The Danger is not Machines Becoming Humans, but Humans Becoming Machines
The extent to which human beings are willing to be duped by computers is already very large.
David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, and member of the National Council of the Arts. He is the author of several books and many technical articles, as well as essays, art criticism, and fiction. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer-communication and distributed programming systems worldwide. According to Reuters, his book "Mirror Worlds" (Oxford University Press, 1991) "foresaw" the World Wide Web and was "one of the inspirations for Java"; the "lifestreams" system (first implemented by Eric Freeman at Yale) is the basis for Mirror Worlds Technologies' software. Gelernter is also the author of "The Muse in the Machine" (Free Press, 1994), the novel "1939" (Harper Perennial, 1995), "Machine Beauty" (Basic Books, 1998), and most recently, "Judaism: A Way of Being" (Yale University Press, 2010).
The real question is not what machines or the network will be like in 2050, but what human beings will be like in 2050...whether they’ll use advances in technologies as an excuse for laziness or an excuse for imaginativeness...for laziness and lazy ways to make money and rising wealth, which is certainly good in itself...whether they will lean on computers as replacements for memory, replacements for thinking, replacements for computation and calculation, the sorts of things we do in daily life, replacements for companionship.
In 2050, it’s easy for me to dream up somebody to chat with instead of talking to a real human being. I can do that today, but in 2050, I can do it in a much more sophisticated way. I can come up with somebody with exactly the right profile to sympathize with all of my problems and even to have solutions and give me all sorts of good advice and stuff like that.
The extent to which human beings are willing to be duped by computers is already very large. One doesn’t have to write a very sophisticated program to get people to treat it as if it were a living thing. You don’t have to build a very sophisticated robot to get people to treat it as if it were an animal. If it’s fluffy and it’s smiles or it woofs, or something like that, people are very ready and willing to smudge over the difference in their own minds between a computer and a human being.
Now, what happens in 2050, the question is whether computers achieve a sophistication comparable to that of human thought and thereby assist us in doing all sorts of different things or whether, instead of machines becoming humanlike, humans become machines.
Humans become machinelike to the extent they lean on machines to do their thinking and remembering for them; to the extent they look at the world through the computer screen monitor.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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