Are We Already Cyborgs?

Professor Andy Clark thinks so.  And he makes a pretty fun case.  Here’s an excerpt:

We are entering an age of widespread human enhancement. The technologies range from wearable, implantable, and pervasive computing, to new forms of onboard sensing, thought-controlled equipment, prosthetic legs able to win track races, and on to the humble but transformative iPhone. But what really matters is the way we are, as a result of this tidal wave of self- re-engineering opportunity, just starting to know ourselves: not as firmly bounded biological organisms but as delightfully reconfigurable nodes in a flux of information, communication, and action. This gives us a new opportunity to look at ourselves, and to ask the fundamental question: Where does the mind stop, and the rest of the world begin?

Kern Schireson was telling me about one of Andy’s books, Natural-Born Cyborgs, which I just ordered.

Clark’s work presents challenges to current assumptions about cognitive processing and representation.   For example, much of the Artificial Intelligence community believes that we form “veridical representations of the world” — we copy the scene we see, process it, then decide what to do about it.  

I’m oversimplifying, but Clark disputes that model.  Clark points to what he calles an “information bottleneck” in the brain, since we never stop processing.  In other words, our brain isn’t doing these things in phases or steps — it’s all happening at the same time, overlapping. 

Clark believes our brains act on much less information — and much more quickly — than we think.  He doesn’t believe we reconstruct the world in our minds before we decide on action.  And that leads to radically different implications for AI development and advanced efforts to “wire” our brains.

Oh, and good morning.


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