Visions 21:  The Future of Technology
Time Magazine

Futurism and Prophecy...

Time's visionaries are obsessed with the blending of machine and man. It is not enough that machines are made to be like man, but that man will also become a machine and soon there will be no difference. If anything of these visions for a 21st Century has scientific merit I am still waiting to be convinced. What is it about this relentless extrapolation from today's fantasy to tomorrow's fantasy? It makes me sad to see that there are still people out there (at MIT) who actually believe that our brains function like computers. If someone could explain to me the difference between the brain's ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ I could at least accept the feasibility of this approach. The truth is that no one has experimental evidence for how consciousness works. I do not mean that there aren't any interesting ideas out there, but as far as I am concerned ‘Vision 21’ is good science fiction that mistakes neuronal network simulations for thinking and ‘wireless nanobot communication’ for intelligence. 

Here and there social implications of this wonderful wireless new world of ours are mentioned. Nothing new philosophically here, but nevertheless the emperor is dressed in new clothing. I would like to point out Rodney Brooks contribution. Brooks addresses two consequences we are facing in this new world of human robots and robotic humans. First to extend ‘inalienable rights’ to human like robots (they are designed to be human in all respects), second requiring them to ‘do our chores’ (they are machines that feel neither pain nor exhaustion like today's refrigerators). Can anyone not smell the rising specter of contradictions here? Is Brooks proposing a new form of slavery by categorizing robots into degrees of what is meant by human like? Don't we do this already with our fellow humans? Do I hear racism, discrimination? Will he pay these robots, feed them, give them a day in court? He certainly cannot have it both ways, if he realizes this or not. If we give rights to future hominid like machines, why not give them to today's animals and plants? We let them do our chores, feed them, eat them, buy and sell them, use them to further our happiness. And last but not least, they already are what no machine is yet; alive and wonderful beings made of nothing but nanotechnology. They just lack one thing  -  they aren't human.

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Copyright © 2000 Lukas K. Buehler