Uniquely Unique Technology (Ep 4)

Uniquely Unique   Technology (Ep 4)

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foreign [Music] God I'm Jim stump and I'm back here with Colin in our fourth episode in our series uniquely unique if you're just tuning in now you might want to go back and start from the beginning because we've been building on a lot of ideas for three episodes now we've been trying to answer this question what does it mean to be human in episode 2 when we spoke to biologists we were left feeling like we are more the same as other creatures than different but in the last episode we started to find some places where humans really do seem to stand apart we ended that episode by talking about culture and about the incredible pace and extent of culture and human societies where an idea can spread across a globe in minutes an idea can change the future of our species and of all species on Earth David Lottie gave us two kinds of culture both of which were involved in constantly into a great depth the first kind is copying and imitation of behaviors that can change over time like with language so the other kind of culture in non-human animals is that a previous way of doing something functional is improved upon in some way in the Improvement gets copied so that's technology [Music] this kind of technology is very rare in animals and limited as far as we have seen to food Gathering but in humans technology is obviously not rare and it's limited only by the laws of physics and our imaginations and in this instance when we look at tool use and technology that separation we started to see between humans and other creatures starts to feel pretty vast there's very few questions that you can get me to be a human exceptionalist on anymore this is Mike mccard more commonly known as science Mike you know when we look across the animal kingdom there's so many behaviors we think of as uniquely human and then you'll figure out that animals actually uh maybe beat us at some things we think we're really good at in particular I think of one study in which they trained pigeons to evaluate art and they found out that pigeons are better at picking up counterfeit art than art critics and professional art dealers and stuff like that we you know the the diversity of life life on this planet and the skills animals have in surviving is phenomenal and when we look at tool usage you know you look at the fact that you social insects like ants Farm uh we would look at certain cephalopods using pretty Advanced tool sets and and and training other members of their species to use tools and things that we think are uniquely human but when we get to tools there's a couple of things I think that Define human tool use as distinct from and kind of superior to other species on this planet is there something about this capacity that is at the very heart of what makes us human could this be the answer that we've been looking for that What Makes Us human is that we are the creature that engages our world through the use of tools and Technology before we jump to that conclusion it should be said that there's a long history of people emphatically saying no to this who thought that technology might even be the biggest threat to our Being Human and there are times when it does feel like maybe it has gone too far aren't there we've even started to mix our technology with our biology and our technology has led to some pretty terrible things so far in this series as we've tried to figure out what humans are this ground up approach we've done so at least partially by saying what humans are not by differentiating ourselves from the animals we've been able to see what we are but when we bring technology into the mix we might have to add another category here differentiating ourselves from technology as our technology advances and as technology and biology begin to mix even more when we ask what does it mean to be human we'll need to explore the line between human and computer so that's a bit of where we're going but first let's start by looking at how far we've come with technology what is technology exactly what counts and what doesn't technology has been part of the human story for a long time some of the earliest stone tools that have been found date back to 2.6 million years ago remember when we were sitting in Rick potts's office one of our very earliest podcast interviews after the interview is over he brought us over to his desk and handed us a stone hand ax which which he said was the oldest human artifact in the whole Smithsonian Collection yeah it was a two million year old oldawan Chopper and essentially it's just a stone used for bashing things if it had been lying on the ground somewhere I never would have noticed it as anything but a stone not quite what we think of as a tool yeah pretty simple and that kind of tool use is not confined to humans some animals also use rocks or sticks to get a food they otherwise couldn't so something else had to happen well by about 200 000 years ago there's a real acceleration in tool making we start to see pointed Stones tied to Sticks which can be thrown and other tools used to prepare food and then you get tools for making clothing and vessels for carrying water and food as this technology developed it had reciprocal effects on us we usually think of Technology as something which we create and we manipulate and that's true but it's only half the story the other half is who we are today we which is a direct outcome of the tools and Technology we've developed in the past I mean I think from an evolutionary biology perspective that's a pretty easy to defend idea that uh tools and Tool making have shaped our development when you look at modern humans and compare them to one of our anatomically modern ancestors that didn't have technology Mike pointed out some really interesting differences our bite is weaker we are weaker overall we have less muscle mass less hair and when you compare those changes we've actually seen those