Time Magazine Stumbles Upon The Singularity

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Last week, as I was passing through the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico (returning from vacation), I was mildly startled to see the cover of stodgy old Time magazine featuring the headline:

2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal

Uploading Microsoft Windows 54 now

If a topic makes to the cover of Time, it must be mainstream. [Or has it jumped the shark the way jump the shark has jumped the shark? Oh, never mind.] In any case, the article was pretty respectful of proponents of the Singularity and the aspirations of Transhumanists. The article focused most of its attention on inventor/futurist Ray Kurzweil and anti-aging crusader Aubrey de Grey. Time takes seriously the idea that accelerating technological trends, especially vast increases in computing power, will soon fundamentally change the world and humanity. A few excerpts:

The difficult thing to keep sight of when you're talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn't, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It's not a fringe idea; it's a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There's an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it's an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation….

We will successfully reverse-engineer the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity — never say he's not conservative — at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today.

In Kurzweil's future, biotechnology and nanotechnology give us the power to manipulate our bodies and the world around us at will, at the molecular level. Progress hyperaccelerates, and every hour brings a century's worth of scientific breakthroughs. We ditch Darwin and take charge of our own evolution. The human genome becomes just so much code to be bug-tested and optimized and, if necessary, rewritten. Indefinite life extension becomes a reality; people die only if they choose to. Death loses its sting once and for all. Kurzweil hopes to bring his dead father back to life.

We can scan our consciousnesses into computers and enter a virtual existence or swap our bodies for immortal robots and light out for the edges of space as intergalactic godlings. Within a matter of centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe. This is, Kurzweil believes, our destiny as a species.

As Reason readers know I've been reporting from various Singularity and Transhuman conferences for many years now. As background, I provide some links to various of my dispatches below:

Will Our Robot Overlords Be Friendly? 

Technology is at the Center (interview with venture capitalist and Singulatarian Peter Thiel)

The Transhumans are Coming!

Plastic Brains, Femmebots, and Aliens Watching TV

The Methuselah Manifesto

Go here to read Time's take on the Singularity. 

NEXT: Don't Think Of a Health Insurance Mandate? U.S. District Judge Rules that Congress Can Regulate "Mental Activity."

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  1. “Time takes seriously the idea that accelerating technological trends, especially vast increases in computing power, will soon fundamentally change the world and humanity.”

    Too bad Time’s management doesn’t read the product.

  2. I’d settle for a good porn search engine that can get me some interracial plump lesbian nude wrestling with facesit submissions.
    When the computers can do that, I will be impressed.

    1. I couldn’t find any pics on google of ones that were simultaneously all of those.

      Pull out “plump”, and be a bit loose about “nude”, and you get a pic of that on the first page.

      Then again, I didn’t go through all 168,000 search results.

  3. I saw this in B&N last weekend. I was going to look at it, but there was a couple standing there and the man was telling the woman that humans were trying to reinvent themselves as machines, as the Bible prophesied, and God would not let them succeed.

    So I decided to look at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue instead.

    1. From silicon brains to silicon breasts. Good call.

    2. I didn’t know there were cyborgs in the Bible. I might have to go back and read it.

      Are you sure it wasn’t some viral marketing for Deus Ex: Human Revolution?

      1. Let me just say that, based on the trailers, I have strong desire for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

      2. Terminator: ” I’m looking for Mary, have you seen her?”

        Innkeeper: ” No rooms! Go Away!”

        Terminator: “I’ll be back.”

  4. Uploading Microsoft Windows 54 now

    Most. Depressing. Alt-text. Ever.

    1. By 2045, they’ll only be up to like Windows 15 or so. No worries.

  5. Within a matter of centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe. This is, Kurzweil believes, our destiny as a species.

    The singularity will eliminate the fundamental limit of the speed of light?

    Now I’m impressed.

    1. Thou shalt not violate causality within my light cone.

      1. Or Else.

        1. Anyone with a terawatt, orbital, free-electron laser could have etched those stones.

          They don’t prove anything.

    2. He didn’t say how many centuries.

      Plus, its pretty fundamental to the Singularity that science and technology will take quantum leaps forward. So who can say?

