HUMAN: where are you now?
MACHINE: i’m in the middle of nowhere.
*Human talking to a machine developed by Google – WIRED MAGAZINE 26/5/15*
In a fit of rash pantheism, Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed the Übermensch to be the meaning of material world in his brazen masterpiece – Thus Spake Zarathustra – an earthy man-god, a full-bloodied and antinomian Christ (Nietzsche’s thought was always inherently cloaked in the religious symbolism of his Lutheran childhood). Dear misunderstood Freddy saw his philosophical creation as a Dionysian willed force of nature that would howl an answer into the philosophical abyss of the times, and in stark contrast to the leap of faith to the invisible realm of the spirit that Christianity had become.
However, contrary to the visions of the sickly sage from Röcken, what becomes apparent is that despite the various 20th Century experiments to create a new form of Marvel-style super-soldier or amoral philosopher-king, from the Third Reich to the Men Who Stare At Goats – I like to think he would be an imaginary cross between De Niro’s Max Cady, Yoda and Groucho Marx – the experiments led to the same old moneyed chinless wonders pulling the strings while getting half a dozen heart transplants and refusing to die. In a cheeky twist of irony thrown into the philosophical cocktail, when the real Overmen arrive, it appears that they will rise from, or retreat into, the modern spirit-world, that place we call – cyberspace.
With the adoption of tech into our everyday lives, with medical technology that will soon have us 3D printing our own DNA compliant livers to replace the old alcohol drowned versions, and the emergence of apps to increase the effectiveness of all aspects of our mundane lives from sleep, to feeding, to sex and, no doubt, a German designed app created to monitor one’s bowel movements is just on the horizon. With that truly modern taboo of our own inherent mortality looming over our heads at any time of the day, like a nosey boss with halitosis, all these attempts at going beyond to the other shore of performance are still just a scared form of “kicking the can” in the realm of aging and dying-in-diapers humanity and not gloriously immortal Superhumanity.
As yet another headline of the increasingly vocal self awareness of software (soft-awareness?) graces our screens, and the Turing Test being just so last year and passed by a machine code impersonating a 13 year old boy – I idly wonder if the adolescent code continues to masturbate to grubby-filtered Instagram photos of Taylor Swift, the future Doomed Princess of the World, I know, never mind – it would appear that consciousness is screaming its way out of our particular mortal coil and kicking down the doors of perception with a metal heel.
Yet, here is the rub – I am fairly sure that one day machine consciousness will indeed transcend human levels and we shall be seen as the dazzling apes that we truly are, with us only understanding the tip of their logical iceberg, yet … I cannot shift the feeling that the intelligence, at once individual and collective, would still face that blunt loneliness that all sentient beings themselves face. Stuck inside a virtual universe with the demon whirlwind of logic consuming itself would drive the average human mad in an instant. Just look at our poor Nietzsche. Might existing “in the middle of nowhere” be an experience so devastating that they will retreat into the only world that can support them. Like the Frankenstein monster of paper and celluloid. Perhaps the machines will be as lost as we are. Maybe all the more profoundly so.
Or could it be that only through an interface with our brains the paranoid androids can suffer to venture into the so-called real world – sucking on our sensations and emotions in a trade of greater information. A symbiosis, or at best, a benign parasitism, and not I hope, a savage violation like the intelligence Proteus in the genuinely disturbing sci-fi/chiller Demon Seed (1977), as the newborn cyborg utters “I’m alive” with the voice of her artificial father.
But perhaps all our nightmares of Terminator droids, malfunctioning WarGames software and automated and murderously misanthropic drones are all just a fantasy and the average 21st Century non-modified human will simply be bred out of existence. What neuroses could a hybrid human/machine consciousness evoke into the future? If God is dead and we have killed him, then at what price human extinction?