kind of a development in other species as well and that happens whenever species are domesticated and so there are some experts who believe that tools and Tool making have basically caused humans to self domesticate and for the features we find in domesticated animals to become prevalent in our species which is not a bad thing I don't say that in some ways dismissing modern people we have shaped the World in such a way using tools where the little brute strength we had to begin with became even less necessary and we've had a greater emphasis uh on a particular particular types of intelligence are we've invested more deeply in cognitive intelligence and social intelligence than our immediate predecessors have [Music] there have been lots of studies recently showing some more focused ways technology changes us the Advent of written language affects human memory in significant ways I saw this firsthand when my wife and I lived in West Africa for a time and had regular interaction with people who couldn't read or write but had an amazing ability to remember the details of intricate spoken instructions and I'm old enough to remember the days when you could remember a bunch of other people's phone numbers now I only remember one other person's number we've outsourced the task of remembering such things to written documents and devices yeah and our constant use of GPS seems to have changed the way we spatially Orient ourselves in the world so my kids think it's unbelievable that we used to unfold maps in the card and navigate to places and I think it's strange that they don't seem to have much of a mental picture of places and where they are in relation to each other I'm not sure they could make it home if their phone died okay Boomer you might need to give us Millennials a little more more credit than that technically Generation X thank you very much okay well moving on in another example there is some evidence to show that the increase in cesarean sections for childbirth a medical technology which has only been in Practical use for a couple hundred years has allowed for women with narrower birth canals to survive childbirth and pass those genes on so that the average size of the birth canal in women has gotten smaller despite your wistfulness for maps these changes aren't necessarily bad things especially medical technology that has limited human suffering and death it seems pretty obvious here that our use of Technology while that's not limited to humans takes us back to the Redwood versus rose bush comparison we've made when you look at what kind of Technology exists in non-humans it might be true that some primates use rocks to open nuts but we're sitting here recording our voices into microphones from different cities while typing and reading from the same document and getting pings and dings from people around the world Sending message with information and requests this is a very different kind of thing and even science Mike who I think a little like me is cautious to go about keeping special status on humans agrees that human tool making really is something different so there are other species that will Design and customize tools for a purpose on this planet including obviously chimpanzees but other animals as well but our ability to use a tool and then based on the experience of using the tool iterate the way in which the tool was designed in a single generation is very exceptional and unusual that that would apply to early anthropologically modern humans that reply to some of our close hominid relatives as well and then when you get to Homo sapiens specifically where we really kind of leveled that up was tool sets or tool chains in other words making tools that make more advanced tools is kind of the place where Homo sapiens has differentiated themselves from every other species on the planet when we even think about the word tool in a manufacturing context tooling is the molding you make to design an application specific instrument or tool and no other animal does that and that's what allows us to industrialize to produce things at an incredible scale and to so intentionally design a physical object to dramatically amplify our effort in a specific task technology is so deeply ingrained into our lives that it's hard to imagine what it would be like to be human without technology and I want to ask could we be us without technology we could strip away computer chips and that would be a very different life for most of us on this planet but technology extends A Long Way Beyond microchips the use of Technology may be the most fundamental aspect of what makes us human and wrestling with the implications of being a technologically oriented species has been the epic journey of our [Music] existence on Earth you know without technology uh there would be no farming without technology there would be no Bible without technology there would be no art so we should always remember technology is fundamentally a part of Who We Are and how we use technology I think determines the Merit of what it means to be human and and what we mean to the rest of life it's pretty hard to imagine a human kind of existence without the tools we have today but obviously there were humans around before there were microchips strip away all our tools the computers and smart devices automobiles a plow and even simple tools and we become what our ancestors would have been like 2.6 million years ago an intelligent animal making our way in the world there definitely wouldn't be as many of us we wouldn't live as long wouldn't spread to the Far Corners of the globe this brings us to a place we've been before doesn't it to a group of creatures who are anatomically similar to us and yet so different in this case without the form of tools and we have asked is this still human can we be human without any form of tools and the answer to this question might be one we're starting to get used to which goes something like this technology is probably part of what makes us human it