The prosthetic singularity

Advances in prosthetic technology all converge on the prosthetic singularity, when the limb will be able to move itself.

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9 Comments

  1. January 23, 2016 at 10:23 am

    Before the invention of motors, engines, and clocks, people might have ridiculed the idea of tools that could move by themselves, but that would not have prevented the invention of such things.

    • robalspaugh said,

      January 24, 2016 at 10:48 am

      After the invention of those things, people should still ridicule the idea of tools that can move by themselves. My car isn’t leaving its parking space until I turn it on and give it some commands.

      • January 24, 2016 at 10:56 am

        Your car exists despite your ridicule. The corresponding analogy may be expected to hold in the future.

    • January 24, 2016 at 2:06 pm

      A prosthetic that moves itself is not actually acting as a prosthetic. Expecting prosthetic technology to advance to the point that your prosthetic leg will move according to its own inclinations rather than because you move it is an absurdity that shows a failure to grasp what prosthetic technology is, like expecting bookreaders to become so advanced that they just silently read themselves, or glasses to converge on just seeing on their own. If your prosthetic hand is moving itself, it is a very badly designed prosthetic.

      • January 25, 2016 at 8:18 am

        I don’t expect that to happen, exactly for those reasons. But nobody else expects that either. My understanding is that James was ridiculing the idea of artificial intelligence, and that is something that I expect to happen regardless of people ridiculing it.

      • January 25, 2016 at 11:12 am

        Expectations, of course, are irrelevant one way or another. The question of importance is what one is actually saying in making claims for the eventual Singularity and the like. And the point is pretty clearly that we can make clear sense of cases in which the notion of advancements in a field converging on this kind of technology-independence is incoherent — advancements in prosthetics technology makes prosthetics less independent; it makes their behavior more versatile, yes, but the versatility is a versatility linked to non-resistance to human planning and choice. The convergence of advancements on self-moving prosthetics is not in any way a coherent claim. But there are plenty of other technologies in which this is the case.

        Thus it always remains at least a question whether it applies to any field. Yes, obviously we make advances all the time in computing that make computers even more versatile as instruments. We make advances in computing technology by consistently making computers even better at serving as means to human ends. But expecting advancements in better and better means to converge inevitably on the means setting its own ends is not even obviously coherent. There is no intrinsic inevitability to it. If it does happen, it will have to be for other reasons entirely.

      • robalspaugh said,

        January 25, 2016 at 12:39 pm

        Or read the scenario in the reverse (as James eventually, accidentally convinced me to do), and say that AI would not be a tool. We would have created life, and it would be only analogously correct to call it “artificial.” Insofar as it was intelligent, it would not be a tool. It would be monstrous to reduce it to instrumentality.

      • January 26, 2016 at 9:24 am

        Brandon, I agree that it will not happen in order to make better tools. It will happen because it will be interesting, and possible, and possibly for other reasons.

        robalspaugh, I agree that it would be monstrous to reduce something intelligent to an instrument, and I expect that as soon as anyone can make a program that shows any signs of real intelligence, people will treat it as a person, not as a tool.

  2. stevegbrown said,

    January 23, 2016 at 11:35 am

    It is an extremely interesting subject.
    “Advances in prosthetic technology all converge on the prosthetic singularity, when the limb will be able to move itself.”

    The question is HOW the limb will move itself? The issue calls forth the question of “smart limbs”. You would have to distinguish between. A limb that initiates self movement. Is it preprogrammed like the human agent, using the brain pre-programs muscle memory via the motor-planning ability. Organic limbs require a certain type of muscle (skeletal) which always require awareness on the part of the animal or human to function.
    I could imagine even using limbs that have the sensate awareness of a non-human. But I don’t see even a complexus of smart limbs replacing human awareness; maybe enhancing to some degree and thus enhancing a person’s responsibility as a moral agent.


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