When combined with the enormous number of “selfies” people take each day, a bot, troll or computer agent can monitor our lives and replicate much of it by approximating our actions. (Courtesy photo)

Digital immortality is our new reality

The Singularity — the merger of machines and humans — is a hot topic in the Bay Area. Here is a wake-up call for the next time you pick up your smartphone.

The algorithms of deep mathematics — combined with neural networks and high-speed processing — permit human systems monitoring to a high degree.

A robot programmed with the right information could potentially act as a “mirror” of ourselves, responding in real time as we would to all kinds of inputs, both social and biological. Here is how this is developing:

Today, we text nonstop. This messaging tool has all but replaced email, faxes, phone calls and the ancient “snail mail” letter. These messages, when analyzed, reflect our business, social and family lives. They can serve as windows into our moods, our fears and our desires.

When combined with the enormous number of “selfies” people take each day, a bot, troll or computer agent can monitor our lives and replicate much of it by approximating, with increasing skill, our actions. After a while, it can deduce exactly how we would respond to many of life’s inputs — and even predict how our lives will progress. With Photoshop-like “aging” tools already available, the image on our online profile can “naturally” age 20, 50 or even 150 years.

Our thoughts can now make artificial hands move. They can be transmitted through neural networks and activate various control mechanisms. Soon, they’ll be good enough to fly an airplane.

The humanoid robots that embody this technology will move and may even act better than we do. They can already write poetry, create original paintings and dance ballets.

Given time, this is likely to evolve beyond merely actionable thoughts. By mapping our neural networks as they respond to emotional and moral issues, a window opens onto consciousness itself. By reading the FitBit of your soul, of your spirituality, of your creativity, a bot may ultimately bring a “human” quality to its decisions.

Once this is fully realized, we will gain a sort of digital immortality. In the same way your Facebook page lives on after your death, your bot may live on — counseling your children as you would, and their children, its point of view evolving — just as yours would as new information enters your decision-making process.

Who is going to create these monitoring agents, and what ethical rules will the bots be governed by? What does “human” mean if a time comes when algorithms can evolve our mental and spiritual being as well, or better, than we can? What would you do or say if you knew your words and actions would be immortal?

In some ways, they already are … so think about what you say and do before you do it.

Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.

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