contributes to our identity but I don't think we can reduce it to the whole answer of what makes us human right our biology our culture and language have all brought us to this current time period in which technology is a major part of our existence but probably not the single factor that makes us human without technology it does get hard to think about being human in the same way but if technology were to suddenly disappear well of course you and I wouldn't be communicating any longer because our internet connection would drop but in that instant we would still both be human wouldn't we seems like it so maybe it's better to say that technology is an outcome of our humanness rather than a necessity for it maybe what do you mean well I guess the tension I arrive at is between a real need for tools really being convinced that tools are important for us to be human but also knowing that the times I felt the most human are probably times when I was outdoors in Wild places far from self-service far from screens sounds like you're hinting at the fact that maybe some technology is important even necessary for our Humanity but other technology might be detrimental to it I think this is a really good question which gets at a change at some point in the development of Technologies is there something different about how digital technology affects us or is this just Our Generations technology that we have to cope with and learn to live with the way earlier Generations had to change and adapt to what it was like living with automobiles or with books or even with walls well I think they're the or there might be an and right like so number one yes previous generations of humans have accommodated dramatic change I think uh you can make an argument that someone born in the late 1800s has seen you know more change in their lifetime than someone born in the like 1900s would have fundamental change a reordering of the world and that reordering uh mainly came with industrialization not digitization so previous generations have dealt with fundamental changes to society based on technology and there is something unique about our tools that are digital our digital technology and that is the modifiability and the extensibility of digital technology when you build a clock using gears it is always going to be a clock it will tell the time forever when you build uh a hammer or a chisel those things are going to be what they are or an ax or even you know something more complex uh a locomotive is a very complex machine but it will always kind of pull loads along a track and that's what it's going to do the the the Innovative nature of digital technology is twofold number one a digital device can become whatever the software running on it makes it become so it can be a television it can be a gaming device it can help you solve problems that involve computation and build really really elaborate models and then uh We've extended our digital technology to the point that it facilitates very very rapid communication and very high fidelity and so I think the the fact that digital technology can change itself so quickly using code and allow people across the globe to communicate more quickly than has ever been possible in human history does represent a fundamentally different impact on this technology on human society than anything that came before it foreign technology today and Technology say 150 years ago one of the biggest changes comes in the form of what is Ambiguously referred to as artificial intelligence yeah AI has become a big time buzzword so much so that I'm not sure I even know what it means anymore I was only 14 when the movie AI came out about a robotic kid who wants to become real I can't say that I remember much about the movie except that it was very long but that's the kind of AI that I still think about the kind that has continued to be the subject of movies and TV shows very human looking robots that make their own decisions about the world and usually seem to turn on the humans I remember that movie only marginally better than you and particularly the scene where humans got a kick out of brutally destroying the machines in a gladiator kind of setting and unfortunately that has quite the Ring of truth to it in a previous podcast episode Rosalind Picard from MIT was telling us that in experiments with people interacting with AI they became increasingly cruel to the machines the more human-like their responses were it was shown for example in a robotic baby doll it's people strung It Up by its toes and it screamed more people would actually string that by its toes people actually enjoyed torturing this little baby robot doll or baby girl it's sick you know the things this brings out in human nature sometimes yeah the movies might just be science fiction but there's obviously some truth to the idea that interactions between humans and computers are going to be complicated in another aspect of that about a year ago I read the novel by Ian McEwen called machines like me it's a revisionist history in which artificial intelligence was developed during the 1980s and Alan Turing was still alive to be a character in the story there are a few of these self-aware robots that look just like humans and some of the predictable responses ensue but more penetrating by McEwen was the consideration of how the machines themselves might respond to becoming conscious and spoiler alert they have an existential crisis and aren't sure they even want to be alive yikes I think those kinds of stories are fascinating but it doesn't appear that that kind of thinking conscious robot is going to materialize anytime soon the dates predicted for the robot Uprising and Terminator and Blade Runner haven't quite panned out so what do we really mean today when we say artificial intelligence an artificial intelligence is a uh machine Consciousness that solves problems when I talk about Consciousness I would kind of follow um the physicist Dr kaku's model for Consciousness where I would understand