Friday, January 19, 2007

What makes us human?

What really differentiates us as humans from the rest of the animals we share this planet with is our ability to control our destiny. All other animals live in the present. If they're hungy, they eat. If they grow weak, they die. At some point in history humans evolved their capacity to learn from experience and adapt to changing conditions.

In Thursday's lecture we asked the question "what could you do if all objects were intelligent?" We considered a world in which all objects can sense and react to information about their environment and then communicate that information to other objects. If computing is becoming ever cheaper and powerful, and all objects can communicate all the time, what kind of a world are we heading towards?

So back to the point about humans being able to control their destiny. If, for example, your car can communicate with every other car out there, know real time information about traffic conditions, other drivers on the road, and where it is you want to go, then doesn't this, to some degree, remove the ability to control your own destiny? At what point does the ability to capture real time information about you, process it, and change your surrounding envirionment, catch up and surpass the rate at which that information itself is being generated? At what point does the "machine" learn your behaviors and predict your movements? At that point are you reacting to the system or is the system reacting to you?

I don't know about you, but it scares the hell out of me.

1 comment:

Jeff Symons said...

I think we are far from the point where "SkyNet" is going to become self aware, though it does seem we are heading in that direction doesn't it.

In the meantime, our ability to equip objects with greater "intelligence" is developing some incredible life saving applications.

For example, "New York City is developing a plan to allow images to be sent to 911 emergency operators from cellphones. This will likely give emergency operators better information to pass along to responders."

More info here:,0,7313521.story?coll=ny-technology-print