Avatar, Singularity, Robots, and the Brain-Controlled Devices

Two days ago, I went to watch the movie Avatar.

I thought the plot was quite blend, but that was soon forgotten when I started to see the linkage between the idea of singularity and the movie’s storyline.

For those of you who are new to the idea of singularity the following paragraph is my attempt to describe it to you using my limited knowledge of the topic:

Key promoters of the theory/science – also called apocalyptic AI – are Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec. Their singularity argument is that machine intelligence will surpass that of humankind’s, and with the advancement of technology we will inevitably reach a point where our consciousness can be uploaded and downloaded onto a machine – thereby reaching salvation where humans will be free from the limitations of our physical bodies and will have reached immortality.

According to Robert M. Geraci’s conference proceedings from ICRA’09 called “Religion and the Public Role of Robotics”:

“authors advocating a salvation of human minds by uploading them into machines have dominated public discussions of robotics in the western world”

The important linkage between Avatar and singularity is that the alien planet, Pandora, is portrayed as the more desirable world, where the main character, Jake Sully, is able to transfer his consciousness/soul into the planet’s native species called Na’vi.

The movie focuses more on the brain-controlled device used by the main character to control a genetically developed creature called avatar.  But  the movie concludes with Jake’s singularity-like transfer from his human body to his avatar. This frees him from his physical limitations as a person confined to a wheelchair, and is able to live in Pandora as if he was a born native of the planet.

So what’s the connection between Avatar, singularity, and roboethics? The best person to answer that question would be Robert M. Geraci who seems to have a book coming out on this exact topic. Check out his latest book to be released March 2010 called “Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality“.

The linkage Geraci seems to make between robots and singularity from his previous work is that robotics is a stepping stone for apocalyptic AI movement. In his paper on “Religion and the Public Role of Robotics” Geraci showed his concerns regarding the public’s support for apocalyptic AI and the role robotics technology plays in this movement in science. He argues

“As we move forward into an increasingly robotic future, we should do so aware of the ways in which a group’s religious environment can help set the tone for public acceptance and use of robotic technologies.”

So how far are we from singularity? Some people believe it to be too futuristic, some people think it’s not too far into the future.

Maybe the article from CNN.com might help you decide how you feel about the current state of technology and whether or not singularity is realizable.

The article “The future of brain-controlled devices” was brought to my attention by Francisco Grajales (@Ciscogiii) – who has been my #1 source of interesting roboethics related articles lately. It talks about the current state and future research direction of brain-controlled devices, and questions ethics of the technology. The article focus on ethics of using such devices for communication purposes. But if such communication devices are already being talked about, then it’s easy to imagine what this technology could mean to realizing singularity-like technology.

Key parts of the article are replicated for you below. For the original article, please visit CNN.com.

One of the more controversial uses under development is telepathy.

DARPA, the Pentagon’s technology research division, is currently working on an initiative called “Silent Talk,” which would let soldiers on secret missions communicate with their thoughts alone. This stealth component is attractive, but naysayers fear that such soldiers could become manipulated for evil means.

“You can imagine communicating with your friends through the devices, and that opens up a lot of ethical issues,” Rao says. Would you want your friends and family to know everything you are thinking? Would little white lies become obsolete?

These questions of morality and liability are not a huge factor for thetoy makers and video game developers who are already bringing the most basic BCI technology to consumers.


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