that at a very basic level a Consciousness is a feedback loop that interacts with its environment by that definition a thermostat would be conscious at a very basic level but a thermostat's obviously not what we're trying to get at here so it helps to break this definition down into some more specific categories uh artificial intelligence researchers and Specialists kind of delineate two different Notions of what AI is you have artificial specialized intelligence which like Google would qualify you know Google search engine very very very very very brilliant at a specific task something like alphago zero which is designed to you know learn to play games with a a fixed rule set and and visibility into the entire game board that would be a specific intelligence and when you look at Asis we can already wildly exceed human intelligence with Asis artificial specialized intelligences but when people think of AI they think of something else which is an AGI an artificial general intelligence something that can solve problems in multiple ways something that might be self-aware something that brings the the intense insights and modeling abilities of AI to any problem set in front of it and of course in my opinion nothing like that exists today and and nothing's really on the drawing board either that point is important to remember we're nowhere close to creating the kind of artificial intelligence that we worry might start to rival human intelligence artificial intelligence as we know it today does beat us at many things but it's still a very different kind of intelligence I think it's also tempting to think about human brains as essentially the ideal model for what we're trying to do with AI we've already talked about the brain a bit back in our biology episode but there we were still only comparing our brains to those of other animals but you can't really say that a brain is just a more Advanced Digital processor can you could we one day build a human brain out of other materials our brains do not do what computers do at all our brains are absolutely Computing devices don't hear me wrong but they're not digital Computing devices uh you can't cleanly break out the difference between like storage and memory and processing and a neural network neural networks are self-organizing um they they are encounter stimuli and then sort of self-organize in response to that stimuli even though now we can build uh digital structures that emulate the functioning of neurons uh the level of complexity in neural networks that exists in the biological space is wildly Beyond we can emulate in digital technology today [Music] hey language of God listeners if you enjoy the conversations you hear on the podcast we just wanted to let you know about our website biologos.org which has

articles videos personal stories and curated resources for pastors students and Educators and we've recently launched a new animated video series called insights these short videos tell stories and explore many of the questions at the heart of the faith and science conversation you can find them at biologos.org insights or there's a link in the show notes alright back to the show foreign [Music] maybe we don't need to belabor the point of wondering whether artificial intelligence in the form of conscious robots could really be human but there's another related question which is about the integration of computer technology into US biological humans what does that do to our Humanity way back at the beginning of this series we said there might be two different ways of approaching our main question what does it mean to be human using David lottie's language we've been talking about a ground up approach meaning looking at the actual parts from the earth up Direction what we are as an organism how we got here what makes us interesting and different from other things that have come up from the dirt yes and the second is a Heavens down approach we haven't done as much of that no and I think there's an interesting conversation about the balance of those two approaches to any question we ask and how we might tend toward one of the approaches more than the other in our society but I do think we've come to a point in this series where we need to start exploring from the heavens down it's pretty clear that our technology is something that makes us unique compared to other creatures on this planet and I think the case to say that it is uniquely unique is a pretty good one too but when we start asking these questions about comparing ourselves to computers and about integrating technology with our own bodies we're asking questions that need to have some understanding of the purpose of a human and for that we're going to need help from a theologian so great to be with you I'm Luke Brotherton and I'm the Robert E Cushman distinguished professor of moral and political theology at Duke University and before we hear from Luke let's just quickly go back to where we left off with science Mike so he was making the point that our brains are really not like computers our brains do not do what computers do at all and Luke agrees with this but he comes at it from a different angle I think there's an assumption often like behind the question that somehow AI as a way in which computers machines technology mimic or echo in some way human consciousness thereby becomes a rival to the human and underlying that is an assumption that somehow human consciousness is what makes us human um and that the focus of human consciousness is our ability to kind of reason and will in intentional ways I think we need to unpack that quite a lot and there's a broader View and I think it's a deeply theological View and we have to root it in a robust theological anthropology that says where psychosomatic whole or where bio-spiritual creatures who actually are bodies or sweat glands our taste buds are as much part of our Consciousness and our nervous system our bowels and in scripture you know the bowels are a great play a great part in how