Is mankind’s future, no future for mankind?

By Lennox Farrell Thursday July 10 2014 in Opinion
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In June 2010, Ashlee Vance, a columnist with the New York Times, wrote a commentary on “The Singularity”. By way of introduction, this brainchild of futurists like the author, Raymond Kurzweil, projects into the near future and beyond, what the “destined bio-tech, spiritual inter-relationship is to be between humans and machinery”. Will the Singularity ultimately mark the beginning of “the post-human era”?


It is expected by the very serious proponents of this futuristic, techno-philosophy that, like the Biblical Adam and Eve, the two entities, this time one the creator and the other the created, will become one. In addition, and by contrast, having found the fountain of youth outside of Eden, this paired entity is expected to live ever after. A Black man, and thus naturally creative, I dub the pair: huMans and huMacs.


Now, back to Ashlee Vance. According to his bio, he has written for the Economist, The Globe and Mail, Chicago Tribune; and is also a regular for CNN on techno-topics like robots, Segway scooters, and Gyroscopic sensors. He is also the author of a techno-historical work: The Geek Silicon Valley.


The title of his article, “Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday”, sums it up. It poses the observation that according to the futurists’ interpretation and expectations, faced with opportunities for any human/machine hybridization, merely being human and mortal is no longer apropos. Not with the eternal possibilities offered of becoming so much more as a cyborg. Then, one can have possibilities for life and power far beyond any now imagined; to the point as humanoids of being able to change the course, not merely of history, but also of the very cosmos. Thus, the ideas and possibilities in former TV series like Star Trek, once future tense, would now be merely passé tense.


The opening paragraph in this New York Times article is an eye-opener on who are some of the power-crats, their levels of involvement, and recruitment methods. Is the reality incidental that the Singularity University sits on a campus in The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Research Park in Moffett Field, California?


One of the university’s supporters, Peter Diamandis, chief executive of the X Prize Foundation, also “doled out $10 million in 2004 to a team that sent spacecraft 100 km above the earth”. In addition, “he is a firm believer in the Singularity and a techno-celebrity in his own right, primarily through his role in commercializing space travel. At a recent Singularity University lunch, he hopped up to make a speech peppered with passion and conviction.


“My target is to live 700 years,” he seriously declared.


Another very wealthy and serious advocate advancing the implementing of the Singularity is the Internet colossus, Google. It also has other futuristic projects. As Vance continues, “it has offered $30 million in rewards … intended to inspire a private team to send a robot to the moon … and for those who haven’t noticed, Google works daily on building a giant brain that harnesses the thinking power of humans in order to surpass the thinking power of humans”.


In addition, Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, in the Spring of 2010, became a hybrid of man and machine. Scores of other futurists witnessed this transhuman change. Brin, several miles away, was able to interlink with a “BrinBot” and interact with the attendees. This occurred on campus of the University.


While “the BrinBot had a rudimentary, no-frills design…it also smacked of a future that the University founders hold dear and often discuss with a techno-utopian bravado: the arrival of the Singularity – a time, (decades away) when a superior intelligence will dominate, and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.”


When a superior intelligence will dominate? When life will take on altered forms which we in “our current limited state” can’t predict nor comprehend?


Where will this thinking take us? When it’s beginning? Is this all a very bad joke? A nightmare?


According to Ashlee Vance, as far back as the 1950s, John von Neumann, the mathematician, is said to have talked about a “singularity” – an event in which the always-accelerating pace of technology would alter the course of human affairs.


In 1993, Vernor Vinge, a science-fiction writer, computer scientist and math professor, wrote a research paper called The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era. Winge wrote that within 30 years, “we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence (but) shortly after, the human era will be ended”.


For the futurists, these changes are already on cruise control; already too rapid to re-take. In fact, as Ray Kurzweil describes in “The Singularity Is Near,” (because of) the exponential rates at which technological changes are already occurring, for example, the changes which once occurred over a millennium (now take a century; and centuries, months).


Furthermore, “Once non-biological intelligence gets a foothold in the human brain – computerized neural implants already do – the machine intelligence in our brains will grow exponentially…at least doubling in power each year.”


Ashlee Vance gives the last word to Kurzweil – a man who predicted eventually acquiring the computer means to resurrect his dead father.


“Ultimately, the entire universe will become saturated with our intelligence. This is the destiny of the universe.”


To Be Continued: The Singularity, The Haves and The Have-nots.

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