By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Oh good grief: As if there isn’t any real news in the world, Time carries a cover story about a very smart guy named Raymond Kurzweil, and his pursuit — financed by some very rich friends — of “the singularity,” when technology takes over everything, and a resulting anticipated human immortality. (He’s managed to plant stories in important media about his quest before.) From the Time story:
So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.If you can swallow that idea, and Kurzweil and a lot of other very smart people can, then all bets are off. From that point on, there’s no reason to think computers would stop getting more powerful. They would keep on developing until they were far more intelligent than we are. Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development from their slower-thinking human creators.
Why the whiff of disdain for normal life? We are the exceptional species creating these computers after all. And if that happens, we should pull the plug. Remember Hal?
That, of course, leads us to the breathless transhumanism angle:
Maybe we’ll merge with them to become super-intelligent cyborgs, using computers to extend our intellectual abilities the same way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old age and prolong our life spans indefinitely. Maybe we’ll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever, virtually. Maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us. The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity.
And from there — as we always see in fantasies stories such as this, we get to human immortality:
For Kurzweil, it’s not so much about staying healthy as long as possible; it’s about staying alive until the Singularity. It’s an attempted handoff. Once hyper-intelligent artificial intelligences arise, armed with advanced nanotechnology, they’ll really be able to wrestle with the vastly complex, systemic problems associated with aging in humans. Alternatively, by then we’ll be able to transfer our minds to sturdier vessels such as computers and robots. He and many other Singularitarians take seriously the proposition that many people who are alive today will wind up being functionally immortal.
What’s that old saying? Maybe pigs will fly.
Kurzweil doesn’t want to die. I can dig that. But wishing it weren’t so, doesn’t change reality. Kurzweil, you, me, and everyone you know, will all die. Some sooner, some in decades. But all in the blink of an eye. That’s why we should all strive to make the most of the time we have.
But whatever it takes to get you through the night, I guess. As I have written elsewhere, transhumanism is a replacement for religion, an effort by (mostly) materialists to find some meaning and hope in what they consider to be a purposeless miasma of suffering — and it is all over so soon!
Kurzweil is clearly obsessed. I can dig that too. Besides, he and his pals can spend their money any way they want. But meanwhile, children in Africa still die from malnutrition and malaria. People on this planet are forced to live unhealthy short and brutal lives in garbage.
Transhumanists may be chasing a pipe dream, but they are good at PR. Time used to be a real news magazine.
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