Do you believe in the Singularity?
Do you know what it is?
Finding it’s roots in the research and philosophies of Ray Kurzweil
and Vernor Vinge
, it’s the idea that all technology is on a path to convergence, and the results of this entail machine sentience, infinite human life extension, and a theoretical future in which the difference between machine intelligence and human intelligence might be indistinguishable from one another.
It’s a future I happen to believe in, and something that I think will take place in our lifetime.
That’s why I keep an eye out for articles like the one I found today over at Gadget Lab
today. The subject of the piece was a speech given by economist James Miller at the Singularity Summit a few weeks ago (an event I really wish I was able to attend – Mashable
didn’t wanna foot the bill on that indulgence, though).
James Miller’s presentation had to do with not just the effect of the Singularity on the general economy (as something like that is almost impossible to predict with a fair degree of accuracy, it’s so revolutionary in its nature), but the effect of the expectations of the Singularity.
“Long before there is a singularity, people will come to expect it,” Miller told attendees at the Singularity Summit in San Jose. “And it is very likely that could happen within 20 years.”
The belief that a vastly different future is near could change how people make choices in life, education, investment and retirement, says Miller. “People will become very fearful of death, save less and invest differently,” he says.
Most significant among their choices would be the emphasis on extending life, says Smith. “If you think there will be a machine-driven future then your top priority is to survive long enough to make it to the singularity,” he says.
That means people force Governments to increase its defense spending in a bid to ensure the greatest chance of survival.
“Believers will also want to spend more money to increase their chances of making it to the singularity with things such as safer cars and machines that make jobs such as construction safer,” he says.
This, in and of itself is logical extraction, and while it’s worthy of a good ponder, what I found more interesting was some of the reaction in the comments and from the attendees. From one attendee:
Miller’s talk was among the most controversial at the conference. His financial advice especially had some of the attendees riled. “The framing of this discussion into believers and non-believers is ridiculous,” says Eric Acher, an associate with the Sao Paulo, Brazil-based Monashees capital who claims he walked out of the talk towards the end. “The discussion needs to be about the impact of technological progress on society.”
Every year, the singularity is looking more like religion and less like science. It has its pope, its doctrine, its annual pilgrimage, its prophets and its prophecies. The coming super intelligent machine is its Messiah.
Decidely, you can take the boys and the girls out of religion but you can’t take the religion out of them. hahaha…
Why it struck me personally is that when I was first studying singularity, I was reading The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil while dating a gal who was a member of the Jehovah’s Witness.
You’ll Hafta Stick With Me On This, I Promise I’ll Bring It Back Around From Religion
If you’re not a member of the faith and haven’t studied their beliefs very closely, you might not be sure exactly why they’re not considered part of the main of Protestant beliefs. As I’m a fairly open-minded fellow, I took the time to meet with some folks from her congregation, attended a few ‘meetings’, and read a number of their religious texts to get a handle on what it is that they believe.
The chief differences in the JW faith the main of Christianity is that they’re a works-based religion, and they don’t believe in the Godhood of Christ (and thus discount the concept of the Trinity).
They’re also a belief system that very heavily roots itself in end time theology. They have very specific beliefs on how they interpret the book of Revelations, and the timeline of the end-times is very ingrained in every JW member.
For instance, they don’t believe that those who are saved will ascend to heaven during the rapture, only a select 144,000 saints pre-selected for their exemplary duty, devotion and works. The rest of the saved will live on a Utopian Earth presided over by Jesus Christ. There will be no need to toil at the Earth for sustenance.
The way it was described to me several times was that the only goal for those that wished to live on beyond the 1000 years Christ and the anointed reigned on Earth would be to live in obedience to him, but that the world would not be defined by the survivalist roots we exist under today.
Also, very interestingly, they believe that these days are upon us imminently, and that the spiritual battle that precedes this will not be visible to humanity, only the effects of the Armageddon. In fact, this process began, as they say, in 1914 when Satan was cast from heaven. World War I was the physical symptom of this spiritual occurrence.
Here’s Where it Got Interesting
I generally regarded these beliefs as interesting as a good science fiction novel. I was brought up Christian, but I’m one of the rare few in my particular buckle of the geographic Bible Belt who took the time to learn the why’s of what I believe. As such, I came to the conclusion that there is a whole lot we’re simply not meant to know, and vast extrapolations in vivid date and detail on what is exactly meant in Revelations is beyond the capability of mortal men.
Essentially, Matthew 25:12-13: “But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
What I did find inte
resting were the striking similarities between the JW’s vision of Utopian Earth and the Kurzweilian view of the Singularity.
In The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil
talks about the emerging view of the human body as a machine rather than a chemical soup. This leads to the treatment of the body with more advanced machine like methods, such as Nanotechnology. Meanwhile, the same type of technology is the future of machine building blocks, particularly of Moore’s Law
continues in perpetuity.
The net effect is that once vast portions (if not all) of the human body are run by nanobots, the idea that we’ll need to be constantly fueled by digestion of bio matter through our gastro-intestinal systems becomes a thing of the past. In this Utopian future, virtually all matter could be broken down at the molecular level and re-assembled into the matter needed to deliver nutrients or repairs to the body and mind.
Thus, the need to exist in a world defined by survivalist codes ceases to exist. Fighting over physical territory or raw materials becomes pointless, since virtually all physical matter could be used for the purposes of sustenance.
Furthermore, the process of progressing towards this Singular existence has begun already. The very first steps to understanding and utilizing nanotechnology have long since begun. The progress towards this future takes place hidden in plain sight – we don’t notice the technological leaps because we don’t see the forest for the trees (could you have predicted the iPhone or The Cloud twenty or thirty years ago? how about five years ago?).
Do I Have a Point?
I’m certainly not suggesting that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are onto something. While their end-times beliefs may have some very striking similarities to Singularity theory, their culture and real world effects on their members are very negative, in my experience.
Not to venture too far off into judgementalism, but my personal experiences in their “meetings” left me feeling very cold, almost as if they were attempting to brainwash me out of any sense of individualism. It certainly isn’t an experience I’d recommend.
I think the best way to describe this odd correlative story is to relay a different story I picked up from SlashDot
earlier today regarding the age of the Monty Python skit
laejoh writes “Monty Python’s ‘Dead Parrot sketch’ — which featured John Cleese — is some 1,600 years old. A classic scholar has proved the point, by unearthing a Greek version of the world-famous piece. A comedy duo called Hierocles and Philagrius told the original version, only rather than a parrot they used a slave. It concerns a man who complains to his friend that he was sold a slave who dies in his service. His companion replies: ‘When he was with me, he never did any such thing!’ The joke was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which dates from the fourth century AD. Hierocles had gone to meet his maker, and Philagrius had certainly ceased to be, long before John Cleese and Michael Palin reinvented the yarn in 1969.”
Once in a while, two trains of thought will arrive at the same station from different origination points. I think this is one of those times. It just so happens that these two origination points couldn’t be further from one another, in my opinion.