More than basic mechanical parts

I just got back from a run on the beach and it was low tide, so the sand was packed hard enough that I could keep a steady pace – I love moving to 135-145 bpm. I had Grendel on; I’m addicted to their Harsh Generation album and it never fails to keep me moving, even if I don’t necessarily want to. I did 3.5 km (~2.2 miles) according to my GPS, and it felt good. It was rough in bits, the sand does make it tougher, but I kept going and ran through the entire album before putting New Flesh on repeat while I cooled down.

That song is on my mind often, for many reasons. I cannot begin to assume that everyone knows the lyrics; the song discusses the idea of rebirth in the form of human-mechanical hybrids and mechanical beings. “Low life, high tech; raising the mortal coil – long live the new flesh” lends to a certain mechanical feel, plus towards the end of the song Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is quoted – “The notion that nature can be calculated inevitably leads to the conclusion that humans too can be reduced to basic mechanical parts.”

I first saw the original GotS when I was 17 and it stuck to me like nothing else; that and Akira were my starting points into my love affair with anime. The idea of merging biology with technology has always been intriguing to me, and something I find inevitable. I believe my first encounter with the idea of cyborgs was the transhumanistic Borg, while watching Star Trek: The Next Generation as a kid. My mother is a massive sci-fi fan, amongst many other fun and sometimes odd and quirky things, and so I was brought up on science fiction and am myself a massive fan.

The world in which the story of Ghost in the Shell is told is a post-cyberpunk world of cyborgs and advanced computer technology. Many people have gone through cyberization, where the biological brain is hybridized with electronic components to create augmented cyberbrains, using micro machine to interface with neural tissue and surrounding the cyberbrain with a metal shell. Having just minimal cyberization allows one to connect to computer networks, including the internet, and others with cyberbrains. Technology has become completely integrated into the human experience.

This level of connectivity that arises through the use of these cyberbrains can be likened to the interconnectedness of all human beings on a basic energy level. However, the link in the story is mechanical in origin. One of the prevailing themes of the GotS series is the concept of the soul – do souls exist? If so, what constitutes a soul? Can artificial intelligence harbor a soul? And are we in our rights as parts of the living world to bring such creations into existence?

Another powerful movie that deals with such concepts is Blade Runner – based off the short story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by one of my favourite authors and an author that pushed the limits of human understanding countless times, Philip K Dick. While the movie adaptation was very well done (thank you, Ridley Scott), there were many aspects of the story that were not translated to the screen but the essence of the story was still true to form. The major theme of what it means to be human is prevalent in both versions of the story, in addition to the concept of empathy. Empathy is the gauge in which the main character determines if an individual is a human being or an android by use of test questions that are meant to trigger feelings of empathy (‘if you’re human, you’ll show empathy’ is the idea behind the test). Yet even in the story, there is a human who fails the empathy test — so the question remains, what makes us human? Is it our ability to feel emotions? Our capacity to forgive? Our empathy toward other living things? Does compassion make us human? And if androids did in fact dream of electric sheep, does that somehow make them more human than machine?

With the ever-increasing integration of technology into the human framework, these questions are bound to become more relevant as more powerful AI’s like Watson are created and integrated into daily life. People are beginning to merge their biology with technology to become the first cyborgs of our society (not counting those who have already been living with artificial implants such as a pace maker). At what point does the line between mechanical and biological disappear? While the current additives that the new ‘cyborgs’ use are basic and experimental, they are just the beginning. It is predicted that within the next 20 years neuroprosthetic augmentation will be a reality. While this type of augmentation would not change whether or not a person is a human being or not, it does spur the question of how much can a person’s body be replaced by mechanical parts before that person is no longer a person? Can artificial parts be the constituents of a human body? Can a soul reside in such artificial parts?

Can a mechanical mind harbour consciousness and unconsciousness? Is self-awareness the keystone to consciousness, and is it by being self aware that one is conscious? Does self-awareness go hand-in-hand with empathy? What makes us human?

I personally believe that a soul cannot reside in a mechanical form, for the synthetic nature of the body does not resonate/vibrate in the proper frequencies for this to happen. In addition, I do not believe that the human mind can be copied or downloaded into an artificial form or to computer hardware. We are quantum mechanical creatures inhabiting corporeal forms, fragments of the Source Energy that we are all connected to. How then, if this is the case, can artificial intelligence possibly exist? Would it be a different form of life entirely, one not spawned from the Source Energy but instead from a different source entirely? If so, what is that source and is it also artificial in nature? If artificial beings are programmed to behave in the same way humans do, what differentiates them from humans? What is the mind? Can humans be reduced to basic mechanical parts? I do not have the answer to these questions but I find it important to ask them.

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