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
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:
Technology is at the Center (interview with venture capitalist and Singulatarian Peter Thiel)
Go here to read Time's take on the Singularity.