Human Being and Machine: Is Technology changing our Minds?
Ms. Catherine Botha
At no time in human history has the need for the examination of the underlying assumptions of science and technology been more relevant than today. Decisions we make in respect of technological development have profound effects upon the way our societies develop; how human beings relate to each other; the relationship between human beings, their environment and nature; and most importantly, our answer to the question of who we are. We live in the thrall of technology and our lives seem to be 'technologically textured for most of our waking moments' (Ihde, 1983, p. 3). We make our technologies and they in turn shape us.
The recent resurgence of interest in cognitive science and related fields could signal several breakthroughs that could be of great value to humankind (Güzeldere 1998, p.46). Artificial intelligence has historically aimed at creating objects that might improve human functioning by offering people intellectual complements. At first, these objects took the form of tools, such as programs for medical diagnosis. As further technologies were developed, the boundary between machine and human began to dissolve. Artificial intelligence technologies began to function more as a 'prosthetic' - an extension of the human 'mind'. In recent years, the machine comes even closer to the human body, and ultimately continuous with the body: the human person is redefined as cyborg.
The old AI debates of the 1960s-1980s in which researchers argued about whether machines could be 'really' intelligent were essentialist (Turkle 1984). The new technologies allow us to circumvent these questions. The main research question in this paper is not what computers will be like in future, but instead, what will we be like? What kind of people are we becoming as we become more intimate with machines? How does this new intimacy change our thinking in terms of the mind-body problem, and more specifically, how does it relate to our investigations of the nature of consciousness? The questions raised by relational artifacts relate to human being's fears and hopes about technology, and to the question of what is special about being human — what is the nature of personhood? In other words, how do these artifacts influence the way people think about human minds?
Ms. Catherine Botha
Lecturer, Department of Philosophy University of Johannesburg, University of Johannesburg,
Her main research interests are history of philosophy, especially Nietzsche and Heidegger; philosophy of technology and bioethics; as well as aesthetics of the performing arts.
Article published with permission from Common Ground Publishing and Ms.Catherine Botha
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