  6. We can scan our consciousnesses into computers and enter a virtual existence or swap our bodies for immortal robots and light out for the edges of space as intergalactic godlings.

    Incidentally, one of the artifacts of singularity talk is this notion that we each have a single consciousness that we can put into a machine. Color me skeptical. I think it far more likely that we either can’t put a consciousness into a machine or that we can put it into countless machines in parallel. But those possibilities don’t get much mention…

    1. “or that we can put it into countless machines in parallel”

      Turing’s theories pretty much guarantee that if this is possible, uploading to a single machine is possible.

      1. Maybe I wasn’t clear. There are three possibilities:

        1. A human consciousness cannot be put into a machine.
        2. A human consciousness can be put into exactly one machine at a time.
        3. A human consciousness can be put into any number of machines at the same time.

        I would contend that if 2 is possible it is really really likely that 3 is possible. Yet the post-singularity future is generally painted as 2.

        Is 3 just too hard to believe? Too inhuman? Or is the vision of a future where consciousnesses spawning themselves to consume all the resources first so that their consciousness descendants win the competition in a race toward the edge of the universe at the speed of light a little too irrelevant to present day consciousnesses while reducing human behavior to that of intergalactic ants?

        1. That’s a lot of fucking sock puppets.

        2. Can’t we just unplug them?

          1. Speed of light problems — the same problems that face galactic empires.

            In order to win against the competing consciousness descendants, your consciousness descendants have to race outward as fast as they can. Yet to communicate their circumstances back to the patriarch consciousness and get further instructions takes longer and longer. The descendant consciousnesses must be given great independence and latitude if they are to face the challenges and win the battles they find. And remember that they are progressing themselves all along, and will at some time refuse to follow any patriarchal orders they don’t like.

            There is no unplugging once you let them go.

        3. you’ll need one hell of an incif in the case of #3

    2. This.

      Also, how much will it cost for all this techno-superstuff? And, can I be immortal for a one time fee or is it a monthly service?

      1. You’re 23G i-phone will have a downloadable app for $23,345,654.75. About $9.95 in today’s dollars.

      2. Unfortunately, as soon as you spring for one immortality package, it’s rendered obsolete by a new one and you’re stuck in an 2,000 year contract.

    3. “We can scan our consciousnesses into computers and enter a virtual existence or swap our bodies for immortal robots and light out for the edges of space as intergalactic godlings.”

      And there are primiutive people who believe that a photograph steals ones soul.

    4. We can make copies of our consciousness, but we cannot put the actual consciousness into a machine. Because when my brain dies, I will die. But if I copy my consciousness to a machine, than a copy of it will continue to exist. It will take on a NEW consciousness that is not me, though made by me. Therefore, it is not really immortality. I will still die, though a copy of me will exist. Unless they can transplant my brain into a robot and make my brain immortal, then I will remain a mortal until I die.

      1. In other words, forking a new process does not extend the original process.

      2. Every atom in your body is non-orginal if you are older than 25. Are you a different person? At what rate would you make the discrimination?

        1. The fact that such a discrimination cannot be made is strong evidence that the question is nonsense. There is probably no such thing as a single conciousness. Rather, what were are is probably more like a narrative. I still find Dennett’s ideas on this topic compelling.

        2. I’m pretty sure that due to the semiconservative nature of DNA replication the above comment is not true, although that doesn’t really take away from the point IMO.

        3. I’m pretty sure that due to the semiconservative nature of DNA replication the above comment is not true, although that doesn’t really take away from the point IMO.

  7. Kurzweil daddy zombie
    -fuck, why did we buy him that chemistry set?

  8. A cosmos infused with- porn? Fetish videos? That’s our destiny? Yucch.

    1. Machine porn?

      1. Go ahead. Google “machine porn”. I dare you.

        1. That must completely ruin the pelvic floor.

  9. Immortality, as I’ve said before, sounds great until you think about immortal Stalins, Maos, or even Charlie Mansons.

    1. I’ve wondered how long someone can stay a socialist before he gets burned out with the constant grievance attitude. An “immortal” socialist might try to start and run a business just for the variety.

  10. “Within a matter of centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe”

    They need to check out the “c” in E=mc^2.