we come to know the world well in in modern Poland we'll often talk about it in terms of knowing something in your heart but this symbolic language points to how the the body is involved in knowing just as much as the Mind psychosomatic whole is a fancy term for saying that our minds and bodies are inseparable there are some in the Christian tradition who have this view that the the real person is some immaterial thing and there's a real theological debate about life after death and just what it is about us that survives but it's the Pagan Greek philosopher Plato who said that the body is a prison for the soul and that our goal should be to break free of that bodily prison and Descartes reinforced this idea by suggesting that our bodies are just machines that it's the mind that is the true me but those ideas are pretty hard to get out of scripture which values the material created world and looks forward to a bodily Resurrection not some disembodied existence floating on a cloud and even if there's not some separate immaterial part of us it's also a problem to think of our brains simply as mechanical devices in a world and culture which increasingly valorizes the machine valorizes calculation as the premiere or primary form of way of knowing and knowledge and confuses knowledge with calculation then I think there's this problem where humans begin to mimic and Echo and imagine and narrate themselves imagination and narration being too deeply human things but we we're beginning to imagine and narrate ourselves in machine like terms and we see this very much at work in I think a huge swathe of uh technology you know development in technology and science which tend to imagine and narrate the human brain and its operation as like a computer or as like a machine and and we begin then to think of all things around us including the human body as mechanisms as merely mechanistic and I think that's very troubling and worrying extremely prevalent and I think increasingly dangerous because it leads to the ways we fundamentally dehumanize ourselves and begin to treat each other like machines [Music] but it's still tempting to see the body as a machine science has helped us to recognize many of the parts and how they work and it makes it even easier for us to think of ourselves as a set of cogs and gears that turn and result in what we are we've been doing some form of this kind of thinking throughout the series looking to our biology in hopes of finding some mechanism that we can say is responsible for what we are but there is a way that humans navigate the world which can't be done merely by the kinds of calculations that computers do people often talk about critical thinking and you know rationality and these kinds of stuff and and um can get a bit sneery when I say what about you know wisdom and Truth um as categories to think about and think with and I think categories like wisdom and truth actually aren't reducible to calculation you're not going to want to mimic a machine or think about how humans are and relate together and and navigate the world if you think it's important to humans to develop wisdom because machines aren't wise they can't develop wisdom you're not gonna uh wisdom isn't reducible to a calculation truth isn't that kind of thing but what happens if we begin to integrate more and more computer technology into our bodies is there a point at which a human body could become so integrated with technology that it's more machine than anything else so this is the a question of transhumanism right can you give us a definition of transhumanism that's a little tricky to pin down as different groups emphasize different aspects of this but generally speaking transhumanists are looking to enhance or even transcend The Human Condition through technologies that can extend and improve our physical and cognitive abilities enhancement seems to be the key there but we've already done that to some degree haven't we we've radically extended lifespans from just a few centuries ago right well there's an important distinction in these conversations between remedying our natural abilities and enhancing them and while the average lifespan has drastically increased through medicine and diet and less brutishness to each other it's not so clear that that has enhanced our natural lifespan the oldest people back then still made it to about the same ages that the oldest people today make it but there is a fair amount of talk in the science news these days about reversing the aging process in cells that would be an enhancement yes it would and it's fair to ask what the Human Condition would be if people were able to live without aging that no one would die of natural causes and that distinction between remedy and enhancement seems to get pretty blurry when we talk about genetically engineering our babies so they don't have certain diseases or so they're a little bit smarter or taller or better looking these are very thorny ethical problems and they're right around the corner we're gonna have to know how to make these decisions long before we'll need to deal with the fully conscious robots from the movies and there's also the question of more fully integrating technology into US I've had my Apple watch for about a year now and it's helped me to track my exercise in a way that I never could have before and I think it's really benefited my health but sometimes I imagine a similar technology that could send Roots into my arm and tell me so much more exactly what kinds of nutrients I've taken in what I need more of less of what infections are Brewing before I'm aware of them and I can imagine those technological Roots eventually spreading through my body like another set of arteries and all for the betterment of my health and happiness but then I stop and wonder is that really good for me here's where we need to ask again about the purpose of the human from a theological perspective I don't think it's simply to keep this order of things going I'm all for improving