132F96BB-3371-4AF2-8C7B-92027DD2F578 Created with sketchtool. In a World of Algorithms, What Is The Importance of Being Human?

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  Last updated March 7, 2017 at 1:14 pm

In the third edition of his Systema Natura Carl Linnaeus named our species Homo sapiens. Literally translated to “know thyself”, in bestowing this name on us all Linnaeus was saying that the distinguishing feature of humans against all other life on Earth was our ability for introspection, the still undefinable character of consciousness and the unscientific but meaningful concept of a human spirit.

It is this human spirit that has been the foundation for our success. Our ability for introspection spawned curiosity. For the first time in the history of life we could change our environment to suit our needs thus freeing ourselves from the endless iterations of Natural Selection where the environment shaped us. All that we have gained and developed can be traced back to that enigmatic description that Linnaeus so keenly identified; Know Thyself.

But, in an age where our technologies greatly exceed our natural abilities, we should take time to reflect on how far this replacement of our human functions can or should extend. Will the digital algorithms that can already outstrip our analog capacities to calculate, remember and organise ever extend to challenge the essence of what it is to be human? Can artificial intelligence ever define for us that which we cannot define for ourselves and approximate the functions of the human spirit? When so many domains of our historical activities are being replaced with automation, will there be any space left for the functions of the human brain? Will the rise of technology ever lead to the redundancy of humans?

These are deep and profound questions that arise out of the proposition in a world of algorithms, what is the importance of being human? We posed this proposition to some of the greatest minds in the nation, the Honorary Bragg Members of the Royal Institution of Australia. I think you will find their varied and insightful responses will keep you thinking long after you have read them.

What is a Bragg?

Named after the prominent Australian Pioneer scientists, Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir William Lawrence Bragg, Honorary Bragg Membership is the highest category of membership awarded by The Royal Institution of Australia and recognises excellence in scientific achievement and commitment to science communication.

This blog is the foreword excerpt from the e-book publication, In a world of algorithms, what is the importance of being human.

Download your PDF copy by clicking on the image below.


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About the Author

Kelly Wong
Contributing editor for News + Events and the online producer at Australia's Science Channel. I have a background in immunology, food blogging, volunteering, and social media. I'm passionate about creating communities on social media and getting them excited about science. I enjoy good food and I am on an eternal mission to find the best ice cream. Find me on Twitter @kellyyyllek


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