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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Has the Singularity Passed Us By?

Joe just sent be an interesting article that questions whether we have already reached the Singularity (as portrayed by Ray Kurzweil in his book). In the last 50 or so years, technology, following Moore's Law, has raced ahead of our ability to comprehend it all.We are so plugged in to electronic information networks and them into us that instead of waiting for some future moment, we might indeed say that the Singularity is already here.

Kurzweil is predicting, however, that through bioengineering human life will be extended indefinitely. Also brains can be more intimately connected to expanding computer capacity so that, not just information, but knowledge will expand exponentially. We will finally have consumed the fruit of the primordial tree and be as gods.

As I have reflected earlier in my series on "new ethics," when we achieve virtual immortality and omniscience I think that means an evolution into an entirely new species.* There may still be some of our existing species still around, e.g. those who refuse to be plugged in. Think of the "luddites" today who do not use smart phones, social networks, ebooks and iUniversity courses, GPS, and those who do not accept science but turn to mythology for their truths. But they will be as the neanderthals were when living with, and even having sex with, homo sapiens.

I am not sure this will be a good event. But then I am judging the good based on my understanding of human, i.e. homo sapiens sapiens, existence and nature.

But that is why it is important to think this step out. Human evolution contains much of what was achieved through earlier mammalian and hominid adaptation to a changing environment, including the adaptation to change itself through creative symbolic interaction. If we are indeed evolving a new species, we have a say collectively as to what we want it to be. If we want that say.

One very big question regarding the Singularity is the value of death.

Many biological anthropologists have speculated that homo sapiens began to know, that is, reflect on death about 200,000 years ago as a byproduct of symbolic communication. Death rituals and myth may be the first instances of art and culture. Religion is closely tied to the awareness of death as something to be avoided or used. Terrence Deacon and others have linked tool using and the eating of meat to social groupings, to male and female responsibility for children in groups, to symbolic communication, to self representation and awareness, to awareness of death, to religion and culture, to arts and sciences and technology development.

Death, then, is related to culture and to legacy in children, in social contribution, in the future of the species. Death is also related to new birth and creativity.

Indeed Gulliver's travel to Luddnagg where he encountered the immortal Struldbrugs portrayed a static place controlled by old people with old ideas who forbade innovation and led to the destruction of the public. And Q of Star Trek Next Generation got totally disenchanted with his immortality and begged to become mortal like humans.

Didn't Max Planck say that for his ideas of quantum mechanics to be accepted, old scientific professors had to pass on? Biologists point out that death is an evolutionary strategy.

Most people agree that death and its anticipation provokes innovation and urgency to live life fully. Kurzweil himself says that death gives meaning to life, importance and value to time. "Time would become meaningless if there were too much of it." The young Stephen Daedalus (James Joyce) was converted from Catholic superstition with the repugnant notion of an eternal life before the face of God. Boring!

So perhaps as we evolve to a new species, there may be some previous adaptations we want to preserve and one of those may be death itself.

*Or will it be a new subspecies so that we have homo sapiens sapiens and homo sapiens universalis?
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