Click to Print
. . . .

Beyond Human

Robert Downes - March 2nd, 2009
Do your sprockets need oiling? Did you reboot your head this morning because you woke up feeling like a Vista system crash?
Well, maybe soon, because if the techno prophets are right, the human race will begin merging with our machines any time now...
(Cue up some eerie sci-fi theremin music here, folks, and hang onto your hood ornaments.)
This being our annual Body, Mind, Spirit issue, I’m delighted to report the latest news from scientists who keep track of a coming event known as “The Singularity.”
The Singularity is the point at which computers will become more intelligent than the human race and attain consciousness. At that point, we will find ourselves merging with our machines.
If this sounds like the plot of the new Terminator film or another remake of The Matrix, rest assured, it is.
The February 19 issue of Rolling Stone featured an interview with inventor Ray Kurzweil, who predicts that by 2045, “machines and humans will merge, redefining life as we know it.”
That means you’ll be able to back up and download your mind and memories into computers that are beyond our comprehension at present. From there, it will be a simple matter to live forever, perhaps in a virtual world within a Matrix-style hallucination, or within the body of a robot.
And that’s not all, Kurzweil predicts that nanotechnology (microscopic machine organisms) will transform the world: “Cell-size robots will zap disease from our bloodstream,” writes David Kushner. “Superintelligent nanotechnology, operating on a molecular scale, will scrub pollution from our atmosphere. Our minds, our skills, our memories, our very consciousness will be backed up on computers -- allowing us, in essence to live forever.”
Meanwhile, micro-computers will blanket the earth, possibly incorporated into such odd hosts as rocks and trees. Need directions for how to get to McDonald’s in 2045? Ask that tree over there -- and have it place your order in advance while you’re at it.
Sounds like this could be a pretty sweet deal, moving into the Playboy Mansion of your cyber dreams, or fighting goblins in a never-ending World of Warcraft digi-game... until someone pulls the plug on whatever Xbox your mind is living in.
Theories on The Singularity go back a couple of decades. In 1993, Vernor Vinge, a mathematics professor at San Diego State University, predicted that large computer networks or Artificial Intelligence (AI) computers will “wake up” within 30 years, becoming entities with superhuman intelligence. “Shortly after, the human era will be ended,“ he claimed, possibly with some SkyNet-style AI deciding to roast us out of existence in the style of The Terminator films.
Both Kurzweil and Vinge are up in the genius realm when it comes to technology. Kurzweil, for instance, is a specialist in pattern recognition who created the first programs to teach computers how to read text and translate text into speech.
Kurzweil claims that the ability of computers to soak up knowledge is advancing so rapidly that we will experience the equivalent of 20,000 years of progress over the next 100 years. That’s why he takes 150 supplements per day, hoping to live long enough to have his brain downloaded into the hard drive of eternal life.
Perhaps we’d do well to heed their warnings on things like nanotechnology. As in the book, Prey by Michael Crichton, we could reach a time when a diabolical AI creates an unstoppable tide of self-replicating nanobots that nibble away all life on earth in a matter of months.
In 2000, Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote an essay in Wired magazine entitled “The Future Doesn’t Need Us,” imagining the earth devoured by micro-robots who decide to get rid of the human race: “They could spread like blowing pollen, replicate swiftly, and reduce the biosphere to dust in a matter of days.”
Interesting stuff, but some may take comfort in the thoughts of Thomas Ray, a biologist who has simulated artificial life. Ray notes that Microsoft has enough trouble trying to keep its operating systems from crashing, much less taking over the world. “The Singularity won’t happen because software sucks,” adds another critic.
Amen, brutha’.
Add to that the fact that futurists always seem to get it dead wrong.
Thirty years ago, we were all sure that by the 2000s, most people would be slim, fit, and walking around in Lycra unitards, like in a Star Trek episode; probably listening to some kind of techno Muzak. And we’d all be super smart, thanks to the daily intelligence pills we’d be taking.
But as it turns out (now that some of us have lived long enough to see “the future”) fat & dumpy tends to rule the day at the shopping mall, with kids embracing the baggy-ass gangsta’ look with the backward baseball cap, tribal tattoos and piercings. Spacey disco Muzak? Try rap and hardcore metal.
So, today’s “future” looks nothing at all like what we imagined in 1984. (Another dystopian miss, by the way. These days, the surveillance cameras of “Big Brother“ are welcomed by fearful citizens as watchdogs against crime.)
It might be nice to someday have your mind and memories downloaded into a robot body on par with that of, say, Hugh Jackman or Angelina Jolie, but you have to imagine that there would be something not... quite... right... about your new life as a ghost in a machine.
Things like farts, nose hair and saggy boobs would disappear from the human experience, but would living in a hard drive really be all that rewarding? Would a strawberry still taste as sweet? Would a hug from your robot relatives still give you the warm fuzzies? Would you gain eternity, but lose your soul? Someday, you may find yourself knocking boots with your rubber robot lover, wondering how to comb a nanobot infestation out of your silicon hair, and thinking, is this all there is?
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5