Ayn Rand Institute chairman: Technology won't erase individualism

During her lifetime, the writer Ayn Rand was a staunch defender of both individualism and technology. Under her rational egoist philosophy, which she dubbed "Objectivism," reality must ultimately be understood via the individual mind. As such, in books like The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Rand argued that man should shape reality based on his own rational self-interest.

In today's world, some might see individualism and technology as being necessarily opposed. Whether it be in movies like The Matrix or eerie news headlines about workers getting microchipped, it seems as though technology could pave the way for a dystopian future where everyone is forced into a cybernetic collective.

Despite such concerns, Ayn Rand's Objectivists still maintain that the evolution of technology does not require the death of individuality.

During his interview on the 110th episode of the PRIMO NUTMEG podcast, the executive chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, Yaron Brook, argued that computers pose no inherent threat to individuality:

"I have no idea what an ultra-rational computer is and how it would know what was good for me and what my values are. How you can detach individual human consciousness from reason or from values, all of that is nonsense.

"Yeah, we're heading towards a very interesting period in technology. And who knows what the outcome is going to be? But one thing is, nature doesn't change. Reality doesn't change. And you cannot have consciousness without life. And you cannot have life without values. The only thing that can value is the individual; collectives don't value.

In making this argument, Brook hearkened back to the cybernetic villains from Star Trek: The Next Generation known as the Borg:

"Now, it's true you can imagine a situation -- if you think back to Star Trek -- of the Borg. The Borg is this living being that is, by its very structure and by its very nature is necessarily, in a sense, collectivist because the unit of measurement is the totality. Okay, maybe we'll encounter a being one day in the future of that, maybe. But to view human beings as becoming that makes no sense to me. And there's nothing in the technology of the world today that suggests that that's where we are heading.

In contrast to beings like the Borg, who give up their individuality to join a technological collective, Brook sees technology as continuing to be a tool for human activities -- even to the point of having computer chips embedded into our brains:

"It's true AI is gonna get more and more sophisticated. I doubt that we will ever be able to upload our brains into a computer. But what I do think is going to happen is that you will be embed a computer into our brains. That is, you'll have a symbiotic relationship between computers and human beings. Human beings, in a sense, will provide the consciousness and the life, and computers will add to our ability to compute and to communicate and to interact.

"And that's all interesting and fascinating, and maybe we will have to rethink certain philosophical ideas as a consequence. But that won't change the fact that the living species that is interacting with the computer is an individual, and that that individual will have particular values, and that individual will use the computer, hopefully, in service in pursuit of those values.

"Since other individuals will have computer chips in their brains as well or bionic arms or whatever it happens to be, I view it much more as ultimately you'll see some kind of symbiosis between man and computer rather than man is irrelevant and only computers are relevant, or as man becoming a Borg.

"I see no scenario where the Borg becomes a reality because ultimately we feel as individuals, we have passion as individuals, and we have values as individuals. You can't connect those. You can connect maybe computation, what the computer does. You cannot connect life. You cannot connect values. That you can only do, for now, in science fiction with such creations as the Borg."

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