Reflection by KATHY B.
Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:
Throughout this talk, Ray Kurzweil explains exponential growth and how it relates to various things in the world such as technology, life expectancy, and medicine. He believes that all of these things, while incredibly slow-growing for a long time, at some point have a dramatic increase in acceleration and shortening of the time it takes for great advancement. I believe his point was proven in my personal reactions and thoughts throughout his entire talk-for the first fifteen minutes or so, I quite honestly could not follow anything he was talking about nor figure out where he could possibly be going, but by the end of it I found myself completely terrified for the future of humankind.
Why the sudden transformation?
Towards the end of his talk, Kurzweil begins discussing phenomenal, seemingly futuristic new technologies that, according to him and following the pattern of exponential growth, will become a reality in a mere decade or two. These nanotechnologies involve incredible things such as creating technological red blood cells that, when replacing natural human red blood cells, can for all intensive purposes create the ultimate, real-live superhuman. Kurzweil claims that with these, humans will have unheard of capabilities, such as sprinting at Olympic speed for a straight fifteen minutes without tiring or staying underwater without breathing for four entire hours. He claims that the human brain will be entirely reverse-engineered by the 2020’s, and that it will then be able to be modified to be exponentially more powerful than the natural human brain.
Well this sounds truly amazing; why am I so terrified?
My thoughts resemble those of many of the people who commented on the talk, whose views I read following watching the video. While Kurzweil makes a convincing argument that many things in life truly do grow exponentially, if these technologies were ever to be commonly implemented in society, as he plans to have happen in not-so-distant years, an ever important question must be asked: Does human morality grow at the same rate as this new technology? My opinion is that it does not.
The technology that Kurzweil speaks of involves it being implemented inside the human body to modify or even replace the natural features. While it sounds amazing and exciting that there may truly be a possibility of “superhumans” and “superheroes” (and conversely “supervillains”…), we must not neglect the terrible consequences. Technology is not perfect. It malfunctions. It shuts down. It stops responding. If we have machines operating inside our bodies to do natural bodily functions, what happens when this occurs? Do we die? Do we shut down? Do we short-circuit?
Additionally, technology does not normally run by itself; there are tech people that make it work and do the troubleshooting. So would there need to be people to make us work? Would there be, essentially, people that can control what those machines in our bodies do and therefore what we do, with us powerless to stop them? If morality does not grow exponentially to match the technology, which I can hardly believe it does, who’s to stop anyone or everyone from trying to play God? And, if everyone has a technologically “modified” brain, would we even have morals anymore? Machines are not moral, and that is exactly what we would be-machines. We would lose our humanity. We would eventually become emotionless robots, moving about the planet taking orders from some sort of “Big Brother”-like figure.
While I acknowledge the fact that the beneficial possibilities of this new technology are apparent and great, I also believe that the possible consequences greatly outweigh any good it could do. If this ever becomes a general part of everyday life, I do not think it would be too overly dramatic to assert that it could very well prove to be the beginning of the end for humanity as we know it.