Artificial Intelligence or Transmigration of Thought, Mind and Soul?

The movie, Avatar to some students, is a boring movie with blue smurfs cast in a repetitive theme reminiscent of  Pocahontas. Childish. Inconsequential.  In other words, both thumbs down. To them I say, when you’re a little older- watch it again. And then again.

I agree with them that elements of the movie are taken from Indian culture- the naturalists’ idea of love the earth that feeds you and provides for you,  the inter-dependence  that exists between nature, man and beast.  Beyond the American Indian theme, it reminds me of the Buddhist dogma of “do no wrong”  as well. I  love the movie. Two thumbs up. -And not because of the all too obvious jab at capitalist lust and greed for limited resources, and thus the creation of perpetual war -I’m not that snarkey or pessimistic-or political, but because it’s a story of the struggle for courage and morality achieved through the unlikely means of transmigration- from one state of mind and existence to the other, from one reality to another.

In a very subtle but artistic manner, Avatar introduces to a young audience the big ideas that have been debated for centuries. When we dream do we escape the reality of our very ordinary life, travel to distant lands and return to ourselves, and maybe as a better person?  Or are dreams just memories and a reprocessing of the days events; are they a creative means of escape that is otherwise not possible?

In a bed with who-know-what wired to his brain, Sully falls to some kind of sleep or coma condition and his mind connects to its avatar. Is he  dreaming a dream and in a dream state, or is he alive and awake and actually in an avatar body and enjoying all the freedoms and sensations the same as his human body? Philosophically,  this is a good example of Descartes’ Cartesian dualism, and being captain of the ship, but separate from the ship body.  Which life is real? The one in the bed, or the avatar?  Is he human or is he machine? Scientifically, when I ask the class if they think this transmigration of sorts is possible, the majority answer, yes. Indeed.

I attended the MIT symposia, Minds, Brains and Machines hoping to learn new ideas and data about how the brain works. Instead I learned more details about the direction for AI. Artificial Intelligence had been on my mind but usually in reference to robotics. I think robots will settle the moon for example, not humans.  But there was little talk of robots and what their function will be throughout society. Not putting intelligence and programming into robots, the future seems to be the opposite- putting intelligence and programming into us. We are moving toward an AI integration, not sooner or later, but sooner. To that point, is science and research merely following Hollywood scripts?  Will we be Sully someday, in two places at the same time , enjoying life and all its freedoms, living two different experiences? It appears that we are  moving toward that frontier.  As super-humans we’ll be machinated and immortal, but will  we forget we once thought without programming? Machines, robots and AI  have a place in an industrialized economic society, but we are humans, not machines.  We are a unique species and we should embrace our mortality and all our imperfections and leave it to the machines to be machines.

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