Friday, October 23, 2009

What is human?

Wednesday night the Graphic Novels Book Club met to discuss The Surrogates volumes 1 and 2 by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele. It's been made into a movie currently out in theaters and stars Bruce Willis. I haven't seen the movie, but the books were very enjoyable and left me thinking about technological advances and their effects on society and humanity. The books take place in a future where most humans live vicariously through surrogates. Surrogate technology allows people to purchase a sort of android that they link up to from the safety and comfort of their homes and use to live life for them. Humans can feel everything the surrogate feels, so it truly seems as if you are living your life as another person. Living life through a perfect looking, super intelligent, physically strong surrogate that you can design yourself may sound ideal, but it definitely raises some good questions: Is part of humanity lost by living through machines? Is there "good" technology and "bad" technology? Where is the line between the two and who draws that line? What kind of world would it be if no one was ever living life as themselves?

In the technological world of today, it is not too hard to believe that one day we really could have something similar to surrogate technology. There already exist virtual worlds and games, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, where players interact with one another and the virtual environment through avatars that are designed by the players themselves. It is estimated that somewhere between 20 and 30 million people spend more time involved in virtual activities than in real world activities, so it really isn't a stretch to say that someday many more millions may be spending most of their time in virtual worlds as well.

Finally, consider the androids developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro. They look like humans, fidget like humans, and can be used as doubles to be sent out into the world to do your bidding (read the full article here). Japan and South Korea have been developing androids for some time now and are really moving the technology along. While Ishiguro says it is unlikely that anyone could ever create an android that humans would mistake for human for more than several minutes, no one can say whether or not the further development of this technology would propel us into a world full of surrogates.

Explore the topic further with the library's excellent resources and these websites:

Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots

Journal Articles and Websites
"Android Science"
Article from Scientific American about Ishiguro's androids and his pursuit of android science.

*Requires an Austin Public Library card
Before our lives become virtual reality, we will have augmented reality in which computers will anticipate our needs and project information relevant to our needs as we interact with real world things. Our current realities will, therefore, be augmented by computers. Check out this demo and prepare to have your mind blown.

"Meet the Remote-Control Self"
Article about Ishiguro's android modeled after himself (see above picture). This is the one that is most similar to a surrogate as described in the graphic novel.

"Virtual Worlds - Past, Present and Future: New Directions in Social Computing"*
*Requires an Austin Public Library card
Comprehensive article outlining the history of vitual worlds, social implications of virtual world participation, and surveys of a number of Second Life users.

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