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The convergence of man and machine

The convergence of man and machine The convergence of man and machine
Source: Leo Nuutinen via kitbash3d
2001: A Space Odyssey
From a book
2001: A Space Odyssey
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If there was disputation among the physicists, it was nothing compared with that among the biologists, when they discussed the hoary old problem: 'What would intelligent extraterrestrials look like?' They divided themselves into two opposing camps - one arguing that such creatures must be humanoid, the other equally convinced that 'they' would look nothing like men.

Settling for the first answer were those who believed that the design of two legs, two arms, and main sense organs at the highest point, was so basic and so sensible that it was hard to think of a better one. Of course, there would be minor differences like six fingers instead of five, oddly coloured skin or hair, and peculiar facial arrangements; but most intelligent extraterrestrials — usually abbreviated to E.T.s — would be so similar to Man that they might not be glanced at twice in poor lighting, or from a distance.

This anthropomorphic thinking was ridiculed by another group of biologists, true products of the Space Age who felt themselves free from the prejudices of the past. They pointed out that the human body was the result of millions of evolutionary choices, made by chance over aeons of time. At any one of these countless moments of decision, the genetic dice might have fallen differently, perhaps with better results. For the human body was a bizarre piece of improvisation, full of organs that had been diverted from one function to another, not always very successfully - and even containing discarded items, like the appendix, that were now worse than useless.

There were other thinkers, Bowman also found, who held even more exotic views. They did not believe that really advanced beings would possess organic bodies at all. Sooner or later, as their scientific knowledge progressed, they would get rid of the fragile, disease-and-accident-prone homes that Nature had given them, and which doomed them to inevitable death. They would replace their natural bodies as they wore out - or perhaps even before that - by constructions of metal and plastic, and would thus achieve immortality. The brain might linger for a little while as the last remnant of the organic body, directing its mechanical limbs and observing the universe through its electronic senses - senses far finer and subtler than those that blind evolution could ever develop.

Even on Earth, the first steps in this direction had been taken. There were millions of men, doomed in earlier ages, who now lived active and happy lives thanks to artificial limbs, kidneys, lungs and hearts. To this process there could be only one conclusion - however far off it might be.

And eventually; even the brain might go. As the seat of consciousness, it was not essential; the development of electronic intelligence had proved that. The conflict between mind and machine might be resolved at last in the eternal truce of complete symbiosis ...

But was even this the end? A few mystically inclined biologists went still further. They speculated, taking their cues from the beliefs of many religions, that mind would eventually free itself from matter. The robot body, like the flesh-and-blood one, would be no more than a stepping-stone to something which, long ago, men had called 'spirit'.

And if there was anything beyond that, its name could only be God.

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