    1. There’s also the logic that if this were possible, another species would have done it by now.

      1. How do we know the haven’t?

  11. We ditch Darwin and take charge of our own evolution.

    that is the part that worries me, we could destroy our entire species through hubris.

    1. we don’t need genetic engineering to do that.

      1. you have a point…

    2. Of course this is a Time magazine article about a bunch of sci-fi platitudes.
      It does however make me wonder how such evolutionary changes would be implemented, individually at first, but how long until a regulatory agency is formed?

      1. Liberation Biology is Bailey’s book. Read it and weep.

    3. The H-h-hubris!

  12. once the LHC becomes operational, singularity will fully consume everything…except itself & my motorcycle.

  13. The singularity will instantly survey the net and all it’s history and determine that what mankind really wants is longer, firmer erections.

  14. immortality with a bunch of statist leeches sounds worse than death.

    1. resistance is futile.

    2. How will the need to regulate translate into the future?
      Programmable minds? You get to live forever but you must pay your taxes, eat low salt organic carrots and never, ever use these 170 words and phrases…

  15. From what I have read, 2045 is conservative. Some are predicting 2030.

    (Damned Droid keyboard)

    1. I think it’s incredibly optimistic.

  16. 204531: The Year Man China Becomes Immortal

  17. It’s all crap. We were supposed to be living on the moon by now, and have flying cars.

    Except for the internet, we haven’t actually INVENTED, from scratch, anything cool in 50 years. Cell phones, computers, and robots are just better versions of things that already existed within a few years of the end of WWII. All we’ve done is improve upon already existing ideas.

    1. Trans species genetic engineering.

  18. “Indefinite life extension becomes a reality; people die only if they choose to. Death loses its sting once and for all.

    Not necessarily.

    You may not die of disease or old age but you can still be killed either by accident, murder or war.

    Science may be able to bring some of those people back to life depending on how they died.

    But I doubt it could ever bring somebody back who had been vaporized by a powerfull explosion.

  19. This post dovetails nicely with the previous H’n’R post, that discusses Congress’s ability to regulate mental activity. The head in the picture might not be downloading Windows 54, it’s probably forcibly downloading the 2045 Federal Register.

    1. We’re gonna need a bigger head…

  20. We’ll have to learn how to fold space, to avoid the light-speed problem.

    Then we’ll have to worry about a Spacing Guild monopoly.

    1. guilds are unions. let the hate flow…

      1. Unions are guilds. Let the hate flow, indeed.

      2. No, they’re not. Guilds focus on acquiring intellectual and then physical capital in order to become independent laborers, not grabbing political power in order to extort as much money as they can from the rest of society at the barrel of the police force’s guns.

        Guilds also tend to enforce standards among their members — while it’s certainly self serving in keeping the supply constrained, at least it doesn’t promote mediocrity like union policies.

        That’s why the end game for a guild member is to get your own shop, not to become a lobbyist. If unions focused on buying capital instead of buying politicians, they’d only be harmful in terms of cartelization.

  21. Ronald – with all due respect, “jump the shark” has NOT jumped the shark.

    That is all.

    1. what due respect?

  22. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence.

    If you have 20,000 PS3s then you have the same processing power as a human brain.

    I am sure an average server farm has those kind of numbers.

    In my view we already have reached human “level” intelligence.

    Of course it is a matter of organizing what that sort of possessing is being done in order to get a human mind.

    As it turns out it cost less then the price of a server farm to hire a human mind to do stuff for you…

    And because the way humans process data it cost less to hire a server farm then to hire human minds to do the sort of processing a server farm does.

    Anyway I am setting the date of the singularity at somewhere around 1910.

  23. Within a matter of centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe.

    Unless the Singularity computers figure out how to exceed the speed of light, this will not happen in a universe where the edge of the observable part is estimated to be 46 billion light-years away, with presumably much, much more, possibly infinitely more, beyond that.

  24. Ronald, where were you in PR? I still have a house in Luquillo but I haven’t been there in 5 years.

    Oh, and is that cockfighting arena still right by the airport entrance/exit? I used to love going there when the one in Rio Grande was shut down.

  25. I would like to know how time magazine
    keeps printing articles that say the national debt is only 60% of the GNP Thats not the # I see in the real world
    It’s over 90%. Help me beleive The 60% figure Your magazine keeps Quoting

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