Cutting edge Science and Spirituality

The other day I was browsing the internet and found some really interesting articles on ‘Cutting edge science’. Here I would like to share a few of them.
The first item is from IBM. IBM Research has built a new nanoscale microscope capable of creating images with 100 million times finer resolution than existing MRI imaging technology.The breakthrough is said to be able to “see” beneath surfaces and be safe for sensitive biological materials. By running it on a tobacco mosaic virus that is 18 nanometers across–18 billionths of a meter–the new system achieved resolution down to 4 nanometers (one nanometer is one billionth of a meter). This is expected to have far reaching implications in designing drugs for fighting viruses.
Quite interestingly in the same compilation there is yet another piece which talks about an invention which makes materials invisible. To quote the report,”That cloaking device we’ve been dreaming of appears to be one step closer to actual cloakdom, so start pondering the mischievous possibilities”. The improved device from the scientists of Duke University is said to be significantly more sophisticated (than any invented so far) at cloaking an object (and eventually a person?) from visible light.

The device is made from a light-bending composite material that can detour electromagnetic waves around an object and reconnect.

The two inventions described above are contradictory in their end objectives – namely one is trying to magnify and see an invisible object while the other is trying to make an object invisible. Such is the nature of scientific spirit and human ingenuity. And sure enough, one can find applications for both!

The third innovation which interested me was the one from Ford on  ‘in-car connectivity’. Ford announced a series of innovations aimed at giving drivers a higher degree of Internet connectivity as well as a slew of tools devoted to helping them navigate in the most efficient way possible. This is an example of a car company learning to act like an electronics company for the purpose of better connectivity and communication. The emphasis is on 3 types of connectivity : beamed-in connectivity, such as from satellite; brought-in connectivity, such as from drivers’ own cell phones; and built-in connectivity, such as dash displays,each having its own utility and applications.
One application mentioned by the company which struck me as highly relevant to India (especially metros) is that the technology is designed to promote safe driving habits for teenagers by allowing parents to program an ignition key to limit a car’s top speed, as well as the volume of its sound system. Considering the number of car accidents in our metros involving teenagers driving around at terrifying speed and with high decibel music (a deadly combination made worse by late night partying and alcohol),this invention is bound to make an impact on reducing the number of fatal accidents.

The most impressive piece of news  which I liked was the one describing the combined power of biological sciences and Information Technology. This is an interview with Dr Ray Kurzweil,who is credited with a string of inventions – including a text-to-speech synthesizer, voice recognition software, and a print-to-speech reading machine for the blind – and who won several awards. He is also the author several books including ‘The age of Spiritual Machines’.

He describes a vision of the future where machine and human intelligence are increasingly combined, augmenting each other and ultimately, in Kurzweil’s view, enabling humans to become both smarter and better. “These technologies can enhance not just our intelligence but our ethical and moral sense and our emotional intelligence” he says.
Dr Kurzweil gives amazingly simple calculations to prove that our present day computing power is a billion times more powerful than the first generation computers made in 1965. The logic,in his own words, is as follows: “The computer in your cell phone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful and about a hundred thousand times smaller (than the one computer at MIT in 1965) and so that’s a billion-fold increase in capability per dollar or per euro that we’ve actually seen in the last 40 years,” says Kurzweil.

He dubs this as the “law of accelerating returns”.
Accordingly “we will see another billion-fold increase in the next 25 years–and another hundred-thousand-fold shrinking. So what used to fit in a building now fits in your pocket, what fits in your pocket now will fit blood cell in 25 years.”

The possibilities and consequences of such an increase in our capabilities in information technology are mind-boggling. Using the combined power of  IT and biology we should be in a position to increase our ability to invent new therapies or drugs which switch on or off genes /protiens / enzymes as required(eg: The genes that cause diabetes or heart disease etc). In such inventions IT helps by designing drugs on computers while biological simulators would test the efficacy. Such a cooperative effort by IT and biological sciences would significantly cut down the time required for drug development.

Extending this logic further Dr Kurzweil says that while biological human intelligence evolves slowly,non-biological intelligence (read ‘IT’) is subject to the law of accelerating returns. Therefore,it will continue to progress exponentially both in hardware and software. Ultimately non-biological intelligence will be much superior to biological human intelligence. And the synergy between man and machine will be used by human beings to make themselves smarter and expand their reach. That is what is unique about human beings. We were the first species to create tools to extend our reach and then we use our tools to create more powerful tools and no other species does that.

At the moment non-biological intelligence is not capable of several things that humans do so well -that is both pattern recognition and emotional thinking. Getting the joke, being funny, expressing a loving sentiment. These are actually the most complicated things we do, the cutting edge of human intelligence. And it will be the endeavour of IT and artificial intelligence to achieve such a high degree of complexity in intelligence.

He then touches on the most sensitive topic which strictly falls in the domain of spirituality – that is existence of  Soul or Consciousness. He refers to Brain science through which we’ve been able to look at the brain processes  in exquisite detail. But so far we don’t see anything that can be identified as a soul–there’s just a lot of neurons and they’re complicated but there’s no consciousness to be seen. It’s an emerging property of a very complex system that can reflect on itself. And therefore,according to Dr Kurzweil, if one were to create a system that had similar properties and complexity it would have the same emerging property of Consciousness.
So Dr Kurzweil says “we will attribute consciousness to entities even if they have no biology, even if they’re fully machine entities: they will seem human, they will seem consciousness, we will attribute souls to them but that’s not a scientific statement.”

Basically Dr Kurzweil is probably trying to debunk the belief system based on Soul,Consciousness etc.

This brings us to a discussion on Cosciousness. The relevant questions that arise are the following:

What precisely is Consciousness?  How does one experience it?  What are the consequences  or benifits of experiencing (or realising) Consciousness.  Let me state first what it is not. Consciousness is not merely a phenomenon of reflecting upon oneself as Dr Kurzweil seems to hypothesize. Reflecting upon oneself is just an intellectual exercise at best.  ‘Consciousness’ is a phenomenon transcending all physical,emotional and intellectual processes. In order to realise Consciousness, several philosophies recommend a certain discipline well known to all of us  as  meditation. During this process the mind becomes extremely quiet ,alert,sensitive  and therefore open to the so called cosmic energy. As several evolved Seers who have experienced Consciousness describe, it is a state in which one feels a sense of unity with the Universe (Cosmic Consciousness) leading to infinite happiness and bliss.  I am sure such an experience  is unique to human beings. Human beings alone are capable of  immensely benifitting ( from such a spiritual experience) by self transformation and  creating a much better society based on love and compasion.  In contrast,one can readily see that even if a machine is designed to experience Consciousness it has no consequence either to itself or to the society.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. and why do u feel that these machines of the future will not some day be capable of feeling a sense of unity with the universe?

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