Time Magazine (10 February 2011) has an interesting article called “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.”
No, this is not about the typical quest of man for immortality, but rather it is a deep dive on The Singularity—Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge’s concept of technological change becoming so rapid (through exponential growth) that there will be a “rupture in the fabric of human history.”
In astrophysics, the term Singularity refers to the point in the space-time continuum (such as in a black hole) where the normal rules of nature (i.e. physics) do not apply.
In terms of technology, the notion of The Singularity is that computing gets faster and faster (related to Moore’s Law) until finally the radical change brought about by the development of “superintelligent” computers make it incredibly difficult for us to even predict the future.
Yet predictions are exactly what these futurists attempt to provide us for the post-Singularity era, and while science fiction for now, these are viewed as serious contenders for human-kinds’ future.
Here are some possibilities posited:
- Human-Machine Blending—“maybe we’ll merge with them [the computers] to become super-intelligent cyborgs.”
- Physical Life Extension (or Even Immortality!)—“maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old-age and prolong our life span indefinitely.”
- Living In Virtual Reality—“maybe we’ll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever.”
- Man-Machine At War—“maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us.”
Whether you can believe these specific predictions or not, Kurzweilians all seem to adhere to a common belief “in the power of technology to shape history.”
Certainly technology enables us to do amazing things, which we would never have seriously dreamed of not so very long ago—I am still trying to get my mind around a computer, smartphones, the Internet, and more.
Yet, I worry too about the overreliance on technology and the overlooking of the hand of G-d guiding our journey towards a purpose with technology being the means and not the ends.
Often I marvel at both the pace of technological change and the capabilities that these advancements bring us. But at the same time, I think of these great technological leaps for mankind the same way as I do a Beethoven symphony or Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece—that it is inspired by a higher source, it is a gift from above.
So in this light, as I think about the four Kurzweilian predictions, I must essentially discount them all, since I do not believe that in G-d’s love for us that his intent is to turn us into either cyborgs, aimless immortals, virtual human beings, or to be utterly annihilated by a race of machines.
Nevertheless, these predictions are still valuable, because they do provide a “north-star” for us to guide us to constructive improvements in the human condition through robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, virtual reality as well as warnings of the potential destructive power of technology unconstrained.
One thing is certain about Kurzweil and the other futurists, they have my admiration for taking a strategic, big picture view on where we’re headed and making us think in new and unconventional ways.