Jun 14 2012
There aren’t many films I’m willing to spend $12–$16 to see these days, but you can bet Prometheus made the cut on my 2012 list of theater-worthy blockbusters. I got the chance to watch it in 3D last week, and walked away a (mostly) happy customer. However, I’m no expert on the Alien franchise, and while I’ve got tons to say about the latest installment, I’ll save that authority for those who are closer to the source material.
So let’s switch gears a bit.
In Unreality’s recent review of Prometheus, Paul touches on something I agree with whole-heartedly: Michael Fassbender knocked it out of the park as David, the ship’s butler/maintenance man/resident android. In this not-so-distant future, technological advancements allow for vastly extended life spans (if you can afford it, anyway), androids have become physically indistinguishable from humans, and our use of cutting-edge technology in general has increased tenfold.
Which got me thinking about the Singularity.
This is a heady concept, and several working definitions of it exist, but for the uninitiated, the Singularity essentially refers to an exponential growth of technology that eventually results in the creation of machines that surpass human intelligence. Scary? Sure, if you hate robots (and reading), but futurists’ theories on the Singularity are heavily researched and soundly based; even Congress takes them seriously.
Here’s the wildest part: depending on who you ask, technological singularity could take place as early as 2045. Let that sink in for a minute: human-like androids, nanotech cure-alls, revolutionary advancements in man-machine dynamics that we literally aren’t capable of fathoming yet—all (potentially) within our generation’s lifetime. And honestly, if you keep up with the latest breakthroughs in biotech and astrophysics, these potential advancements aren’t super farfetched.
I can’t say whether or not I fully buy in to the Singularity (at least not yet), but the implications behind this epic hypothesis are pretty mind-blowing. Imagine a world where…
1) Immortality is both plausible and probable
In Prometheus, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) plays a CEO who wants to live forever. He’s got a bit of a god complex, one might say. Real-world neuroscience has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, but imagine uploading your entire brain—consciousness and all—into a supercomputer. Or better yet, an improved humanoid form.
In essence, this would be an advanced version of digital immortality. Neuroscientists are already hard at work constructing synthetic human brains, and Whole Brain Emulation (“mind uploading” all the brain’s cells and synaptic connections) would really take things to the next level.
Do I want to live forever? Not really, but the fact that this option’s somehow on the table is pretty goddamn astounding.
2) Humanity 2.0 is kind of a thing
One of the problems with humanity is all the pesky restrictions—both physical and psychological—that come along with it. Lots of evolutionary baggage, you see. However, should we develop the ability to merge our fallible bodies with futuristic hardware/software (via implants or full-body replacements), now we’re talking about leapfrogging evolution entirely—cutting out neurological diseases and other bothersome imperfections in the process.
We’re already halfway there in the bionics department, by the way, and synthetic organs have been around for years. Plus I already feel naked without my smartphone firmly in hand; barring any negative side effects (physical or otherwise), I don’t really see a problem with the eventual convergence of man and machine. Why wouldn’t we want the technology we develop to beneficially augment our physical forms? This might seem a bit ridiculous now (thanks in part to idiots like this guy), but mobile tech gets more discreet every year, and I bet plenty of consumers would dig their own on-board iPhone if nobody could tell it was embedded in their arm.
3) Our evolutionary history (as we know it) is over
The mission of Prometheus’ crew was fairly straightforward: they wanted to meet the creators of humanity—our “engineers.” They were looking for the ever-elusive meaning of life (i.e., the reason for our existence). Religion fills this void nicely for many contemporary Earthlings, but no matter what you believe in, nobody can say for 100% certainty how we came to be, and no amount of debate can change that. Yet.
But one of the craziest things about the Singularity is that, because of technology’s predicted rate of growth, nobody can accurately calculate how far super artificial intelligence (SAI) can go. Put simply, you can’t predict what you can’t comprehend. And try as we might, there is no way of knowing the extent of what technological advancements lay in store for us once the Singularity hits. AI theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky describes the end of human history another way:
“It began three and a half billion years ago in a pool of muck, when a molecule made a copy of itself and so became the ultimate ancestor of all earthly life.
It began four million years ago, when brain volumes began climbing rapidly in the hominid line.
Fifty thousand years ago with the rise of Homo sapiens.
Ten thousand years ago with the invention of civilization.
Five hundred years ago with the invention of the printing press.
Fifty years ago with the invention of the computer.
In less than thirty years, it will end.”
See, when it comes to the Singularity, the next logical step for humankind might not appear particularly “human” to you or me. This concept is perhaps the most challenging to wrap your head around, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a participatory front-row seat to the baby steps of synthetic evolution?
4) We can fix the home we ruined
If Al Gore is to be believed, planet Earth is in pretty rough shape environment-wise. We’ve been running this place into the ground since the Industrial Revolution, and it doesn’t look like we plan on not exhausting the world’s natural resources any time soon. Advanced nanotechnology could be the answer, allowing us to create virtually any physical product we desired with little more than the proper software and inexpensive raw materials. In fact, nanobots could eliminate food and energy shortages while simultaneously cleaning up environmental damage from earlier forms of industrialization.
5) The Matrix could actually happen
In Christopher Nolan’s Inception, some folks spend most of their days “plugged in” to each other’s dreams as a form of escape, and similar technology is used to access the Matrix in…um, The Matrix. Call me a lazy traitor if you like, but all that “ignorance is bliss” stuff Cypher gets into doesn’t seem so bad from where I’m standing. In fact, his commentary on what is and isn’t real in Neo’s world sounds a hell of a lot more logical than literally any plan Morpheus & Co. come up with to defeat the robot horde:
Oh, and for anyone legitimately concerned about the eventual uprising of sentient machines, don’t worry: a lot of thought is going into keeping the robots on our team when they get smarter than us. I’m sure we’ll be just fine…
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