Saturday, October 19, 2019

#292 / Facebook Wants To Read Your Mind

Image obtained from the CNTRL-Labs website.
The claim I have placed in my headline, above, is also the headline of a brief commentary that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday, September 28, 2019: "Facebook wants to read your mind." 

This Quarter, at UCSC, I am teaching a course entitled, "Ethical and Political Implications of Emerging Technologies." Among other things, students will be investigating and reading about "cyborgs," defined as "an organism that has ... enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology..." The ethical and political implications of developing cyborgs, and providing these new beings with an entry into our human world, are quite significant. 

It is undoubtedly true, as Larry Magid tells us, that there are many potentially positive applications of mindreading technology. Facebook probably wants to "read your mind" so it can do a better job of selling you something. This is not necessarily a net positive, it seems to me, but that should be the least of our worries. Students in the class I am teaching are also reading a play, George Orwell's 1984. Anyone familiar with 1984 will immediately think that providing the government with mindreading capabilities would be like putting Big Brother on steroids.

It seems appropriate, doesn't it, that the following word precipates out from "MINDREADING?" 

My one year of theological education, at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, suggests  to me that there is a little-noted aspect of the "cyborg revolution" that is worthy of exploration. You could call this the "theological" perspective. 

Human beings are, indubitably, "creatures," whose presence on this Planet, and in the World of Nature, is mysterious indeed. We don't actually know why we're here or how we got here, and in default of some definitive information on that topic, we can and do tell ourselves stories in an effort to understand. The Bible and other sacred texts tell one story. Science has some other ones, and there are also, of course, efforts to meld science and the sacred, and to tell the story that way, as we seek to explain the "meaning of life."

Cyborg development, it strikes me, is one effort by human beings to avoid the need to try to explain, or discover, what brought us here, and why. 

By turning ourselves into cyborgs, in which project both "humans" and "machines" are combined, we can take the position, and make a convincing case, that we create ourselves. 

According to James Sanders, my Old Testament professor, actions based on an assertion that we are not, in fact, "creatures," subject to laws and rules that preexist us, and claims that we are the "creators" of our own existence, is the very definition of "sin."

We should probably be thinking about the theological implications of emerging cyborg technology. For aspiring PhD students, there's a thesis in there, somewhere!

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!