What if those fun Hollywood sci-fi dramas starring robots, cyborgs, replicants, androids or HAL, Deep Thought and Agent. Smith were actually previews to an engineered future being prepared for us. That these morality tales of autonomous, bio-engineered, robotic beings are archetypes psychologically functioning within a long standing mythic tradition and a sci-fi literature expressing our cautionary tales concerning the consequences of messing around with Mother Nature. Imaginative narratives and special effects digital illusions for projecting our dimly perceived notions, hopes and fears upon yet another seemly impossible dream. Visions and descriptions which are akin to comparing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Renaissance drawings of flying machines with the design of a 747. However now, novel developments are taking place in an acceleration of time scales and increasingly in a rapid progressions of events propelling ideas into reality -- eg. from the Wright Brothers to the Space Shuttle in less than 80 years. An experience of novelty and constant change that sees social consensus collapsing and evolving within the rapid growth of data and information. Into a Singularity that is both unimaginable and unpredictable.
These are of course rhetorical questions. The Artificial Intelligence dreamers already profess bold visions for harnessing the on-going exponential growth of computer processing power. Led by the remarkable Ray Kurzweil, there exists a quest now to sample and download a nerdish digital simulacrum of human consciousness. This macabre fantasy could be on the way and even inevitable according to the promoters of a Technological Singularity. To them the harnessing of design and technology skills with computing power and nano processes, combined with DNA tinkering and bio-neurological research into the electro-chemical basis of consciousness will lead us to a new holy grail of Trans-humanism. Human-machines, backed-up and running within a virtual hive. A cloud computing processing paradise of supposed infinite potential and immortality. A quest to transcend our ‘meat’ bodies by capturing not only a generic human consciousness, but ultimately, any unique individual’s human consciousness. Importing a persons brain, mind, dreams, memories and soul into packets of digital information for storage, retrieval and naturally, it would be assumed, virtual interactions.
The seriousness with which the Technological Singularity has been regarded, amongst some smart people, can be measured in book sales, conferences and videos on the topic. A proliferating genre manifesting its own explosive growth in information, opinions and various game changing dreams. A recent and novel expression of this exciting new trend has become the emergence of a Singularity University, headed by Ray Kurzweil himself and sponsored by Google Inc. Indeed, in recent statements by Mr. Kurzweil, we are informed that the birth of the Technological Singularity is actually a spiritual revolution manifesting as the culmination of a natural evolution of human consciousness into machines endowed with god-like powers.
The inevitable nature of this process is avidly promoted. Charts and graphs present J curves in the growth of computing power, coupled with return on investment projections for energy consumption and processing grunt. These observations are then married with announcements of break-through discoveries in research sciences, in support of claims for cracking the codes of biology and consciousness. All of this is then mashed together by the breathless hype of a dedicated communications industry that has grown up in the last 30 years. Multi-media spin in support of a neo-scientific belief system in discovering, and or manufacturing, an answer to life, the universe and everything. There is just too much money in it not to do so.
“Caveat Emptor” – Buyer Beware! Are we being ‘sold a pup’ in this exclusive expectation and dependence upon technology and science to produce the salvation to our complex human condition? An illusion, spawned within a continuing cynical, materialist hallucination, of our ultimate dominance and the total submission of nature. Another adolescent wet dream of the ego supreme.
Regardless, of the known known’s and the unknown known’s and the unknown unknown’s or even the unknown known’s, there are many staggering implications and serious ethical issues to the consequences of such proposals. There remain even more questions of organization, administration and politics to be transcended. Once I have uploaded my ‘digital consciousness’ and been merged with the cyber-pod how do you get an up-grade? Who do you speak to? What must you do?
This of course assumes that this digital simulation of anyone’s consciousness could stand up to even a basic self-examination of any scrutiny. Based on current experience there would only be every reason to believe that an up-loaded & backed-up human consciousness would be but a pale reflection of an actual-factual, flesh and blood you.