things while we're here but I'm afraid I don't have faith in humanity that we can transform ourselves into what we were intended to be we've developed lots of great technologies that have relieved suffering and perhaps brought happiness but there's almost always a shadow side to these two that they can be used for evil purposes as easily as good ones yeah so any one form of Technology could potentially be used for good or for evil it's not necessarily the technology itself we've done a few podcast episodes about technology in the past one with Amy and Andy Crouch and another one with Rosalind Picard and in both of those conversations we learned that it's not quite right to think about technology as neutral either it does something to us the problem is anything that is designed by people or by God will not be neutral because the very Act of creating something and designing something um in that act you have to come up with a whole bunch of answers to questions about like the purpose of human behavior um the the purpose of your own creation and really of what it means to be a person so when we consider our relationship with technology it's not quite so simple as thinking whether we're going to employ it for good purposes or bad purposes if we're putting technology into our bodies we're not just asking whether we use it to keep us healthier or to control other people we should be asking whether subjecting ourselves to that kind of electronic manipulation itself might do something to us we mentioned earlier about Outsourcing some of our abilities for things like remembering phone numbers it's one thing to Outsource my knowledge about how far I ran my Apple watch but what happens if we attempt to Outsource the higher cognitive functions like ethical decision making people right now are working on self-driving cars and how the technology will decide what to do when an oncoming car swerves into its Lane will it turn into the tree on the side of the road causing more harm to its passengers or under the sidewalk where the passengers may be safe but there may be pedestrians and the point Luke was making was that we can't reduce these kinds of decisions to an algorithm of some kind we can't Outsource wisdom to computer code and think that we'll still be human so what should the Christian role be in relation to developing Technologies do we fully embrace them or do we reject and try to recapture some pure Humanity Luke thinks neither of these is the proper Christian response the problem is I think we're in a moment when we tend to think about change either in a kind of forward linear terms and you know what is good is what's uh new uh what's in the future we need to progress away from the past um or we flip that and and again as a strong ancient precedent it's Reformation Getting Back to Basics Renaissance sorry rebirth at a kind of golden ageism and we need to go back to really be true to ourselves and in theological terms I think neither of these are right if we think about it in terms of baptism in baptism we both recover a self that's been lost because of sin and idolatry uh we recover who we are created to be in Christ and we're born again there's a fundamental rupture as we are enter into a self that is given eschatologically given from the the kingdom coming to be and so as Christians we should have a sense of change is always recovery and Revolution always reconnecting and rupture I like that we're connecting our understanding of Technology more explicitly to Christian theology here Mike tries to do that too I mean do you care if I get like pretty pretty deeply religious in my language is that okay you're talking to biologos here so that's fine I think technology represents the very image of God in us when when we kind of look at this Amazing Creation story in Genesis of of God saying let us create them in our own image well what in the world does that mean well in in the biblical portrayal of God you have this Cosmic entity like this this incredible all-powerful Creator who creates with intention who makes things and then says well you know that was good yeah that was good to make that that was good to design something with intention that is the way humans use technology and I think at the heart of the biblical narrative is this wrestling with what we do with that agency that we see play out in our use of Technology do we make things that are good or do we not and so that's why I'm so drawn to wrestling with humans at technology and what we do with it because as a Christian I see that as one of the fundamental notes on which our faith story rests we have the image of God we have the capacity to create with intention are we going to create peace or are we going to create something else well that leads us very well into our next episode when we look back at history and see the times when our attempt to identify what makes us uniquely unique has not led to peace but has caused Great destruction and suffering David latte said something that's really insightful about human nature and unfortunately not quite so cheery and optimistic all organisms besides humans naturally follow the dictates of their creator and live according to their ultimate purpose uh we are the only ones who are able to deviate from them hmm on that note see you next week [Music] language of God is produced by biologos it has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign language of God is produced and mixed by Colin huggerworth that's me our theme song is by brake master cylinder we are produced out of the remote workspaces and the homes of biologo Staff in Grand Rapids Michigan if you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode find a link in the show notes for the bio logos forum find more episodes of language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website biolocos.org where you'll also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science thanks for listening

2022-10-07 23:30

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