Kurzweil and Memory

Kurzweil notes that a Jack with neural implants to enhance his memory is still the “same Jack”. I paused after reading this bit to mull over the idea a bit more thoroughly. One’s entire archive of memories, which are deeply personal to that individual, are seemingly what makes that person that person. I am inclined to believe that memory is intricately intertwined with not only decision making but the individual’s personality as well. My own memory of a TV documentary, albeit very a cheesy one, brings forth the story of a person with such powerful recall that her memory tormented her daily routines; she wished she could forget the mindless things her memory forced her to remember.

The hypothetical Jack seems to suffer a similar fate – encountering memories he would have preferred to stay dim. Therefore, the act of “forgetting” seems to be as much a pillar of human behavior as the act of remembering (I’ve never read Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”, though its theme of involuntary memory seems to be particularly applicable). Is Jack the “same” person if his memory is significantly enhanced? I’m not so sure, but I would argue that his personality would not be the same.

To complicate things further, the act of mis-remembering seems to be a very human characteristic. I don’t think memories, in and of themselves, are ever truly “objective” experiences. Personal memories may ride the wave of subjectivity so far as to attain the level of “false memories”. Our brains make things up. Perhaps this is evolutionarily driven, a mechanism that arose out of our want to create meanings and symbols. How (and should) we design technologies to help us “forget”? (I, for one, have too many mobile photos, thousands, and I am still trying to figure out how to habitually and efficiently curate them).

It seems like our flaws and mental blemishes contribute to “what makes us human”. As a result, the idea of human “consciousness”, if uniquely human, should perhaps account for the (using ideas from the Japanese aesthetic, “Wabi-Sabi) imperfections and transience of human mental faculties. To address Kurzweil’s question; If by 2030, machines claim Descartes’ dictum, “I think, therefore I am”, should we believe them? How do we distinguish human “consciousness” and machine “consciousness”, and how can we escape our human-centric perspectives on consciousness?