March 31, 2011 Leave a comment
Many advances in the realm of artificial intelligence are now occurring. A new and related branch of investigation building upon these studies is the robotic paradigm of neosentience, or an intelligent, embodied, multimodal sensing and computational robotic system (Seaman and Rossler 2008). With the ability to learn, intelligently navigate, interact through natural language, generate simulations of behavior, create, display mirror competence, and gain contextual knowledge through multimodal sensing, the neosentient exhibits the mechanistic triumphs of the human body. The human, however, is rapidly shifting in how it interacts with the external environment. Organic, compartmentalized, and discrete interactions are being replaced with inorganic, nebulous, and gradation-based relationships. With rapid changes occurring in the way the humans relate to their environment, the neosentient, and its potential for multimodal sensing and intelligent interaction with other entities, may be defined both spatially and temporally.
There have been numerous models proposed to define an entity as living or non-living. An integral portion of many of these theories is defining the boundary between the external environment and the actual living organism. The traditional and biological view of living things takes root in compartmentalization. A discrete boundary exists between the organism of interest and the environment. Amongst program, improvisation, energy, regeneration, adaptability, and seclusion, Koshland has classified compartmentalization as a key component of a living entity (Koshland 2002). This requirement of sequestering functional parts has been defined as crucial for organisms on the terrestrial (McKay 2004) as well as extraterrestrial level (Ricardo 2009). Additionally, life has been strongly classified as being based in organic materials. The atoms of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon have been identified as the fundamental building blocks for life. With the exception of a few metal ions, organic molecules have predominantly been associated with living systems (Shapiro 2007).
With recent advances in the fields of biomedical engineering, neuroscience, materials science, and computer science, these traditional definitions of life are being challenged. In particular, there has been a significant progress made expanding the interface of the external environment and the organism. New theories of what defines a part of a living organism are trending away from absolute boundaries and compartmentalization. In the realm of human health, numerous advances in prosthetics for damaged body parts are already being implemented. Cochlear implants, mechanical devices implanted within the inner ear, are being utilized to augment hearing and provide sensation back to those who have damaged their sensory organs. Artificial limbs and prosthetics, far more functional than ever before, are being given to patients for amputated appendages. These devices often restore not only the ability to engage in normal daily activities, but also provide them with the skill and prestige to participate in sports—displays of heightened and refined physical ability. Additionally, transplants for organs from donors of not singularly human origin, are being performed daily. The completion of the Human Biome Project has closely linked the microflora of the intestinal tract to human health. It has now become clear that there is an intricate and intimate linkage between the human genome and intestinal microbiome. Collectively, microorganisms and the human make up the human metagenome, revolutionizing medical intervention and care (Hattori and Taylor 2009). The boundary between the living and the environment is becoming increasingly nebulous.
Furthermore, researchers are looking into the use of inorganic and other “new” macromolecules. These new collections of atoms could be used to synthesize life and recreate the formation of the first cells. Silicon in particular has showed promise. The element has the same valence electron pattern as carbon, the “backbone” of most life on earth and has the potential to show similar bonding properties. Many physicians are looking towards utilizing artificial parts for transplantation. Widespread use of xenogenic transplantation utilization, fetal brain cell transplantation, and transplantation of isolated cells proved wrong. Research for the twenty first century mostly likely will consist of hybrid and entirely artificial, implantable devices (Rowinski 2007).
From these changing dynamics, I will argue that we must view the body in both space and time. This new view will have important implications subsequently for the neosentient. In reflecting upon the importance of spatial location for the neosentient, I will draw upon the embryological model of sequential induction. To further emphasize that the environment is only not influential at an infinitely large distance away, I will draw upon the physics theories of gravitational and electrical potential energy. In examining the role of time and the environment in relation to the neosentient, I will examine aging and degradation of mechanical and chemical elements.
I will next look at the implications of this new viewing of the human and neosentient form for the established definition of the neosentient. Sensing and application potentials, interactions with other neosentients and humans, senescence, and senility for the neosentient will all be explored. Subsequently, I will reflect upon how our own definitions of sentience and senility may change. Senescence and aging may trend towards having an inorganic rather than organic basis. Products of material science research are being implemented for sports health and medicine. Health and the process of aging may be limited more by materials than by biological elements.
From this analysis, I will reflect upon the important questions this new definition of boundary will address. In particular, the value of aging and death for the neosentient is worth exploring as the boundary between living and non-living is blurred.