Inventions at Universities from Three Perspectives
Moore's Law has not only held true over the years, it has been even been surpassed in recent years. This paper provides an analysis of two inventions developed at New York University (NYU), a GRIN trend-Genomics, Robotics, Informational Technology, Nanotechnology) that applies Garreau's Radical Evolution's ideas followed by a synopsis of Garreau's main ideas, and the assumptions behind them. An examination concerning how these main ideas and assumptions apply to the inventions is followed by an evaluation of the potential of these inventions in the context of Kurzweil's "heaven," Joy's "hell" and Lanier's "prevail" scenarios. Finally, a summary of the research and important findings concerning these trends and inventions are provided in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Two Inventions Developed at Universities
Invention No. 1. University of Tsukuba, Japan. Scientists at this university have invented a partial-body robotic exoskeleton that is capable of allowing even polio victims to walk again. The exoskeleton is powered by mechno-servers that amplify the wearer's existing physical abilities and provide ways to otherwise control the exoskeleton appendages in case of disabilities (Chiu, 2009).
Invention No. 2. University of Twente, the Netherlands. A team of researchers at this Dutch university invented a lower-body exoskeleton that can help paraplegics walk, and allows 8 degrees of freedom in movement. Pictured in Figure 1 below, this invention was commercially available in mid-2012 (Top ten robotic exoskeletons, 2013).
Figure 1. Robotic exoskeleton invented at University of Twente, the Netherlands
Garreau's Radical Evolution: Main Ideas and Assumptions
Main Ideas. The first main idea propounded by Garreau is the people today live during a period in history wherein it has become possible to extent human life indefinitely. According to Garreau (2006b), "We are at a turning point in history. For the first time, our technologies are not so much aimed outward at modifying our environment" (p. 32). Indeed, technologies are not only increasingly being aimed at modifying the internal environment as well by facilitating the human-computer interface. In this regard, Garreau emphasizes that, "Increasingly, [technologies] are aimed inward -- at modifying our minds, memories, metabolisms, personalities, and progeny" (p. 32). A reasonable scenario from this perspective would be an extension of human lifespan within somewhat-reasonable limits, perhaps extending as long as 200 years but no more.
The second main idea advanced by Garreau concerns the implications of these trends on humanity. A full century of science fiction wherein humans become robot-like in appearance through technological innovations are becoming a reality today, and these trends have caused many observers to ask what the implications are for the human species. For instance, the introduction of the exoskeletons described above and others to the human race's repertoire of environmental adaptation tools is consistent with these trends, but the implications of these trends remains unclear. As Garreau points out, "If we can do that -- not in some distant science-fiction future but in the next five, 10, 15 years -- then are we not talking about altering what it means to be human?" (2006a, p. 33).
A final idea advanced by Garreau is that technological innovation will outpace the Grim Reaper in the near future. As noted in the introduction, Moore's Law has held true since Moore first propounded it. Moore's Law may need to be reconceptualized since its thesis that computer processing speeds double approximately every 18 months has been reduced to just a few months -- and many experts predict that these rates will continue to accelerate in the future. According to Younger (2006), "In the last decade, we have become the first species to start directly altering and enhancing our intellectual and physical gifts. The amazing capabilities of our genetic, robotic, information, and nano processes -- call them the GRIN technologies -- are doubling every few months" (p. 33).
According to Garreau, the logical extension of these trends suggest that the day may come, and it may be sooner than many people think, when the cyber-mechanical-exoskeleton human interface becomes sufficiently sophisticated to pass the Turin test. In this regard, Garreau emphasizes that, "It may not be long before you run into a young lady so seriously modified that you might ask whether she represents a transcendence comparable to the difference between Neanderthals and today's humans" ((2006b, p. 34). Just how much "human" can be replaced before people are no longer humans? Certainly, it is reasonable to suggest that these changes in physicality will have some effect on individual psyche, but when does the spark of humanity depart?
After the kidneys, spleen, heart, lungs, liver and other vital organs have been replaced? Or after the legs, torso and arms have been replaced with a full-body exoskeleton? How about the brain? Is that it? Is that what keeps people "human"? Some theorists such as Garreau argue that it will even be possible to transfer the entire store of human memory and emotions into these "cybermechanopeople" so that the essence of individuals can live on long after their physical "deaths." As Garreau emphasizes, "She might have a significantly transformed mind, memory, metabolism, and personality. You'd be curious whether this had changed her immortal soul" (2006a, p. 34). This final scenario is a chilling prospect in many ways, but it may not be fully achievable as noted below.
Assumptions. One of the fundamental assumptions of Garreau's thesis is that technology will outpace human frailties but other authorities argue that the biology and physics involved may reach their logical limits long before computer processing speeds reach theirs. As Braun (2011) points out, though, "In the year 2011, we do not possess the medical knowledge or the technological ability to radically extend the lifespan of a human" (p. 48). Indeed, Braun suggests that it may not really be possible to extend the human lifespan beyond the century mark by any measurable degree: "We have a much greater understanding of human biology, genetics, and the importance of nutrition than previous generations, but nothing proven to help someone live beyond the 122-year record lifespan" (2011, p. 48).
Evaluation of the Potential of These Inventions from Three Scenarios
Kurzweil's "heaven." Is it possible to marry man and machine and still remain human enough to need religion? In this regard, Kurzweil's conceptualization of "heaven" suggests that it may be possible, in the foreseeable future, to realize the man-machine cyborgs that have only been the stuff of science fiction to date. According to Braun (2010), "Given the multitude of scientific endeavors to extend human longevity it is very plausible that one or several of them will be successful. Further, this is a worthy human pursuit, particularly to those unsatisfied by religious offers of eternal life" (p. 48). To the extent that the technological capabilities exists to meld mind, body and machine will likely be the extent to which human reliance on mainstream religion is diminished. In sum, from Kurzweil's perspective, the prospect and realization of immortality through the marriage of technologies such as the exoskeletons described above will mean that mere humans will become superhumans that do not need God anymore and hyper-secular humanism will become the guiding philosophy of the future. Some religious theorists, though, argue that simply because people live longer (perhaps very much longer) in the future does not necessarily translate into a diminution of faith, but rather provides just that much longer to understand the relationship between the Almighty and his creations. For instance, Braun (2011) asks, "Should Kurzweil's estimation of the mortality line be taken seriously or should it be judged alongside history's many failed apocalyptic pronouncements?" (p. 48). Just as the debate over stem cell research delays major potential advances in medical technology, so too do fears of what immortality might mean for Homo sapiens in the future. In this regard, Braun (2011) advises that, "A discussion about the prospects of science developing ways for humans to transcend mortality should break down into two basic questions: could we and should we?" (p. 48).
Because Moore's Law is being outpaced, Braun (2011) argues that advances in technology will outpace human mortality to the extent that extended longevity can be achieved, and perhaps extend indefinitely. As Braun puts it, "In short, medical therapies will repair the biological damage caused by aging faster than we age" (p. 48). ritics have argued that Kurzweil's models mistakenly extend exponential growth, in several industries, too deeply into the future to be considered reliable. For example, even though Moore's Law has accurately described the exponential growth in computer processing power since 1965, the laws of physics will prevent indefinite miniaturization of computing power. Therefore, despite the introduction of inventions such as the exoskeletons described above, Kurzweil's "heaven" may remain the stuff of science fiction.
Joy's "hell." From Joy's perspective, the only reasonable outcome of current trends in technology advances such as the exoskeletons described above is the loss of humanity and the connection between humankind and its creator that has sustained the human species for millennia. To the extent that humankind replaces its humanity with…