Sometimes I am shadowboxing with a powerful opponent that I can't see, feel or understand. It is a mindless and undeterable attitude that reacts to me automatically based on a set of data I don't know and that has no interest in my unique perspective. It is the robot-like rigidity that confronts me, and sometimes I witness it in myself confronting others. Are we any better than programmed machines? What makes us human? Is Alphabet, Google's new holding company going to spell it out?
Humanity is in a technological identity crisis and Google's Ray Kurzweil is intent on designing our future. We are lining up passively as technology seems more and more to rule. Much of education today is limited to memorizing short-lived data for specialized jobs, not learning how to think. Data in a sales training becomes an automatic arsenal of rebuttals to gain a sale. Data gets pounded into the brain-box for a professional exam with no subtlety, just right and wrong answers. Worse, the data can be a store of prejudices assimilated from childhood and empowered by positions of authority. Worse still, data can be an evil agenda stamped into the brain that takes no prisoners, suffers no debate and powers through no matter what. In all these cases the possibility of mutual understanding is killed. "Both/And" thinking that resolves differences, or "I'm ok/You're ok" attitudes are not even up for consideration. Or are they? Can we humans become more human? On the other hand, will subtle thinking, like sleep, be built into the immortal android race being prepared by Google's head of research, Mr. Kurzweil?
"Humans will continue to be creative," is Kurzweil's simple answer to the question what will humans do when the androids take over! That is nice...but what about the androids? And are we losing this race? Creativity may be our most human characteristic; and yet so often that capacity to think outside the box is stuck. A report in the NY Times is a vivid example of stuck thinking. The article was a very human shout out to women who might otherwise have been railroaded into mastectomy. For those who have taken this step, their courage and will to survive should be honored. Here is a quote from the article of August 20, 2015:
"As many as 60,000 American women each year are told they have a very early stage of breast cancer -- Stage 0, as it is commonly known -- a possible precursor to what could be a deadly tumor. And almost every one of the women has either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy, and often a double mastectomy, removing a healthy breast as well."
The article went on to say that there seems to be no correlation between the "brutal" procedures and the subsequent wellness or illness of the women...no difference from any randomly selected group of women! And yet, year after year this has gone on. Were the medical professionals stuck in a program with no other options? Why did it take so long for creative thinking to see this approach was clearly inhuman?
Yet there are many creative humans who are natural contrarians and think outside the box. A nutritionist friend Mark Mead, MSc, described a woman named Phyllis who came to him years ago with a diagnosis of Stage 0 cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS), terrified because the doctors were advising a double mastectomy to be safe. He explained to her that the language made it sound like she had cancer but that in fact DCIS is not cancer (though it does heighten the risk of cancer). The probability is that the abnormal cells would regress and disappear with a combination of cancer-preventive diet and lifestyle changes, including steps to reduce her stress and get out of a toxic job situation. As with so many testing technologies, the apparatus is so good at detecting abnormalities which might become cancerous that the doctors feel compelled to prescribe an attack on potential cancer. By changing her diet and lifestyle, Phyllis has become happier, healthier and there has been no sign of cancer after seven years.
According to Ray Kurzweil, in an interview with CNBC,June 11, 2014 (http://www.nbcnews.com/video/cnbc/55385625/#55385625), humans in future may not need such creative solutions for illness; they will simply be able to "program themselves away from cancer." Not only that, in the same interview he claimed:
"My timeline is computers will be at human levels, such as you can have a human relationship with them, 15 years from now.
"When I say about human levels, I'm talking about emotional intelligence. The ability to tell a joke, to be funny, to be romantic, to be loving, to be sexy, that is the cutting edge of human intelligence, that is not a sideshow."
So with this week's announcement of a new holding company structure for all things Google called Alphabet, you can bet that Ray Kurzweil will be given lots of room to play and fulfill his dream of reversing aging and reproducing the dead in the form of androids who think they are who someone used to be. I am not betting on this providing "alpha" to Google's stock in the long run.
In the early documentary based on his book The Singularity, Kurzweil is walking through a warehouse full of memorabilia about his father and in a sort of touching scene he describes the fact that his research is focused on getting his father back in the form of a look-alike android that has all the memories and characteristics filed away in the storage facility. Is this man with his quirky personal mission really head of research for one of the largest tech companies in the world? Yes... and has he yet to be proven wrong since at 14 he demonstrated a self programmed piano playing classical music on the Ed Sullivan Show. No.
The deeper question is this: is human thinking already becoming robotic?