Future of A.I./ Shapeshifters

Hosted byGeorge Knapp

Future of A.I./ Shapeshifters

About the show

Artificial intelligence expert, Dr. Susan Schneider joined George Knapp to discuss the rapid pace of progress in AI that many predict could advance to human-level intelligence within the next several decades. Schneider is a consultant to government and tech companies on the future and ethics of machine learning and mind-machine interfaces. She remarked that there is plenty of work being done on the advancement of computational power, but "there haven’t been discussions of the philosophical issues involved." There are tradeoffs for artificial brain enhancements which could be a reality in the next 50 to 80 years, according to Schneider’s projections, such as: "Would the ability to interact with the internet just by thinking about it be worth the possibility that none of your thoughts would ever be private?"

Schneider also delved into the research and philosophy that humans could in essence "upload" their brains into a database, and if that would constitute a human consciousness as we know it. She does not believe that could ever happen as she noted that the brain could "carry out your earthly tasks, but it wouldn’t really be the survival of your conscious mind." She defined consciousness as "the felt quality of your experience," meaning that a collection of digital information may never be able to describe how an experience feels. Schneider argued that extraterrestrials might have developed "post-biological" civilizations to explore the universe without having to rely on bodies that would not survive space travel. Ultimately, she believes that we should look to the future with the idea to "carve out a path forward with technology that involves human flourishing."


A shapeshifter is a person who can transform into an animal, another person, or a supernatural being. In the second half, John Kachuba said that the lore of the shapeshifter permeates "almost every culture around the world" and into prehistory. Neolithic cave paintings in France depict half-human-half-animal figures as an aid to "hunter’s magic," and this allowed humans to identify and blend in with animals they were hunting, he suggested. As recently in history as 1987 in South Africa there were claims that a suspected shapeshifter was killed in front of a group of people who gave differing accounts that the man looked like a "small donkey," a "winged beast," and "a child with the head of a man" while he was dying, Kachuba cited.

He discussed biblical accounts of Jesus, which described him assuming varying appearances to different witnesses, and compared these to stories from Hinduism and Buddhism which say that their deities or holy men also went through dramatic changes in appearance. In a sort of reverse of the shapeshifter legends, he noted that ancient Egyptians believed that any statue of their gods were inhabited by that god. Kochuba visited Transylvania looking for legends and information on the infamous Vlad the Impaler, who many believe is the basis for the lore of Dracula. He said that Vlad’s grave was opened in the 1930s and was found to be empty. He also recounted tales and reports of people who were tried and convicted as werewolves in France and Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries, and speculated that they were mentally ill serial killers.

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