The Technium

Robots Will Make Us Better Humans

The paramount reason we put up with the churn of technology — always having to change and confront new problems — is that technology makes us better humans. It always has.

Our humanity is something we invented over the course of a million years. It’s our first and most important “tool”. In fact, we ourselves — humans — are the first wild creations we domesticated, before wheat, corn, dogs, cows and chickens. We’ve been modifying ourselves, and our genes, since day 1. It’s true that most of our behavior is primitive, unchanged, ancient, and no different than our animal cousins. But not all. And it is these different bits that make us human.

The 8 billion people alive on the planet today are not the same beings who walked through the Rift Valley millennia ago. We’ve changed our bodies, our minds, and our society. We are more human.

When we domesticated fire by learning how to start it and manage it, we used it to cook our food. We took plants we had trouble digesting and figured out how to pre-digest them by cooking them with fire. Fire was among our very first tools. It was definitely a transforming invention. Over time this external stomach provided increased nutrition that helped our brains expand. It also changed our teeth and jaws.

Archeologists can identify skulls of humans by our teeth and jaws. But we would not say our teeth are what define us, nor that they make us better. We might argue that having a bigger brain does in part define us. (We named ourselves Homo Sapiens, the brainy animal. )

When we make a list of those things that distinguish us from animals (and from machines) that becomes our working definition of human. If we can expand those same qualities, maybe improve them, then they would make us better humans.

At our best, humans display these qualities: fairness, justice, mercy, ingenuity, self-consciousness, long-term thinking, deductive logic, intuition, transcendence, gratitude, imagination, creativity, and most important, empathy.

Over the span of many centuries, we have created systems that help us improve in those categories. We invented cities, societies, laws, and civilizations to build up trust, fairness, long-term thinking, and creativity. IN that time we expanded our circle of empathy. We’ve gone from caring primarily about our clan, to our tribe, to our nation, to other species, to a planet.

We are going to accelerate this improvement with new inventions, new technologies.

  1. As we engineer creativity and ingenuity into AIs, they will force us to refine and develop our own creativity and ingenuity. We will gain new understandings of how these traits work (in order to synthesize them) and that will ignite us to refine what we do.
  2. As we engineer ethics and morality into AIs and robots we will come to see that our own ethics and moral notions are shallow and inconsistent. Teaching robots will be like teaching our children; it will make us better at the subject. We’ll have to upgrade our own notions and practices.
  3. As we invent new kinds of beings, perhaps even those with some degrees of self-awareness, we will continue to expand our empathy toward artificial minds.
  4. We will continue to weave ourselves together with communications, collaborating in the millions, which will create better ideas of equity and opportunity.
  5. New technologies of psychedelics and brain-computer interfaces will enable new kinds of transcendence and spirituality.

Rather than diminish our humanity, technology is on course to keep improving it. AIs and robots will make us better people (on average).


© 2023