Reflect upon the obvious decreasing information progression between attending a live music performance to listening to an analogue audio recording on tape, versus a digital audio recording (with its 20,000 cps cut-off – no overtones here) that then becomes compressed into a Mp3 file for your iPod. The average person believes, and is led to believe, that the Mp3 is just as good as the original live performance in its fidelity to reality. When there is actually only a digital audio illusion being presented. The digital Mp3 file provides only enough of the right information to stimulate your nervous system and for our brains to synthesize an approximation, within the imagination, of what was the original live musical performance. Accepting a series of choice digital samples as one’s consciousness to beiprocessed by some uber operating system (would you prefer Windows or MAC, LINUX or Open Source) as a resulting software program running one’s Self is highly suspect and most probably bogus.
Supposedly your virtual-self would have certain expanded abilities and super-human capabilities. But would you actually trade in your freewill and personal physical autonomy, sensitivity and even vulnerability for being able to process the selected and remaining information at the speed of light -- instead at the speed of life? Questions naturally are already being raised as to what is the meaning of “friendship” or “loyalty”, “trust” and “privacy” in the social-networking Internet based society that is arising on the web. What could or would be the meaning of love in a digital hive? How would we experience “awe” in a simulation -- could we?
On the way to there however we have already, at least in the “developing world”, entered into and live within the machine. Our modern world is fast becoming one huge machine culture where we live, breathe and make our lives within the confines of gadgets and devices. Indeed the majority of us could no longer function, work or even live without our appliances and automobiles, just in time deliveries, computers and the Internet. We are addicted and enslaved to keeping our machines going while paying for the newer and brighter ones as they come along. It steals our sense of and appreciation for any actual personal time and even relaxation or contemplation. We come to exist in a meme’ driven fever of multi-tasking ambitions and desires. Our greatest fears become the “blue screen of death”, the ISP going down, or the electricity going off …
Not so long ago, in a time of attempted manned space travel, a similar crowd of geeks spoke about space migration and of “humanity leaving its fouled nest for the stars”. A enthusiastically predicted technological revolution, assisting humanity in making a jailbreak, or at least some of us, from the confines of over-population, pollution and gravity. Now we are advised to buy cyber real estate in 2Nd Life and take our business there … However, the question remains, where is there and where does it go when the electricity actually goes off?
Indeed, in the end, who would the Technological Singularity serve and how? For the bulk of humanity it would not and could not exist. This will be only for a very select few and they will need to check their humanity, empathy and compassion for the rest of Earth’s children at the door. The keys to a digital heaven will be given only to those who can afford it and are willing to turn their backs on its ancestry, history, humanity and soul.
“Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world.
But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery.
The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.
Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.”
There is a singularity in human consciousness occurring in the exponential growth manifesting in data, information and inter-connectivity; but it will not be exclusively a technological one. There exists a natural evolutionary breakthrough in human consciousness occurring in our life times that is already overwhelming and ravishing us. Humanity has moved into an intense, instinctual, migratory phase psychologically, spiritually and metaphysically. A shift that is happening and that cannot be avoided; revealing itself as a culmination of our past epiphanies, experiments and collective experiences.
Describing and limiting this perceived coming transformation as a Technological Singularity, and an exclusively materialistic manifestation of human evolution becoming our total immersion into the machine can only be another dead end.
Unless, we also integrate and embrace our human capacity and power for relatedness, by experiencing, expressing and demonstrating a unity of dreams and purpose that is mediated and ruled by the empathetic “heart”.
We are human-beings, not human-doings. A self-aware mystery within a universal creation. A very recent development of consciousness arising as a something out of nothing, of energy evolving into gravity and matter before finally reaching up back into the light as a Being ~ Becoming. Alive, aware and responsive within a matrix of cycles of time and activities. Spinning and weaving, reflecting and manifesting our dreams and fears, insights and ideals. The sensory nerve endings to a deep and sacred mystery story nearly 14 billion Earth years old.
We are our own best hope and salvation when we are enjoying our-selves together, in festive celebrations and ceremonies that transcend our fears and isolation. Our ancestors knew this and we need to remember it by promoting our human genius for employing myth, story, image, sound and movement into our dreaming of a prosperous, healthy and dynamic future for ourselves, our children, and their children’s, children’s, children …
The questions that are now facing us in the perceived Singularity is not man or machine, but choices of habit or novelty, love or fear.