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Tag:singularity

Tag:singularity

Ray Kurzweil & Co. have been getting a lot of attention from everyone from Sergey Brin & Larry Page to astronaut Dan Barry.  For those of you who haven’t heard, Kurzweil is a self-proclaimed techno-prophet who heralds the arrival of the singularity: the moment in time when technological progress gets so fast that machines overtake humans in the brains department.

I miss cupcakesOf course, artificial intelligence is a common sci-fi theme.  Kurzweil’s cadre takes it a step further, predicting that this intelligence explosion means immortality for us meat-bags.  By downloading our personalities into computers and/or building nanobots to repair our aging cells, we will reach a level of mastery of science that will enable us to extend our lives indefinitely.

But Kurzweil has no monopoly on the future.  Some versions of the singularity include unpredictability as a core feature.  Like a black hole’s event horizon, the singularity represents a point in history about which no information can be gathered.  It is a unique event that will shred our way of life in ways we cannot prognosticate.

Sci-fi authors frequently foretell a more dystopian version, like in Asimov’s I, Robot, or The Matrix, where the machines turn on us.  As Roger Scruton points out, by sponsoring technology we might be rooting against ourselves.

But predictions of technological calamity rest on even shakier ground than runaway progress.  iRobot (not I, Robot) is the status quo in the real world of technology.  Human beings seem to be more or less on course for continued progress, and immortality and extinction are opposite, extreme ends of the speculative spectrum.

The real problem with Singuphoria is that it is just another false promise, like religion.  We all want to believe we will live forever, and Ray’s got the immortal soul snake-oil of the information age.

Ray Kurzweil says in his health book Transcend:

"Death gives meaning to life” is an age-old adage, but in our view death does exactly the opposite.  It is a great robber of relationships, knowledg,e wisdom and skill, all the things that make life worth living.

But he’s wrong.  Death is what allows evolution to occur, and therefore what undergirds all progress.  Think about the idea of “technology natives” versus “technology immigrants.”  Kids who grew up with cellphones and computers are much more fluent in their use than those who had to learn after their brains got hard and brittle.  Every generation refreshes the world, to put a marketing slogan to better use.

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