The Singularity

“In the beginning there was man, and for a time it was good… Then man made the machine in his own likeness. Thus did man become the architect of his own demise”

There will come a day when technology and biology will become so intrinsically linked that we will no longer be able to function in society without the aid of synthetic enhancement. This ‘step forward’ in evolution has been coined ‘The Singularity’. This is the pioneering vision by Raymond Kurzweil, inventor, author and futurist. The main tenet of Kurzeweil’s theory is while technology is increasing exponentially, biology only increases incrementally. With the ever-increasing symbiosis with technology, in a few decades it will not be possible physically to keep up with the demands of technology without incorporating nanotechnology and synthetic bioenhancement into our bodies.

Take the invention of the computer. When the first computer was invented it was the size of a room and cost 11 million dollars. Now that same computational power now sits in the palm of your hand and costs a fraction of the price. The microchip is said to double in speed and halved in size every 2 years. That technology will eventually be enabled to be shrunk down to the size of a blood vessel so it can be implanted into the human body. There is a similar growth pattern if you look at how social interaction has evolved since the rise of mobile communication, the internet and social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Communication and information are increasing exponentially and the human machine is falling behind.

Kurzweil predicts that by 2029 we will be able to replicate a human brain to match human intelligence, thus will spell the end of the human era. He paints a vision of the future that would have served well as a sci-fi novel, a future where we are all linked with nanotechnology that will interact with ‘cloud’ systems that are already in use on the internet. We will be able to link up with other individuals on the planet and literally share our minds in an omnipresent fashion. He goes as far as to say we could ‘back-up’ our consciousness onto the cloud and then download it into another vessel if our own bodies should cease to work, essentially curing death. A statement raising many philosophical questions that may forever remain unanswered.

Questions like, when the world finally gives birth to artificial intelligence how will we know if the robot we are talking to is actually conscious? What makes us as humans conscious in the first place? Essentially a computer program could become sophisticated enough to mimic exactly what it appears to be human, but does that mean it has become self-aware? Perhaps the most important question, how would we know the difference?

Since 2003 Hanson Robotics have been working exactly that, bringing intelligence, emotion and consciousness to robotics. The University of West England has one of 6 of Hanson’s robots, equipped with the ability to learn, feel and respond to other human emotions. What happens when that thinking, feeling robot decides it should have human rights?

Kurzweil states that there are 3 overlapping technologies that will bring about the next step in human evolution. Known as the GNR revolution; genetics, nanotechnology and robotics. Through our knowledge of human biological processes we now have the technology to cure the aging process. Telomers, found at the end of DNA strands shorten every time the cell divides and this is what causes aging. Through our research into cancer cells researchers have found the enzyme telomerase replaces the telomers lost in cell division and when injected into elderly mice, literally reversed the aging process.

Nanotechnology will not only be able to ‘search and destroy’ various malignant cells in the body as well as to clean and purify organs and arteries of any toxins, which could all but eradicate disease and bodily degradation completely. This software could be upgraded as soon as new viruses came into existence. This same technology could be used to improve mental and physical functioning, for example removing the effects of mental and physical fatigue. The future of the GNR revolution is one where the human is made into a more efficient machine. A machine that could be linked to all the other machines on the planet and could act as a singular consciousness.

If it’s all starting to sound like The Matrix, it is. The computer program Second Life is a very crude version of a ‘matrix’ but it won’t be long until the technology catches up with the Singular vision and Second Life will be indistinguishable from real life. By 2045 Kurzweil theorises that most of our time will be spent online and that eventually our human bodies will become obsolete.

It seems the future for Kurzweil and the other futurists is synthetic, not spiritual. Just like when Homo eretcus and Homo sapien walked the Earth, there was a divide and the more evolved species was allowed to prosper. Are we now standing at the dividing line for the next leap in evolution? Will there come a point where we will either have to accept our fate of bioenhancement or be pushed out of society to suffer a natural death? One thing remains clear, we are heading for The Singularity. The question is, which direction will you take when it comes to the future of our species?