Imagine being able to live indefinitely, with astronomical powers of intelligence and creative potential, in an ever-adaptable human-machine hybrid body, able to explore new physical dimensions, virtual realities, and the far reaches of outer space.
Welcome to the Singularity, where amazing new future technologies conspire to lift our species into spiritual transcendence.
I recently attended the Singularity Summit in San Francisco, an annual conference on the latest developments in artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfacing, robotics. regenerative medicine, and other emerging technologies, as well as speculation about where these powerful new technologies might be headed in our near future.
I’ve also been reading technological visionary Ray Kurzweil’s provocative new book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed.
Kurzweil’s new book explores the concept of reverse-engineering the brain--to not only understand precisely how it works, but to then apply that knowledge to create super-intelligent machines--that, supposedly, will soon have information processing capacities that are equivalent to human intelligence, and that will eventually surpass the current limits of all human intelligence combined.
Collectively described as “transhumanism,” the growing movement--which heralds the coming interface of converging technologies in neuroscience, medicine, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and nanotechnology (with an almost religious-like fervor at times) as a bold and exciting promise to radically alter the human adventure for the better--has its roots in psychedelic culture.
I noticed transhumanist ideas beginning to percolate in the late 1980s, with the writings of F. M. Esfandiary (FM-2030), in the pages of the Whole Earth Review, and especially with R.U. Sirius and the Mondo 2000 magazine crowd in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose writings and gatherings were associated with LSD-inspired thought and the exploration of designer psychedelics from the beginning.
A significant portion of today’s mainstream digital culture, and the more radical transhumanism movement, began with Mondo 2000’s explorations into hacking cutting-edge science and its interdisciplinary celebrations of the early internet, cognitive enhancement, mind-expanding drugs, and advancing neuro-technologies.
As with the “Butterfly Effect” in Chaos Theory--where small changes grow exponentially with time into much larger effects--this tiny, but influential, fringe group mushroomed into the digital culture that is sweeping around the globe today, and where this is all headed is anybody’s guess.
The late psychedelic philosophers Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, and Terence McKenna all tried to map out this territory, and prepare people for the coming interface between biology and high technology, which transhumanists enthusiastically herald with excitement.
What Leary and Wilson portrayed as our species entering into a massive activation of our higher brain circuitry, and what McKenna described as our global descent into the “infinite novelty at the end of history,” has been popularized more recently by Kurzweil and others as simply as “the Singularity.”
It is generally thought that at the beginning of the Big Bang, and inside of some black holes (or collapsed stars), that gravitational fields become infinite, and that this causes the known laws of physics--both general relativity and quantum mechanics--to break down. In astrophysics, this is known as a “singularity.”
Many physicists suspect that singularities are portals into whole new universes, where new laws of physics may operate.
This seems like a good poetic metaphor for what the human species appears to be heading into--a point where all the previous rules no longer apply, or don’t apply in the same ways.
Throughout all of human history there has never before been a time where people have had access to the kind of enormous power, resources, and computational intelligence that we’re currently developing.
If we don’t end up destroying ourselves with these new technological advancements, they may help us to solve the basic problems of material existence--food, shelter, limited resources, poverty, illness, aging, and, perhaps, even limited intelligence and inadequate compassion.
Maybe these achievements will simply become the starting point for a new species that evolves out of our endeavors, out of us.
It seems quite difficult to predict how the future flowering of these new technologies will affect us when using sociological models gleaned from the past, which are all based upon a scarcity of resources, limited intelligence, and life spans that are under a century.
For us, it seems that, beyond mere survival, the goals of human civilization have always been cultural achievements in the arts and sciences, in medicine, in politics, philosophy, or spirituality.
We have long sought longer lives, liberation from disease, disability, or aging, protection from natural disasters, resolution of our political conflicts, the cultivation of pleasure, compassion, creativity, and freedom, as well as transcendence from the sometimes negative consequences of our own nature and our physical limitations.
But what if, for this supremely-intelligent species that appears to be emerging out our own minds, this is simply the starting point?
To read the interviews that I conducted with Ray Kurzweil see: http://mavericksofthemind.com/ray-kurzweil-2, and http://mavericksofthemind.com/ray-kurzweil-2-2
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