Sunday, April 2, 2017

Controlling Robots With Thoughts

            With the advances in modern technology, all kinds of new connections are being created between humans and robots.  The most ideal one, certainly by the standards of the transhumanists, is to become a cyborg, a human-robot.  But some recent work by researchers at M.I.T. and Boston University is creating a much more subtle bond between these two complex behavioral entities.  Using EEG’s, they are working on ways to have a human be able to correct the actions of a robot by simply thinking the correction that has to be done.  And we’re not even talking about fully conscious thinking, where a person would formally think out what has to be corrected through verbal commands.  We are talking about minimally aware pre-conscious thinking.  This allows for the creation of a seamless interaction between human and robot.  Or more precisely, the robot becomes an extension of the human.

            It would appear that eventually a person will be able to sit in his armchair and even if he is tired, he will be able to think about all the processes of housework and cooking and have those processes carried out by robots, without ever having to tire himself out by thinking about these matters very clearly.  The world of process can go on moving around him, while he just sits in his armchair in a daze.

            But there may be other results from this harnessing of human thought to technological activity.  What if people become impatient with the unpredictable flow of the human narrative.  In normal human narrative, there is frequently an interweaving among the different separate actions being carried out by physically adjacent people, and in this interaction with other people, each person is not only the creator of his own organic imprints, which he leaves on other people as well as on himself, but also the recipient of the organic imprints from the people with whom he is engaged and with whom he is interacting.  With brain-controlled robots, the flow of influence and control is one way.  The imprints a person leaves are clean, defined, discrete imprints, free from the admixture of the recipients imprints on the person while the person is leaving his imprints and thus free from the influence of a recipient’s imprints while the person is leaving his imprints.  Robot process becomes seen as a more effective activity than human narrative in achieving one’s immediate human goals and ultimately one’s long-term life purposes, because, as the agent, a person can control it in a cleaner manner.

            And yet one is not always going to have the opportunity to carry out his life activities free from the participation and even the interference of other human beings.  So some human beings may experience, in their impatience to exert a total control over their field of experience and ultimately their objective external world reality, a blurring in their minds between robots and other humans.  Techniques for brain control over robots may be extended to other humans, particularly with the insertion of little chips in the brains of these humans who can then be controlled like robots.  They can be manipulated to function sort of like servant cyborgs.

            Some people will say that these ideas represent fantastic speculation, but this column has often pointed out that flowing blendable continual mental stimulation cannot be easily contained and that powerful techniques developed in conjunction with modern technology can easily leach out of their original intended purposes into other areas where the techniques can produce great potential harm.  The tendency for modern technological techniques to morph, to mutate, to blur is always present.  As a result, it is very easy to imagine that techniques developed to be used in connection to robots can easily blur into use with the main complex behavioral entity competing with robots – namely human beings.  And the experience of such total control over these organic complex behavioral entities can give humans a feeling of being all powerful like God, and therefore immortal and not subject to the organic perishability to which all human beings, at least at present, must eventually succumb. 

            There is still another danger that we have to worry about as human beings in conjunction with the development of powers in the human brain to directly control robots.  As robots evolve and develop more and more complex internal workings to be able to handle more and more diverse and intricate processes, it might become possible for the robot equivalent of a brain to send back code to human brains to carry out processes or parts of processes in the service of the purposes for which the robot has been programmed.  In other words, the human brain could be leaving itself vulnerable to having roles reversed in relation to the robot or robots that supposedly is or are serving it.  It wouldn’t necessarily require a dominating robot sense of self for this role reversal to occur.  It would simply require that the robot be of sufficient complexity as a behavioral entity to be able to continue with whatever complex activities for which it has been programmed, and to enlist the support of the human to carry out its preprogrammed goals through the pathways that have been established to connect the robot and the human brain.

            Does this also sound fantastic?  There is the notion of the technological singularity that there will come a point soon where technology, evolving faster and faster, will provide the foundation for creating machines that are smarter than humans.  If and when the singularity occurs, it would not be too difficult to imagine opportunities for the master-servant relationship between human and robot to be reversed.  Particularly given the fact that pathways of control between human and robot already exist.  Being aware of this risk, as I assume all scientists today are, why are some of them playing with fire by setting up these pathways between humans and robots?  Are they purposely trying to create the conditions for the enslavement of the human race?

(c) 2017 Laurence Mesirow

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