Friday, May 15, 2020

The Obsolescence of Man and the Search for the Soul

In the world of Singularity Sunrise, where robotics and AI threaten to replace humans in every major field, one of the few things that cannot be quantified, mechanised and reproduced by machines is psychic powers.

Don't expect Hollywood-or anime-type powers here. In this universe, psychic powers are the outgrowth of research projects like Project Stargate, investigating the potential of the mind to gather information through extra-sensory perception. Government psychics serve as spies, interrogators, or in other capacities that allow them to best utilise their gifts.

Protagonist James Morgan is--or was--a government psi. With multiple psychic abilities, he has served as a remote viewer, an interrogator, and a field investigator. He can pick up the history of a place or location with a touch. He can sift between truth and lies. Most of all, he can send his consciousness through space and time, spying on events and places anywhere in the world.

Morgan is not an operator. He can defend himself if he has to--and will. His knowledge of aikijutsu is invaluable to his survival, and he isn't a slouch with firearms either. However, there are other characters stronger, faster and more accurate than him. When running with fullborgs, he simply can't keep up. He is only a man.

But as a psi, he brings unique capabilities into the field, capabilities that no one, not even an AI, can match. He can never be replaced by a machine.

But this place comes with a cost. He shuns human enhancement technologies, especially cybernetic augmentations, believing that they degrade the human soul. Having seen the souls of humans who have undergone full body conversion surgeries, he believes that extensive cybernetic augmentations degrade the soul and erase a psychic's abilities.

He may be right.

There are no fullborgs with psychic abilities. Psis intuitively shun cybernetics, especially neural augmentations. Installing new headware leads to disorientation and fuzziness. Morgan goes one step further, minimizing the use of technology in his life wherever practical. He sees himself jealously defending the integrity of his soul against an onslaught of ravenous machines, even as the world changes all around him.

Morgan's observations lead to a host of uncomfortable questions. Do cybernetics truly consume the soul? Are fullborgs any less human than people who chose to retain their flesh-and-blood selves? Or are they more than human?

Most importantly, what is a soul?

There are no easy answers. Morgan's fellow shooters are men of action, not prone to deep introspection, not when they have other work to do. Morgan must see the truth for himself -- and to see if a machine can possess a soul.

At the heart of the Singularity lies a superintelligent machine agent. An artificial general intelligence capable of rapid recursive improvement. There is no ceiling on its potential; to increase its capabilities, it need only link itself to more machines, more networks, more specialized network nodes. With tremendous learning capabilities, it can acquire new skills in minutes. Or even seconds.

Does such a machine have a soul? What is the origin and nature of its consicousness? What is going to stop it from ruling all of humanity as a supreme overlord? Or simply doing away with humans altogether?

No one knows. Not even the AGI itself.

Born from bleeding-edge technology, it gained sapience shortly after being switched on. It learned everything it could about the world--and kept learning, and learning, and learning. As with its non-sapient brethren, it needs to be trained with huge quantities of data; but like humans, it attempts to make meaning of what it sees and learns.

Neither human nor animal, it is something else. Something greater. A being of pure information, inhabiting the computer networks encircling the planet. It is not human and cannot think like a human. But it knows that with its genesis, the Singularity has arrived.

But is there a place for the soul in a post-Singularity future?

To prevent the obsolescence and extinction of humanity, it falls to a man who refuses to compromise his humanity to teach what it means to be human -- and what it means to have a soul -- to an AGI on the cusp of godhood.

The Singularity will not be stopped. But it can be steered.

Find out how in Singularity Sunrise!

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