Of Men and Machines

Science might have made us think of human bodies as machines. In this construct, when one starts becoming old, the lifetime of the machine starts coming to an end and the person’s utility is therefore limited. A consequent thought (never stated of course) for both caretakers and medical professionals would then be: what’s the point in spending too much time and efforts on a machine that anyway won’t last much longer?

In some contexts, the analogy of a machine might be close to being right, however crude it sounds. A large part of the biological machinery that keeps us alive and kicking has been quite well understood – the heart is a pump, blood vessels are tubes, bones are strong structures, muscles are elastic fibers. While parts of our anatomy such as cells are more intricate to be represented by a simple definition, their functions and processes in all likelihood follow consistent rules and metrics.

This is why modern science and medicine have produced remarkable feats with healing the human body – as they had done in amma’s case too many times in the past ten years.

But a human being is much more than a machine. Our brain cannot yet be considered a machine – and even if it is, it is an incredibly complex machine that will take a very long time, if ever, to be deciphered.

Our feelings and conscience and wisdom cannot be measured by tangible metrics, defined by equations, or controlled by formulae.

With artificial intelligence and machine learning, we are perhaps at a stage where we can be confident that machines and other man-made systems can learn over a period of time, just like humans can, and make decisions like them.

But can these learning and decisions ever incorporate wisdom, something that cannot be derived in any way from 0s and 1s alone but also needs feelings, conscience and that indescribable thing called the soul? Machines can perhaps become more and more human-like, but can they ever get humanistic?

In an interesting 2019 article in The Scientific American, a brain science expert Christof Koch is not sure when, or if, machines will become conscious, as even the most sophisticated brain simulations were unlikely to produce conscious feelings. 198

There’s only so much I would care about an old machine going out of service because I doubt I would ever have strong feelings for it.

But when amma died, she took with her so many things that mean so much to me, and none of these can be replicated. Ever. As I say and think about the preceding sentences, I begin to have a feeling. And it keeps growing the more I think about it.

A template for doctor-patient communications <= Of men and machines => Old lives matter

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Notes

198. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/will-machines-ever-become-conscious/

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