My first session at ESOF today was a panel discussion on the challenges facing the future of mankind as we come to understand the biology of the human species, the complex genetics underpinning that biology and, as we make further advances in technology, how computers (oddly) can help clarify what it means to be human. The panel included Lone Frank, neurobiologist, Brian Christian,computer scientist, poet and philosopher, and Armand Leroi, a geneticist and was chaired expertly by Daniel Glaser from Wellcome Trust.
It was a fascinating discussion, which touched on many areas including the "self" concept, eugenics, artificial intelligence, brain physiology, futurism, human rights and more. I was intrigued particularly with the notion of the "self" and how our brain physiology seems to suggest that we have little control over who we are and what we do. This touched a nerve and got me thinking about humanistic teachings and psychotherapies, principles which forms the basis of most counsellors and psychotherapists work. Humanism and humanistic psychotherapies, under pinned by the work of Maslow & Rogers, has its basis in existentialism, in our species ability to be self aware and in having choice. I got the opportunity to put the question to the panel and to speak with Lone Frank afterwards about the conflict between self and humanistic therapies quest for self awareness. She spoke of a need to move from humanistic therapies to cognitive - behavioural therapies, "looking at who you are not and how can you change it". Lone also believes that narcotics will play a more central role in even our most basic therapeutic needs in the future, even psychedelic drugs like LSD. Brian Christian believes that computer therapy may play a larger role in psychotherapy and Lore agreed, "as long people give up the idea that it is essential to sit across from another human being". In reality, the other human being is an empathic voice and whether a computer can be empathetic is be be seen. Some research has been carried out on the effectiveness of computer therapy, with positive results in young people in particular.
Getting up early and making my way right across the city for this session was no mean task, but I am so glad I made the effort to attend. It was a fascinating yet challenging session, bringing questions of my own existence and the value of humanity to mind. I am now looking forward to reading Brian's book, The Most Human Human - What Artficicial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive.
Image Credit: Brian Christian