Human Nature Is a Symphony, Technology Is Changing the Instruments

Part of the I, ROBOT series

Vanderbilt Professor of History Michael Bess is the author of Our Grandchildren Redesigned: Life in the Bioengineered Society of the Near Future (Beacon Press, 2015), and the forthcoming book What makes us human? From neurons to the Sistine Chapel.  He is the technologies that may destroy us, including artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

The risks of catastrophic failures, he says, are significant — basically our newest technologies are a car without a brake, and if you drive one of those too fast, you’re probably going to crash. Anyone interested in the survival of our species should be asking ourselves: how do we slow down enough to understand what the problems we’re really facing are?

But there are other, more subtle, challenges to human nature from new technologies. The use of automation can make us increasingly automated; the more we interact with robots, which have a limited range of responses, the more robotic we habitually become. Social media and always-connected devices can create new addictions, subverting our free will.

If you were to take a hard look at your own behavior, how much of your life would you discover is already on autopilot? How much of a robot are you already, and what’s causing it?

Michael Bess talks with us about human nature and emerging technologies in this podcast from the Burning Man Philosophical Center.


Cover Image: Firmament by Christopher Schardt (photo by Robert Bruce Anderson)

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

One comment on “Human Nature Is a Symphony, Technology Is Changing the Instruments

  • I don’t think a moratorium for AI is of any use.
    Oblige to be able to save and reload the AI system would be more benificial. This would enable to stop (brake) the system at any moment without losing the accumulated knowledge.

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