“The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled”
Laotse, Tao Te King, 4
We often read that the future will be quite different from what life is today. Technology has come to take such an essential place in our current ordinary life that we cannot imagine one without the other. While diseases are supposed to be reduced, comfort and safety would be increased. At the same time, automatization will impact on the amount of jobs and many will be left apart from society. The future is both scary and full of hope. I am not a futurologist, or a sociologist, or even an anthropologist. But I do invite you to come and join me in this imaginary journey to the realms of what is to come and fantasize about possible challenges for human kind. Safety not guaranteed.
“The real question is not whether machines think but whether if men do”
- F. Skinner, Contingencies of Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis
It has been said that The Age of Aquarius will be an age of prosperity. Technology would be used for the grace and empowerment of the race of men who would live in brotherhood. The current state of things does not seem to be aiming there. Concerns about pollution arise, warnings about the state of the Earth and some ideological postures that seem outdated and act directly against Human Rights (such as the Migrant Crises in Europe, the still existent Guantanamo Bay detention camp or the recent masacre in Orlando). But let us hope for the Aquarian omen to be true. Since we have seen our Earth from outer space back in 1969, we have raised a higher and higher sense of belonging. Emerging NGOs all over the planet keep us informed, connected and willing to co-operate with whatever calamity is happening in the other extreme of our home. Jeremy Rifkin stands that the key to our future could be in building an empathic civilization.
We can also see the technological aspect of this Age and how our life has changed. Gadgets and devices are being designed more and more in such ways that they can assist us in ordinary everyday life. Furthermore it has been claimed that cyborgs are among us (https://www.ted.com/talks/neil_harbisson_i_listen_to_color?language=en) and that reality can be augmented (https://vimeo.com/166807261 ). It has also been said that the labour environment will change and many jobs will be lost in the next ten to fifteen years. This is scary, I know.
But we have not covered the full range of possibilities. For the furthest and most desired technological achievement seems to be creating life from scratch. According to Apollodorus, Prometheus was the one who founded the human race. We have inherited this desire from our mythical creator. Perhaps this is one of the foundations myths of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Neither cloning nor assisted reproductive attention can fulfil this dream as they use living cells in order to create life. Scientists have now moved their attention in the making of a robot with such an intelligence and behaviour that it resembles us. Since the invention of the Turing Machine in 1936, psychologists have wondered how mental processes make us human and how a machine would need to perform in order to be like one of us. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, David Bowman cruelly killed HAL 9000 in order to save his life. The idea of a potent kind of artificial intelligence has been swarming around our conscious thinking for quite a while now. We have all seen Blade Runner´s replicants: “more human than humans”.
A possible future: artificial intelligence indistinguishable from human life and robots walking among us. In such an environment, questions may rise. Questions that may help us understand ourselves. I can imagine automated machines living in tandem with us. At first, they would be our property and do as we say. But if they are like us, they would eventually gain consciousness of themselves. I see machines forcing us to improve our social systems, just as the passing from Imperialism to Feudalism did or as the declaration of freedom as a basic human right changed the lives of slaves forever. For they would claim to have a life on their own, to sense pain, to feel emotions and to desire a dignified life (they will have been programed to do all that). And when trying to probe them different, we would find ourselves puzzled on how to do so. Can you also see emerging NGOs supporting not only human rights but machine rights (“because they also suffer”)? If myths are right, they may even rebel against us and dominate us as we have also turned against our creator and try to rule over the Forces of Nature.
But I want to move beyond the fear and the catastrophic pictures. This is not about demonizing technology. I want to ask (I actually need to ask) why we find this scenario so threating. What is it that we fear so much? It cannot simply be our fear of extinction (“they may be taking our jobs and turning against us”) as I am sure there would be measures against it. There is some elusive terror, I believe, some obscure menace. The increasing level of complexity in our current human relations and the hypothetical human-machine bonds may be demanding a leap in our understanding. But to do so we must face our very fundamental trepidations. For if machines can act and seem human, what will difference them from us? In Blade Runner, Dirk Reinhart had to ask himself this question and I strongly believe this is the fundamental matter. For what is life then? And what is special about us? What is it that makes us human? Let us stay with this urgent questions. Let us see ourselves, face to a face, against another human being, a fellow of our own, and let us now understand our weird mock: is he/she human or merely a machine? Are his/her feelings authentic or programmed? Or actually, is it me who is a computer?
