Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Second Great Disappointment

Lately, when I talk to technophiles, I detect a strain of optimistically-apocalyptic thinking just beneath the surface of our conversation. It's as if they are too embarrassed to actually say what they're thinking: "Soon, computers will make everything different! We may live forever by uploading our brains!" Some very smart people have actually taken the leap and begun talking about the possibilities of total technological revolution -- phrases like "when humans transcend biology" are gathering attention.

Ray Kurzweil is the brain behind all of this hopefulness, and he certainly has done his share of innovation. As the argument goes, the time is approaching when technological advancement begins to outstrip the pace of evolution -- and possibly even the pace of aging. Kurzweil and his followers call this "the Singularity." Imagine tiny mini-machines cruising through your blood stream cleaning out all of the toxins!

But I read an interesting article here called "What if the Singularity Does NOT Happen?" And I was reminded (attention, Wishydig) me of the history of the Great Disappointment that took place in America in 1844 when the Second Coming did not occur.

So here we go again: eternal life dangled before us and then snatched away! Ach! The injustice! I guess I'm going to start preparing myself in case the Singularity doesn't come.

6 comments:

"Brian" said...

I think Alzheimer's is the last frontier. Visit my 90 year old grandmother in a nursing home just one time and you'll think, "Man, living forever is the worst thing that could ever happen."

It's sad to see a person's brain get to the point where they are constantly either sleeping or confused about where they are, who others are, etc...

Anyways, I think the body's problems can be harnessed, but the brain seems to be at least 100-200 years beyond our grasp, even with the help of computers.

Wishydig said...

We have used technology to equalize. Access to information and solutions to problems are available to more people than every before because of technology.

But there is still a stratification of the power that comes from information--consider that someone will alway have more resources/money than other people. Power is a 0-sum game. It's not likely that power will ever be equal. And not everyone wants the same power. And in a representative democracy we should give everyone the same power. It might not even be possible.

And there is one constant of lifespan that we have never been able to change--average lifespan has increased dramatically but the limits of lifespan have always been around 115 (early literary devices notwithstanding). We will probably not change that. Even doubling the average lifespan has barely touched the age of the "oldest person on earth" on any given day.

And as "brian" suggests, there is only so much benefit to a longer life. Computers will not allow us to escape the limitations of the law of diminishing returns.

Secret Rapture said...

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admin said...

Many people have already seriously questioned Kurweil's vision, Katherine Hayles indirectly addresses this in the How We Became Posthuman book.

Hayles asks a simple question: would an uploaded consciousness continue to be life as we know it? Her general presupposition is that our body influences our thinking in ways well beyond our ability to fathom. Living in a machine would be affectively neutral, and would, putting it mildly, be quite a different form of living.

I'm also with Wishydig. Technology massively increases access. Every new media has done this (and the gains continue to be exponential). But it also widens the gap between the have's and the have-nots. On a global scale.

Wishydig said...

Oh...I meant
"And in a representative democracy we should not give everyone the same power."

And by that I mean we should not all have the same types of power within various forums.

Casey said...

That's much more interesting, Michael.