Daily Archives: November 4, 2008

Is this the end of death as we know it?


And then, Dan reckons, if these intelligences are friendly, we’ll all be “uploaded” – our entire personalities will be copied into the vast memory banks of these AIs – and we’ll live forever.

All Set for the Big Upload

My friend Dan thinks he’s going to live forever. He’s not religious, or one of those who believes that extreme calorie restriction will let him live a thousand years (or perhaps just feel like he is). No, thinking it through logically Dan has decided that the technological singularity is likely to happen in his lifetime.

According to this theory, popularised by Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil among others, within the next 25 years humanity will create a superhuman intelligence, one that is capable of creating intelligences greater than its own. Humanity will no longer control the pace of technological development, which will rapidly advance to the point that our entire environment is directed by artificial intelligences.

And then, Dan reckons, if these intelligences are friendly, we’ll all be “uploaded” – our entire personalities will be copied into the vast memory banks of these AIs – and we’ll live forever. More than that, we’ll be able to spend time with our friends, we’ll never experience pain or suffering again, all imaginable forms of entertainment will be available to us, along with some that can’t be imagined at all. We’ll be happy, stimulated, in pleasant company for all eternity.

Of course, this is a remarkably similar promise to the assurances various religions have been giving for the past few thousand years. The technological singularity has been called the Geek Rapture or Rapture of the Nerds, referring to the belief held by some Christians that they will be taken up bodily into heaven to be with Jesus before the Day of Judgment. I’m fascinated by the similarities with religion; perhaps it’s simply impossible for many people to comfortably accept that they really are going to die, that nothing will come afterwards, that there’s no hope of rescue. If we can’t believe in God, could technology be the way, the truth and the life?

I’m reminded of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, which is very robust in its constant assertion that there is nothing after death. In the very first episode, the team of alien-hunters uses a “resurrection glove” to momentarily bring a murdered man back to life. Asked what he saw after death, what there was to be seen, the murder victim replies, “Nothing. I saw nothing. Oh my god, there’s nothing.” And yet this statement was retrieved using this imaginary technology, the resurrection glove. One of the characters in Torchwood is immortal, others die and are returned to life using various pieces of alien gadgetry. Even for those who believe that they don’t believe in life after death, it seems impossible to stop imagining technological solutions to the problem.

Perhaps this is because of the vast array of problems technology can solve. We can speak to people on the other side of the world, fly through the air, carry the music of hundreds of orchestras with us in our pockets; why wouldn’t technology one day enable us to live forever? Or perhaps it’s simply a quirk of our brains; Scientific American magazine and artist Damien Hirst agree that the mind of a living being cannot conceive its own demise. Either way, I’ve agreed to try to get Dan into Jewish heaven if he puts in a good word for me with the Technological Singularity. That way we’re both covered.

by Naomi Alderman | via guardian.co.uk | Photo: Howard Sochurek/Corbis | hat tip Wildcat2030


Evidence of a Global SuperOrganism

I am not the first, nor the only one, to believe a superorganism is emerging from the cloak of wires, radio waves, and electronic nodes wrapping the surface of our planet. No one can dispute the scale or reality of this vast connectivity. What’s uncertain is, what is it? Is this global web of computers, servers and trunk lines a mere mechanical circuit, a very large tool, or does it reach a threshold where something, well, different happens?

So far the proposition that a global superorganism is forming along the internet power lines has been treated as a lyrical metaphor at best, and as a mystical illusion at worst. I’ve decided to treat the idea of a global superorganism seriously, and to see if I could muster a falsifiable claim and evidence for its emergence.

via Kevin Kelly | Continue Reading