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renata lemos morais (F, 9)
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    levels of convergence -...
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    levels of convergence - part 1
    Project: Polytopia


    By Renata Lemos, Lucia Santaella.

    PART 1

    Converging Technologies

    1 Introduction

    We are living in an unique time in the history of humanity. This moment, this turning point, is unprecedented. In order to face the new possibilities of our future it is of utmost importance to be prepared to make wise choices about how will we shape our future as a new technologically enhanced and driven species. Science has taken us this far, but complexity has shown us that science alone will not take us much further. Technology has pervaded each and every aspect of our lives, to a point in which it has gotten literally beneath our skins. Many edifices are falling apart.

    It is not only about a paradigm shift. It is about a much more profound kind of shift, one that alters dramatically our ideas, our values, our bodies, our perceptions, everything and every aspect of human life. In these times of transition, we must try to bridge the gap between disciplines, find a common language that fosters cooperation, and most importantly, open our minds to fresh and daring perspectives. As we do so, trying to catch up with the overwhelming speed of the winds of change, hopefully we will contribute to a better understanding of the challenges that lie ahead.

    Recent advances in nanotechnology, and its subsequent application in a variety of academic fields, have given rise to an unprecedented phenomenon of technological convergence. The importance of NBIC (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno) convergence comes from the fact that “all matter – living and non-living – originates at the nanoscale. The impact of technologies controlling this realm cannot be overestimated: control of nanoscale matter is control of nature’s elements” (ETC Group, 2003, p.6).

    NBIC convergence integrates three main levels of material reality through nanotechnology; namely biology, computing, and neuroscience.
    The distinction between different levels of reality can be done according to various types of criteria. Poli (1998) has skillfully drawn on Chwistek, Brouwer, Husserl, Hartmann, and Luhmann to arrive at the classification of three main strata of reality, each originating different levels: social (history ↔ art ↔ law, etc), psychological, and material (biology, chemistry, physics). In the light of NBIC convergence, however, a more fundamental dichotomy between levels starts to emerge around the dimensions of mind and matter. For the first time in the history of science, there is a technology-mediated convergence between material levels of reality and cognitive levels of human experience. The “unity of nature on the nanoscale” provides brand new grounds for this new kind of interface:

    NBIC convergence requires, and is made possible by, the radically new capabilities to understand and to manipulate matter that are associated with nanoscience and nanotechnology. The integration of technology will be based on the unity of nature at the nanoscale, as well as an information system that would cross disciplines and fields of relevance. (Bainbridge & Roco 2006, p.2).

    Unity of matter through NBIC makes possible the integration of biological and neural systems to artificial systems, including systems of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The unity of matter at the nanoscale makes possible the systemic integration between biological and non-biological entities; in order to perform a task or to enhance a human capacity, for example. Future prospects are overwhelming. These prospects are not solely related to enhancing the human species biologically. They include the enhancement of human cognitive states as well. Organism becomes artifact, and artifact becomes organism:

    Nanotechnology enables one to engineer at the nanoscale and thereby perhaps to reconfigure everything molecular. From the point of view of nanotechnology, what used to be separate domains of biomedicine, information technology, chemistry, photonics, electronics, robotics, and materials science come together in a single engineering paradigm (Nordmann, 2004, p.12).

    The main concept behind NBIC convergence is the universal dimension of information. Such accelerating rate of human-machine hybridization brings about serious ethical and philosophical implications. New ontological questions arise from the radical concept of technological unity of matter, such as questions regarding the very meaning of what is the essence of being human. Understanding biological processes as codes, as sign systems, scientists are now codifying and programming their artificial replications. Decodification of micro bio-systems serves as a road map for the codification of artificial agents that will mirror and interact with them. Because it is now possible to understand matter in terms of information, scientists have become able to re-configure and re-engineer all kinds of matter through nano technology.

    Nanotechnology enables the integration between all material structures, be they biological or non-biological. The ways in which such total integration becomes possible are similar to the ways information flows through all kinds of systems. Much in the same way in which information pervades everything, nano technologies could also pervade every level of material reality. Converging technologies share four main characteristics:

    Embeddedness: invisible infrastructure which could be implemented anywhere.
    Unlimited Reach: unrestricted access to all levels of material structures.
    Engineering of Body and Mind: new interferences bridging physical and cognitive processes are enabled.
    Specificity: high precision and control

    (Adapted from Nordmann, 2004, p.14-15)

    From the four characteristics named above, the third is perhaps the most complex and interesting one. Converging technologies´s greatest achievement is the advancement being done on the development of new kinds of interface between body and mind, or between intelligence and its material platform, the brain. Matter and mind are two levels of reality that are inextricably together, and still their interface remains largely uncharted.
    So far there have been many attempts made on the conquest of AI, all of which fall short of coming close to replicating consciousness.

    However, when it comes to NBIC convergence, the question is a bit different. It is not about creating independent artificial minds, but about enhancing human minds artificially to an extent in which the categories of human intelligence and artificial intelligence could blend in. Converging technologies are making possible the emergence of hybrid forms of intelligence through the technological enhancement of our own.
    Levels of convergence among different realities begin to emerge. These levels of convergence occur at the interfaces between physical and mental states. Where one reality touches another, interacts with another - and therefore transforms another – we find convergence taking place.

    2 Neurotechnology and Artificial Intelligence

    By engineering and programming nano robots which possess certain amounts of AI, scientists are becoming able to introduce intelligent agents into all types of material and molecular structures. When these nano intelligent artifacts enter within the neural networks of a brain, they become part of the conscious experience of that brain. This is the new field of neurotechnology (Khushf, 2006). Intelligent nano agents are now close to being able to interfere directly within the consciousness experiences of a brain.

    An example of this kind of matter/mind hybrid interface which is emerging as a result of NBIC convergence is the research currently being done on Biologically-Inspired Robotic Cellular Architectures (Bernstein et al., 2006, p.134-135). Through the mapping of the neural circuits within the brain, nano artifacts are being produced that simulate the behavior of a neuron, being able to interact with and be integrated to systems of cells. In this case, the neurons are those on the visual cortex, specifically those responsible for image-formation. Nano devices are being developed that could interfere directly with image-formation within the brain.
    Our understanding of brain functioning begins to transcend biology when nano robotic neurons have been taught how to speak the language of biological neurons. Cognitive processes are then understood as natural language processes. If these nano agents can successfully interact with and perform the functions of biological cognitive agents on a physical level, could they also perform mental activities? This is a question that no one has answered satisfactorily yet.

    Mon, May 31, 2010  Permanent link

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