Dr. Susan Schneider published “Artificial You: AI and the Future of Your Mind” in 2019. On October 19, 2021, she gave an eponymous talk at Amherst College, discussing AI-based brain enhancement at a rate higher than biological evolution and analyzing the merging of human mind and AI from a philosophical perspective.
Image above: Hybrid event, Dr. Schneider on Zoom
with the audience in Paino Lecture Hall, Beneski Museum
First of all, she explained the idea of transhumanism: humans can overcome their biological limitations through science and technology. So an “unenhanced” human goes through “upgrading” via cognitive and physical enhancements and becomes posthuman, a superintelligent AI of sorts. Transhumanists tend to favor increasing replacement of parts of the brain with AI components. This raises a classic philosophical question: does consciousness transcend the brain?
Dr. Schneider then talks about the design ceilings, or the limits on human intelligence enhancements that are not imposed by evolution or technology, but instead they are philosophical in nature. First is the consciousness ceiling. It arises if microchips fail to underlie conscious experience. Here, she considers consciousness as the felt quality of existence. Therefore, seamless mind-machine merger does not occur. Second is the self ceiling, i.e. the point beyond which a person who attempts to enhance themselves is no longer the same individual as before, for the procedure causes the individual who sought enhancement to cease to exist. To tackle these ceilings, we need to understand what a human is to begin with. What are we? What is consciousness?
In considering these questions, Dr. Schenider addresses personhood and our understanding of consciousness through various philosophical ideas. She talked about brain-based materialism (we are essentially our brains, and perhaps some elements of our body) and psychological continuity theory (we are our memories and ability to reflect on ourselves, and overall psychological configuration). She also discussed patternism as a version of continuity that transhumanism might adopt. Patternism, she explained, consists of computational configuration (such as sensory systems and subsystems our brains have). Dr. Schneider drew the conclusion that we must approach metaphysical humility from the claims about survival that involve a person transferring one’s mind to a new type of substrate. Metaphysical humility refers to the idea that merging humans and AI with the purpose of enhancement should inspire humility. A safer approach in enhancement would be limited integration with the AI (such as removable devices, biological enhancements, implants that do not remove existing brain tissue). She argues that the public needs to be informed of the risks.
From her time working with NASA as the Distinguished Scholar Chair at the Library of Congress, Dr. Schneider explored the possibility of a universe of intelligences. What if the habitable planets in the universe are inhabited? What if consciousness is a “blip”, existing early in civilization development, dying out later on? She argues that these (and many more) questions and possibilities should inspire humility. “Technological prowess is not enough to flourish, we must appreciate the philosophical issues lying beneath the algorithms,” – concluded Dr. Schneider.
If this topic interests you, you might want to check out the AI in Liberal Arts initiative (,https://liberal-arts.ai).