Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rudy Rucker holds forth on Ray Kurzweil's brand of Singularity-mania.

Personally, I'm evenly split between the sort of cosmic all-at-onceness Rucker espouses (even though I've never done LSD) and Kurzweil's chomping-at-the-bit transhumanism. Like Rucker, I'm a little wary of "The Singularity Is Near." Not because I fear I won't enjoy it (I thought highly "The Age of Spiritual Machines") but because I fear Kurzweil's consummate punditry. It's great fun to wonder what the postsingular future holds in store, but Kurzweil (and many others of the same general outlook) seem to have overlooked William Gibson's observation that the future's arrival is seldom evenly distributed.

Yes, a singularity (note the lower-case "s") is most likely inevitable; it may even be imminent. But I'm extraordinarily wary of the "Rapture" mentality that's taken over the debate, reducing technological forecasts to little more than jargon-heavy quasi-religious screeds. Spare me, please.

That said, I sympathize with -- and share -- Kurzweil's disdain for death. I've never seen the need to romanticize what amounts to a biological system failure, and I see no reason why we should accept less than immortality as long as there's a viable alternative. (Rucker writes somewhat disparagingly of cryonics, but I think of it as a sensible precaution. Advocating cryonics doesn't entail a soul-consuming fear of death any more than paying for medical insurance indicates a fatalistic personality.)

And yet I'm drawn to the idea that life is more than an endlessly prolonged system upgrade. Ultimately, all is one; we are the universe staring back at itself in wonder and fear. Provided we can preserve that sense of awe, why not live forever?


Danieru said...

My main objection to transhumanism is that its proponents don't have broad enough imaginations.

To see the tiny sliver of consciousness we hold so dear as the pinnacle of post-human manipulation is pretty short sighted. I would rather perceive the individual as becoming obsolete, the factor of identity, so relevant in the westernised conception of the human, becoming a stepping stone on the way to greater levels of awareness beyond our 3-dimensionally composed, Earth bound shells of baryonic substance.

I could natter on further (and have done so in the relatively recent past) but fear of my inevitable utopian daydreaming blocks my view. I'd like to see how Kurzweil would outline his post-singularity world without once mentioning the human, but I suppose that stance doesn't sell half as many books to fellow utopian daydreamers.

W.M. Bear said...

One disappointing thing I found about The Age of Spiritual Machines is that, following the singularity when everyone is uploaded into the Great Windows Operating System in the Sky, market capitalism is the still the rule by which everyone lives in virtual inequality and Bill Gates is still the richest man in the (virtual) world. It's as though, in the traditional Rapture, the Angel deposited Kerri (or Terri or whatever the hell her name is!) in heaven before her beautiful mansion in the sky, and then turned around with his palm out and said, "OK, now you owe me $10,000 for the first months rent." (Kind of, anyway.)

razorsmile said...
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razorsmile said...

Heh. He didn't so much "hold forth" as much as briefly spit to the side.

Personally, these days I'm more of a Wattsian singularitarian.