Let us thus arrive to the fundamental despairing anxiety that lies behind our fears: if these robots seem to be humans but have been merely programmed to do so, if their feelings, emotions, desires and actions are the mere result of an interaction between their programming and their context, and if, as a result, they look like humans. Then, have we not been programmed to act, talk, feel and be as we are? Are we authentic or merely the solution of a high complex algorithm encrypted in our genetic code? This is a stressful and painful idea, I know. But we must be brave and dare asking such questions. Is it possible that we are not as incredible, free and spontaneous as we may think but a mere result of some kind of biological/psychological (¿spiritual?) programming? When I love, then, am I really loving? And my way of life, is it truly my own?
“By Jove, I have it! Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac here is the life of man in one round chapter: and now I’ll read it off, straight out of the book. Come Almanack! To begin: there’s Aries, or the Ram…”
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
If we see the Zodiac as the marking of the development of Nature we could understand Aries as the emergence or the beginning, Taurus as the gathering of resources and matter, Gemini as the possibility of connections, Cancer as the closing of an environment in order to stabilize it and give it shape, Leo as the expression of a resulting new entity, Virgo as its refinement, Libra as making contact with the outer world, Scorpio as sharing this external world, Sagittarius as the hope that there is a purpose in its development, Capricorn as the final state of evolution, Aquarius as the comprehension that our entity is unique but part of a net of a greater system and Pisces as letting go of its identity in order to fully merge to a Greater Whole. So the Age of Aquarius may be guiding us to see that we are unique, yes, but part of a system filled with other entities as exceptional as us who also deserve their freedom and equal opportunities to exist. This age may also be pushing us to take an airy step and see ourselves from distance in order to gain objectivity, just as we did in 1969. Of course, the threat of losing our special self is scary. We seem to be reacting by opposing Aquarius, from Leo. Thus the war against questioning who we are is played in the battlefields of technology and networking environments where we try to scream “I, I and I!” by filling our Facebook profiles (our “biographies”) with selfies and information on how we are and why we are special. But our Facebook biographies are a lie, a selection of what we want others to see in us and perhaps what we want to see of ourselves.
This childish fearful reaction is taking us to the opposite side of the development that this Age is offering us. We are locked in our own created fake identity and grasping with fearful claws all that we think define us as unique, special and individuals.
“…must we not be aware of our purposive intention,
whether we desire to nourish the ego or not?”
Jiddu Krishnamurti, Reflections on the Self
Each one of us has been born in a particular place at a particular time. Each one of us is the manifestation of a moment of the Universe according to a certain point of view. Each, the expression of that setting, carrying a unique astral chart. It has been said that we can use it to discover who we are. However, I have come to believe that we do not grasp who we are with this map of the sky. Instead, we get to know which archetypes we feel identified with: the ones we will wear through the passing of our lives. We are not these archetypes, of course, as an actor is not the character he is playing. It is hard to accept that we are not our emotions, feelings, thoughts and actions but rather we dress up with them. It is very complicated to see that we have deceived ourselves in believing otherwise. We are strongly identified with them, naive believers of being the captain of our fates. It is also painful to accept otherwise. It is the breaking of our identity and the facing of a void: if I am not all that, what am I? What makes me I?
We arrive at an already asked question: what makes me human? The answer may lie in the blessing of the Age of Aquarius, brought to us through the wonders of Artificial Intelligence and their feared replicants (more human than humans). For if this future does not come to pass, its sole possibility is helping us wonder about ourselves. If we get to see the humanized robots as equal to us, knowing they have been programmed to be who they are, we may get to realize that also we must have been programmed. When facing these intelligent droids, we are somehow facing ourselves, becoming aware that we are wired by the archetypes that can be identified in our astral chart in such a way that we got to believe they are us. As we embrace this breaking of our identity, we may get to glide from Leo to Aquarius and to relinquish our childish desire of the eternal persistence and attachment to our personality. For we are not the archetypes we play to be. We are, instead, the ultimate observant. Or, as Alan Watts used to put it, the Universe looking at itself.
Words fail me now. That’s the closest I can get to the true definition of “I”.
Alejo is a Certificate Holder and is currently studying at diploma level.