Computerising the human being!

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Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

EFFORTS have been on for some time, it would appear, to ‘humanize the computer’. One would have thought that, as things stand, the influence of the computer on the human being – and the human mind – is intrusive enough. But, apparently, there are scientists who think otherwise and are out to correct the omission. It appears that several scientists believe that if computer technology improves enough it may well be possible to construct an artificial ‘brain’ that, to a lay observer, would be impossible to distinguish from the real one. The objective, it appears, is not to hone human intelligence to perfection but rather to develop an artificial substitute. The question that thereby presents itself, begging for an answer, is: will, then, a day dawn when an anonymous blob sitting in front of a computer be able to surpass a veritable genius in intelligence? Deviating a bit from the subject in question, one may be excused for asking: while scientists are out to ‘humanize’ the computer, how about a parallel attempt at – shall one say – computerizing the human being? For all one knows, such an attempt may already be in the works. Powers that be in the Land of the Pure are also attempting to clamber aboard the band wagon. Incidentally, where would one place the much-heralded ‘lap-top computer distribution campaign’ in this scheme of things?
One can hardly help noticing that more and more seats of learning are becoming computer prone. Even as early as in primary schools in developed states pupils are fast getting addicted to computers. Select private sector schools in several developing states are not far behind. What is one to make of such a development? One thing is certain: utilisation of the human mind is being restricted merely to deciding what button to press and when. In particular, exercising the human mind in the solution of simple mathematical problems – like multiplication and division – is today a thing of the past. The regrettable result of the aforementioned is that the new education system is leaning towards the mass production of ‘automatons’. As a consequence of this ‘development’, the difference between the ‘brilliant’ and the ‘mediocre’ is fast being obliterated. One dreads the epoch when the world will be peopled by rows and rows of mediocre clones, each sitting in front of his or her computer screen frantically pressing button after button. Can the day be far off when the Nobel Prizes will be awarded to particular computers, with the names of their ‘minders’ within parentheses?
One is coming across more and more instances of the machine overpowering the human being. The situation impels one to pose the fundamental question: does man have control over his creation – the computer – or is it the other way around? Frivolity aside, it does appear obvious though that humankind is fast becoming increasingly dependent on the Machine. Ominously, bit by bit, Humankind has been surrendering its prerogatives to the Machine. The human brain — the super computer nature has blessed humankind with – appears to be in danger of becoming subservient to its own creation. Not, mind you, due to any inherent weakness in its structure, but merely because of the tendency of Man to take the easy way out and not to put his brain to proper use. Things have come to such a pass that pupils in schools no longer master the art of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. The prevalent philosophy appears to be: why tax one’s brain when the machine can solve it for you? It is an intriguing thought to contemplate as to what will become of world-renowned seats of learning were their computers to be switched off for, say, six months at a stretch!
The scenario that the developed world is faced with today brings to mind a comic book story one read a long time ago. The super-human hero of the comic strip comes upon a community of people in great distress somewhere in the galaxy. The people in question are camped in squalor in a forest just outside their state of the art city, unable to enter it! It so happened that the community in question became so advanced in technology that it developed automated computerized systems for all its functions. Among the functions was a sophisticated defense mechanism that would automatically be set into operation if and when intruders tried to force entry into the city. Then it came to pass that in stepped Nature, as is its wont. A terrible earthquake forced all the inhabitants to flee the city, only to find their way back barred by their very own automated defense system. Comic book stories always have a happy ending and our super-hero saved the day. But one has grave doubts if it is possible to find such saviours in real life. Or is one being cynical? Humankind would be well advised to draw the line at some point. It is never a good policy to start something that one cannot stop. A good scientist learns to ensure that the initiative is never allowed to pass out of his, or her, hands. Let Humankind not forget that Nature is always a step ahead. Not all that long ago, the developed world was going all to pieces over the imagined (imaginary?) effects of the so-called ‘millennium bug’. As it was, nothing untoward happened. Nonetheless, one would have expected a bit more grit from the Brave New World of Technology! Or is that asking for too much?
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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