*Disclaimer: This is an MRTV community article. The opinions, representations and statements made within the article are those of the author and not necessarily those of MRTV.*
“Like the mountain stream, destined for the ocean; it was never a question of if, only a matter of when.” – Anonymous
Sausalito, California, 1972. A man with a lightly-trimmed beard sits legs crossed in front of a large group of people. Strings of beads hang around his neck. He looks happy. Youthful. Energised. In less than a year he will be dead.
The man begins to speak. He is a world-famous philosopher, and his talk today is about the evolution and future of technology.
Everyone in the room listens carefully.
South-western France, 15,000 BC. A figure breathes heavily in the darkness. They have been crawling on their back for over an hour; no other travel position is possible in the narrow confines of the tunnel. They don’t even know where they are going, they just know they have to get there.
Eventually there is the sound of a fast-flowing stream and the figure pushes itself out of the tunnel and into a large subterranean cavern. Light shines through from a small crack in the ceiling, illuminating the north wall. Some markings are visible, cut into the rock, by the last person to visit this place.
Technology is who we are
December, 2018. People are expressing their disappointment on-line. StarVR One just got cancelled; its future now uncertain. Near-human Field of View was almost within the grasp of those willing to pay for it. But it’s slipped away again. People are tired of waiting, tired of the Oculus Connect four-year forecasts. They just want perfect VR. Today.
Someone just sent me a link for a documentary on French cave paintings. It got me thinking. This thing with reproducing reality, it’s not new – all the evidence suggests it has been with humanity since the beginning. From sculpture to papyrus, canvas to film. The technology of recreation. However we didn’t just try to capture nature, as soon as we had the ability – we quickly turned the camera on ourselves. As if it was always as much about understanding, as it was about possessing something. A vain attempt to comprehend what is looking back at us, like a chimpanzee touching it’s own reflection in a mirror.
And maybe that is what really separates man from animal; we are arrogant enough to think we can know the unknowable.
So we just keep on inventing.
Pushing the quality of the capture ever higher; 8mm, VHS, 1080p, 4K, 180 degrees, VR 360 degrees.
An Artificial Mind
They call it the ‘last invention.’ When it is perfected, it will be our greatest achievement. It’s also an example of man’s drive to understand himself, by technologically reproducing and giving birth to an artificial human-level intelligence.
Of course, we won’t stop there.
It’s like a Hubble telescope, that you can point anywhere – at any thing, and it will always show us something new and incredible, describes Demis Hassabis of Google DeepMind. Even a narrow-AI can have its attention turned on any scientific issue and offer potential answers. Until last year, this would require vast amounts of data in order to produce meaningful results; but today AlphaGo Zero operates ‘tabula rasa’ – from a blank slate.
It is not beyond imagination to think that after turning AI on scientific and medical problems, we turn the technology on technology itself. What happens if you show an Artificial Intelligence a VR headset – does it eventually suggest wildly different and creative designs that leap us forward a decade of technological innovation?
A man-made God
In the year 2045, futurologist Ray Kurzweil believes a ‘technological singularity’ will take place – the point at which an Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) becomes so sophisticated that a ‘runaway reaction’ is triggered – with self-improvements cycles happening at an increasingly rapid rate – resulting in an ‘intelligence’ explosion that will far surpass all collective human intellect.
What will happen next is anyone’s guess – we may as well be an ant trying to read Albert Einstein’s mind – but the result will have been that we no longer have just perfect VR, we also now have perfect AI.
Perhaps this artificial super-intelligence (or technological God) will decide to wipe out humanity, or overwhelmed by compassion; choose to help humanity solve all its problems. Or maybe it will decide the most interesting thing of all would be to start again; take man back to the beginning – return him virtually to a primitive state – and so we end up breathless, crawling through a tunnel in the darkness – guided by some insatiable and unknown desire – to understand who we truly are.
And in case you are wondering, that man, back in California in 1972, he is still talking, but almost finished:
“Eventually, we will get to absolutely perfect reproduction [VR] and we will be able to see that world so vividly, that we shall become it. And so the question arises: Could that be where we are already? Are we a reproduction? Which over the centuries of evolution, has worked out to be a replica of something else? And we are, where we always where..?”- Alan Watts (1915 – 1973)