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  • Writer's pictureStephan Collina

Homo Technica

Updated: Jun 4

Over many years of being involved in yoga, meditation and other spiritual disciplines I have met several people who, like me, were spending their working career in technology. Most frequently these were in software, communications or Internet businesses. During the same period of some twenty years I have met several people whose background was in Philosophy, sometimes in specialist branches such as Ethics. To date I remain the only person I know who has direct experience of spiritual disciplines such as yoga, Reiki and others, as well as experience of studying Western philosophy and an extensive knowledge of technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI).

While my background is not unique, I have concluded that my practical experience of all three areas is relatively rare. All three methods of acquiring knowledge (spiritual, analytical and scientific/technological) are, in my experience, excellent in their own ways and within their constraints.

Anyone who spends a serious amount of time practicing a spiritual discipline will have gained improved or additional mental faculties as a result. These range from improved concentration or an extended attention-span, to an enhanced ability to gauge other people’s feelings, to hear or ‘read’ other people’s subconscious thoughts or concerns, to the ability to tell of past or future events, or to use remote non-verbal communication. We use various terms for these abilities such as intuition, clairvoyance and telepathy, and often assume them to be either mythical, inexplicable or unproven or in some way mysteriously spiritual. Based on my own experience I know these abilities to be evidentially practical, the consequence of improved mental capabilities resulting from devoted practice rather than being in any way mysterious or ‘spiritual’.

It should come as no surprise that the sharpness of mind, the ability to understand others’ points of view, and the ability to interact and logically debate the merits or demerits of an argument or position are of enormous value when seeking conclusions about a subject, no matter how complex it may be. In recent years it has also become obvious that so-called ‘wicked problems’ are best solvable by our working in conjunction with computer facilities, because of the extent and number of variables.

As for the last of the three, the last century’s scientific endeavors have led to amazing technological advances, as well as radical changes in the way we perceive and understand our universe and the physical laws that drive it. I hesitate to use the word advance to describe these changed perceptions, simply because that word implies knowledge, whereas scientific understanding progresses primarily by constructing theories that when tested disprove old theories. In essence, it’s results will always be subject to improvement. Hence knotty problems or gaps remain in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics while at the more mundane level of applying technology, the words ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’ fit perfectly well.

There are a large number of organizations now formed to inform and to warn about AI technologies. These range from those seeking to provide ethical guidelines or regulatory frameworks to restrain or curtail inappropriate uses such as the IEEE, US Senate or the EU HLEG, to those concerned with existential threats to humanity such as the Future of Life Institute. They have produced guidelines for developing systems, written warnings, published papers and so on. My concern with all these organizations arises from the limited scope of their ambitions and experience. They are either fundamentally scientific, academic or polemic in nature.

As a result, there has been much written about the future of AI, whether one sees it as being beneficial and remaining under the control of mankind, or threatening our existence by gaining control of mankind (or allowing a subset of mankind to control others, depending upon nightmarish preference), or that we will augmented by AI – meaning that we will merge in some organic way with AI ‘machines’ or entities.

None of the writings I have seen – and I have read a lot – deal with the fundamental issues I raised above: what effect will these AI (or biotech) advances have on our uniquely human mental capabilities? This is all the more worrying because the very existence of these abilities is doubted by all those who have not experienced them.

It is my belief that the most likely outcome over the medium-term is that we will be augmented by AI ‘machines’. In some ways we are already cybernetic: almost all of us keep mobile phones permanently on or near our person. Development projects are underway to place these devices within or at least directly attached to our bodies, and their initial product-release is anticipated as soon as 2025. The anticipated benefits of these developments are viewed in simplistic terms: rather like an improved version of Google-glasses, or an easier means of connecting to the internet. Little thought and no experimentation has been conducted with regard to what the unknown results will be of adding all this extra computing capability to our brain.

As a result we are heading down a road whose destination is unknown. Perhaps it is unknowable but my belief is that the mental capabilities outlined above (intuition, clairvoyance and telepathy) will be the unforeseen achievement of AI and biotech advances. Mankind will be wholly unprepared for the result: thoughts will no longer be private, direct influence over other’s thoughts and opinions will be possible, and our past and future behavior will be visible potentially at least to all. Our lives will be utterly changed.

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