Introducing our first guest blogger at 21st Century Tech Blog. His name is Ricky Dyson and I’ve included a short biography so you can get to know him. I’m hoping to hear from him again and encourage other readers and visitors to consider making contributions to this conversation about the future.
Ricky Dyson was born and raised in New Zealand. Today he lives in the United States. He is a Renaissance Man having worked in many industries including cosmetics, medicine, textiles, semiconductors, software, and alternative energy technology. He holds patents in semiconductor manufacturing methodology and voice recognition. He is a serial entrepreneur having sold his textile business in New Zealand before coming to the United States. Today he is doing research and development for a wind energy and hydrogen fuel cell business, is a Director for a green energy company, and is writing the first book in a planned science fiction trilogy. Ricky is a student of history and lives in Bluffdale, Utah.
Defining the Singularity
Are you familiar with the term “singularity?” It is a word most associated these days with Ray Kurzweil, inventor and futurist. Kurzweil talks about the technological singularity in a number of books including The Age of Intelligent Machines, The Singularity is Near, Transcend: and Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. Futurists find him hard to ignore. He is an inductee in the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a recipient of the National Medal of Technology, the Lemelson-MIT Prize and many honorary doctorates.
Kurzweil defines the singularity as a future period in which computing power will exceed the powers of our biological human minds and technology will enable us to extend human life-for as long as we want. This idea of our approaching immortality through the arrival of the singularity leads me to have concerns about the problems that will surely arise when we achieve it. Transcending the limits of our human bodies and brains raises concern. That human and machine intelligence will be equal in the near future is a certainty. The increases in computing power, development of nanotechnology, our understanding of biological processes and brain function all point to this inevitability. But the question arises – is this something we really want to do? If human history is an indicator, we know that if we can, we will cross this threshold.
Back some years ago, when I was working on computer natural voice recognition, it became obvious that the drive to get a computer to understand what was being said was daunting to say the least. The classic wreck a nice beach and recognize speech conundrum was just, well… very hard. Being human, we of course, leapt with enthusiasm into the problem. Using multidimensional layered genetic algorithms we got close. At least better than human hearing. The research continues to this day and no one appears to have objections to producing an IT system that really understands us when we talk to it.
And here we have the difference between technological progress and Kurzweil’s future projection. The idea that a computer will truly understand us is completely non-threatening. The idea that humans can transcend our bodies and become integrated with artificial intelligence that bestows upon us a permanently altered state is threatening in so many ways. Kurzweil gives these fears short shrift in The Singularity is Near, maintaining that the objections about the rich-poor divide, government regulation and Theism will simply be overcome by price reductions, ingenuity and logic. In these I believe he understates the reality of human reaction to his singularity proposition.
Competitive Advantage in The Rich-Poor Divide
Kurzweil argues that new technologies are price-performance driven, at first, very expensive, and functionally limited, then merely expensive but workable, and then finally almost free and very useful. This is the traditional technology evolutionary path. But what would happen if those with money were to experience the singularity first at its most expensive moment? What would motivate these enhanced humans with money and power to allow free market forces to prevail in what Ronald Reagan coined as “trickle down” economics? Among these rich elite there would be little advantage to allow the “common man” to achieve the singularity as well. Surely the history of free markets are replete with examples of robber barons enriching themselves at the expense of the poor. Besides, would you want an enhanced, immortal Donald Trump running around freely dispensing his blather forever? Revolution would be at hand.
Religion’s Response to the Singularity
No technology revolution will affect the human-God relationship more than the singularity. All religions have an idea of what being human means. All of them seek moral truths and define what is good or bad. All of them have explanations of what happens after death. Some even conceive that life begins before birth. How are the practitioners of these beliefs to react to the idea that humans can become more than flesh and blood? What will they think? For theologians the idea of the singularity messes with creation and our unique human place within it. What is the ultimate result of changing the human condition, creating immortality without death, God-like intelligence, and a life that doesn’t end in an after-life? Will human-machine integrated entities even be considered human? I cannot imagine the world of religion not fighting back when cherished beliefs are threatened. Having had interactions with fundamentalists of all stripes, I am convinced that they will be less than pleased with the idea that we can extend our lives indefinitely, have intelligence to rival their Gods, or live our lives entirely without a destiny of an afterlife. Although Kurzweil dismisses these religious fears, posing scientific and logical arguments, it is pretty clear that no church, synagogue or mosque will accept this human paradigm shift.
Can Religion and our Society Survive the Singularity?
A technological advance that leads to human-machine integration is unlike anything humanity has experienced before. Will it be welcome? Will society rebel against the potential disruptive nature of such a change and the potential for inequality that may result? Will religions watch their reason for existence vanish as human lifespans get extended indefinitely? Will there be a purpose in worshiping the gods if we begin to be godlike ourselves? If you are religious you may wish to see God or gods intercede before we reach the singularity. Perhaps they won’t like the idea of competition.