would go out of business. I would imagine that travel agencies, motion picture industries, and television would all fall by the wayside as well. After all, all pleasures would be virtual. We'd spend our entire lives (which could be infinite) standing in one spot gawking at our inner monitors with our mouths half-open.

I suppose to some people this beats standing in line for two hours for the new Star Wars movie, or walking away from Starbucks with a mocha, when you ordered a double latte. In this new virtual world, everything will be just as we want it!

Well, my perfect world would be cyborg-free, I can tell you that. Sure, I could do without this whole getting older business, but if the alternative is being some dreamy drooling immortal robot, I'd rather have the wrinkles and bad feet.

JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


08/15/01: A wild and crazy world!
08/10/01: When the future was "as real as a dime"
08/08/01: Garage Dearth!
08/06/01: That Big Clock
08/02/01: Stop the pop!
07/31/01: Catchphrase history of the world
07/26/01: The Bride of Science
07/23/01: That java jive
07/17/01: Homogenized hegemony
07/13/01: Applying Newton's First Law of Physics to textbooks
07/10/01: The dumb and the dead

© 2001, Ian Shoales