Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Time Magazine Discusses the Singularity

"2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal"

It's an excellent article, though if one is not already familiar with the idea of the singularity, the article doesn't explain it all that well. The singularity, or at least Kurzweil's understanding of it, is not the point at which humanity becomes immortal, but rather it is the point at which greater-than-human intelligence arrives on the scene, making predictions about what happens beyond that point all but impossible. Limited human intelligence can't predict how greater-than-human intelligence will mold and interact with the world with any greater accuracy than a dog can prognosticate about human political or economic affairs. Immortality (or indefinite life span) is a completely different but somewhat related topic, and its achievement will likely precede the Singularity by a decade or more.

In reading the comments under the article, I'm reminded once again of just how controversial the idea of indefinite lifespans is. People have a visceral reaction to it, almost universally negative. Those few who embrace the idea are someone freakishly called "transhumanists" and comprise a relatively small percentage of the population.

I think the idea of immortality frightens people because most of us hate having our assumptions challenged, and no assumption is more deeply ingrained than that of certain death. When our most basic assumptions are undermined, humans are forced to deal with uncertainty, and we detest and fear uncertainty as much as anything. And, if not even death is certain, then...what? That's the unspoken issue that most have with indefinite life spans.

Here's what I had to say on this subject in only my second ever blog post back in 2008:

The more interesting implications of indefinite life expectancies are not the practicalities of managing the environment, but rather the philosophical/religious ones. Many insist that death gives meaning to human lives, and that fear of death is important to our spiritual/psychological/philosophical well-being. But, I have to say, once one comes to truly believe as I have that indefinite life expectancy is not only possible but is only a decade or two away, contemplating living forever, or even for several centuries, is nothing short of terrifying. As a result of this fear, isn't an axiom like "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die" equally as compelling, maybe more so, when rephrased as "eat, drink, and be merry, for you will be living one hell of a long time and you might as well enjoy it"? In other words, which is more terrifying and which results in more soul-searching: The thought of dying (and all that entails), or the thought of living forever?

For me, it's the latter.

1 comment:

Kristin said...

Well stated, Dave Matthews. Have you paid your royalties with blood, with money, with an autograph or simply your musings on the infinite and, possibly more importantly, the indefinite-ness of life? Maybe you and I will have a spirited debate on the many theories. Or we could bore each other to tears by agreeing whole-heartedly.