The Age of Spiritual Machines: Part 3

The Human Factor

I believe the human factor makes Kurzweil’s predictions unlikely to be true. No future can be predicted accurately, that is extremely foolish. The Human Factor is the term used in this article to describe that unpredictable humans nature which is capable of  changing their political views. Kurzweil’s focus on computer science has limited his ability to take into account other major factors in the development of computer technology in all society, like wars for example.. That is, human behaviour dictates whether a certain innovation is viable. If there is no need or market demand and yet a technology is available, that technology will not be viable on moral grounds, and policy grounds. The differences in human behaviour make certain technology such as the internet more present in the United States than in China. The human factor explains why the Japanese produce and play better computer games than the Germans or French who have different cultural behaviours. If Kurzweil addressed this problem seriously, he would have a much more credible book albeit he would have to admit that his book is mostly pretty much bullshit.

To illustrate the importance of the Human Factors, we can turn to the classic Segway case. The Segway was supposed to change the way people commuted in urban centres. Walking would no longer be the primary form of transportation. The Segway was imaginative and bold. In the excitement of computer and motorized advances, the scientists failed to take into account that health consciousness was an emerging cultural phenomenon. The Segway never gained the popularity that was anticipated because of the ‘attachment anxiety’ humans have for….walking! The problem with regard to technology becoming viable is that the culture, psychological, socioeconomic (all under the umbrella of Human Factors) may resist some technological advances. Like the computer nerds behind Segway, Kurzweil fails to seriously address why most of his imaginative predictions would be desirable to 95% of the people (those who aren’t already obsessed about technological possibilities like living forever).

Other examples of the Human Factors influencing technological predictions include: more paper being used because of computers, VHS defeating superior BETA technology, robots in every household by 1980, Martian colonies by 2010, laser-guns, flying cars etc.

Successfully predicting the Human Factor would mean complete order in the future. If we could map out all human beings, it is likely that most people would intentionally randomize their behaviour further rejecting a technology that pre-determines their entire existence. Complete computer mapping of all human behaviour would likely result in the end of creativity which is a product of chaos/randomness. Not being predictable is what makes life worth living. Fortunately, human behaviour is difficult to predict if not because of the complexity of the Human Factors but because humans change over time. Change is what academics always complain about. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World highlights the dehumanizing aspects of scientific progress. The Human Factor stands to gain from remaining….human. How do we define a person? What is sacred? Should anything be sacred about our lives? What do we want to keep about human behaviour? Is there any traditions that will be valid in the 2100? Should we protect these traditions? Why do humans reject change? Academics do in fact make predictions, they will suggest certain possibilities and think about their result but they never claim that anything they do is certain because of the Human Factor. If someone could completely predict all human factors’ influence on technology they would be the most powerful person on earth. Bill Gates is one of the most powerful men on earth, not surprisingly, he has a keen sense of human behaviour. His ability to guess accurately the Human Factor explains his successful work with Microsoft. The formula below explains the Human Factor:

Human behaviour = Unpredictability.

Most people who do not have a degree in computer science will ask; Is technology always a positive thing, like for example nuclear weapons? The question isn’t Can we do something but should we do that something?…This is a manifestation of the Human Factors.

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