That we are equipped with a most wonderful array of gifts toÂ distinguish us from the rest of the animal kingdom is not all thatÂ debatable. What is, is whether we are really that special, that different, from that which arises next.
I am an optimist. By that, I mean that I believe that everything arises for a reason, that the world, our experience of it, unfolds in the most perfect, most exquisite way possible. We might believe we can imagine a better version of reality, but there is no way to prove that this imagined reality would actually functionÂ any better than our current reality once theÂ myriad of unforeseen consequences in its unfolding is taken into account.
This perspectiveÂ saves me anxiety over the road not taken, giving me peace in having not taken that job or that train. What it does not do, however, is prevent me from holding and working towards a particular vision for the future.
Our Relationship with Technology
OurÂ relationship withÂ technology is changing. What this relationship will ultimately look like is anyone’s guess, but IÂ think back to growing up in the seventies, and just how little technology seemed to touchÂ my daily life back then. Sure, I watched a lot of Gilligan’s Island on TV and listened to a lot of music on the radio, but my sonsâ€™ relationships with technology haveÂ a moreÂ immersive quality to them today. Our newÂ computing medium surrounds and informs theirÂ reality, as it does my own now, and it is a reality that feels quite different from what I knew as a kid.
When IÂ explore questions of technology and artificial intelligence, in particular, I find myself leaning heavily onÂ myÂ intellect. But consideringÂ the impact on my boysÂ helps meÂ explore these issues from another place. I love my boys. I would sacrifice my life for them. And yet, like so many other parents, IÂ am complicitÂ in theirÂ plugging in and tuning out to the people, places, the sheer physicality, that surrounds them. I have no idea whatÂ this is really doing to them; it’s all so new, so different. I wonder too how our increasingly technology-mediated reality will affect their kids. How will realityÂ feel toÂ them? Will they experience their humanity as I do today?
Beautiful Vessels, Soulful Machines
At its root, the question that haunts me is whether technology will ever truly be capable of creating a vessel beautiful enough to carry the human soul.Â You may bridle at my use of that term, but after pulling back from an initial attempt, I feel I can no longer ignore the soul in the context of our organizations, technology and other socialÂ systems.
IÂ have littleÂ interest in arguing over specific religious or spiritual interpretations of what this special interior aspect of usÂ actuallyÂ is, and am willing to concedeÂ that it could be aÂ figment of our imagination.
What I do haveÂ little patience for, however, is theÂ modern conceit that our ancient civilizations were somehow stupid or ignorant for believing in theÂ soul. So many of them did, of course, believe in anÂ interior experience that was something other thanÂ the materialist viewÂ of modern science. If ourÂ senses do determine the reality we experience, then how do we know, trulyÂ know,Â that what our science-mediated senses nowÂ measure is the absolute truth and not simply the vessels for carrying this interiority?
As we race toÂ implement artificial intelligenceÂ and reverseÂ engineer the human mind, there are many already identified risks, andÂ I would likeÂ to suggest another, even if it may make some of usÂ uncomfortable.Â What if there actually is something like a human soul, and we are madly dashing to replicate the experience ofÂ consciousness without includingÂ a critical, even fundamental, ingredient? I will grant that itÂ may sound crazy from a purely rationalistÂ orÂ materialist frame, but what of those of us who believe in a soul, or simply aren’t sure? How are we to relate toÂ what is coming down the pike?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs builds upon the material as it growsÂ into the ephemeral.Â We are now poised atÂ the edge of a new era of planetary intelligence. Standing here, we are deeply indebted to ourÂ laser-likeÂ focus on the material that defined most of the 20th century. I don’t believe we could have gotten where we areÂ today without that materialistic focus.Â History unfolded just as it should. Now, as automation begins to freeÂ up more human time and energy, we have an opportunity to reassess theÂ vision we hold for the future.
Will our new vessels be capable of holding something as complex, as beautiful, as a human soul? I do not know what a human soul is, let alone how it might occupy a machine; so this may seemÂ a silly question. But what if it’s not?Â What might we foist uponÂ humanity, andÂ the planet, if there actually is aÂ soul and we simply choose something other than soulful machines?