We all want to believe in something bigger than ourselves. At least I think we do. We need purpose. Our feet get sore as we move forward through life and we need something just around the bend or over the hill to keep us going. There are tens of thousands of causes you can choose to champion in life. They come in all shapes and sizes and cost anywhere from nothing to everything. And then there are the singulatarians, an offshoot of the transhumanists. I am a transhumanist and a singulartarian because both ideas make sense to me.
What is a transhumanist?
Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.
What is a singulatarian?
Singularitarianism is a moral philosophy based upon the belief that a technological singularity — a theoretical future point that takes place during a period of accelerating change sometime after the creation of a superintelligence — is possible, and advocating deliberate action to bring such an entity into effect and ensure its safety.
While many futurists and transhumanists speculate on the possibility and nature of this technological development (often referred to as “the Singularity”), Singularitarians believe it is not only possible, but desirable if, and only if, guided safely. Accordingly, they might sometimes “dedicate their lives” to acting in ways they believe will contribute to its safe implementation.
There are many interesting aspects of both transhumanism and singulartarianism worth discussing seriously. Morally, ethically and sociologically these two worldviews represent change. Change is very scary. Change is very upsetting. Change can destabilize systems. Some people fight change as a matter of course because they are comfortable with who they are, with where they live, with how things are. The people are doomed because the only constant in the universe is change.
I fail to understand why someone who thinks of him or herself as a rationalist or an intellectual would start a conversation by labeling a non-religious movement a cult. That’s how John Horgan views us. In two posts, Science Cult and Is the Singularity a Cult, Horgan concludes that “the last thing humanity needs right now is an apocalyptic cult masquerading as science.” Pardon me, sir, but what are you talking about?
Transhumanist and their cousins singularists, as I like to call them, are not a cult. We just want to believe. Please – don’t associate us with religious kooks.
This stuff is true, if you also mention that soon to Kurzweil doesn’t mean soon to all of us and that time is relative and human beings are capable of seeing it on different scales:
Singularitarians such as Kurzweil insist that scientists will soon “reverse-engineer” the brain so that they understand exactly how it works. Many neuroscientists assume that, just as computers operate according to a machine code, so the brain’s performance must depend on a “neural code”; this is the set of rules, syntax or algorithms that transforms electrical impulses emitted by brain cells into perceptions, memories, meanings, intentions. Researchers are trying to decode the brain by probing it with ever-more-powerful technologies, such as magnetic-resonance imaging, positron-emission tomography and microelectrodes.
Cracking the neural code should yield all sorts of benefits. First, the brain’s programming tricks could be transferred to computers to make them smarter. Moreover, given the right interface, our brains and computers could communicate as readily as Macs and PCs. Eventually, our personal software could be extracted from our bodies for uploading into computers.
If a neural code exists, however, neuroscientists still have no idea what it is. Far from converging on a solution, scientists cannot agree whether information is represented primarily by signals from individual neurons, or brain cells, by oscillations of many neurons firing in tandem, by even higher-level waves of chaotic electrical activity sweeping through the brain or all of the above.
But, dear sir, where did the chip on your shoulder come from?
Also it pisses me off when you and your ilk–including Kurzweil–accuse me of “fearing” the Singularity or of merely dismissing it as “weird.” That’s bullshit. Sure, I make fun of you guys, because I’m trying to entertain people. But in my Spectrum article and even that crappy little Newsweek piece I also present specific counterarguments to the wild extrapolation upon which the Singularity is based. My first two books also have a detailed critique of the fields you think will produce the Singularity, including AI, neuroscience, genetics and so on. You Singularitarians, for all your vaunted cleverness,display an extraordinary and I can only assume willful ignorance of the complexities of biology, including how the genetic code produces bodies and how the neural code produces minds. When someone draws your attention to these issues, you respond with what you accuse critics of, ad hominem attacks. There’s the cult-like insularity and arrogance I talked about before. And that’s why you don’t deserve to be taken seriously.
Galileo Galilei wasn’t taken seriously but it turns out he was right. Ray Kurzweil may or may not be proved correct in time. If he is you lose nothing or everything. In the mean time, all you’ve done is a disservice to people who want to believe in something that might be bigger and better than remaining trapped on a planet full of pretty small amazingly petty minds. There is a universe out there to explore.