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Singularity and a Brave New World

February 15, 2011

So Lev Grossman over at Time Magazine just published an article called: 2045 The Year Man Becomes Immortal.  You should read it, if for no other reason than entertainment value.  But there is more there than entertainment, there is something in it that taps into that primordial human longing for everlasting life.  Could the human race turn the corner and truly defeat death? There is a lot of money and legitimate mental power being exercised to further our understanding of what some consider an inevitable technological apocalypse called “Singularity.”  This event, if it were to come would essentially be that moment when “they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.”

Here’s a few mindbending quotes toward that end:

“Biological boundaries that most people think of as permanent and inevitable Singularitarians see as merely intractable but solvable problems. Death is one of them. Old age is an illness like any other, and what do you do with illnesses? You cure them. Like a lot of Singularitarian ideas, it sounds funny at first, but the closer you get to it, the less funny it seems. It’s not just wishful thinking; there’s actual science going on here.”

“Once hyper-intelligent artificial intelligences arise, armed with advanced nanotechnology, they’ll really be able to wrestle with the vastly complex, systemic problems associated with aging in humans. Alternatively, by then we’ll be able to transfer our minds to sturdier vessels such as computers and robots. He and many other Singularitarians take seriously the proposition that many people who are alive today will wind up being functionally immortal.”

“If I can scan my consciousness into a computer, am I still me? What are the geopolitics and the socioeconomics of the Singularity? Who decides who gets to be immortal? Who draws the line between sentient and nonsentient? And as we approach immortality, omniscience and omnipotence, will our lives still have meaning? By beating death, will we have lost our essential humanity?”

“We can scan our consciousnesses into computers and enter a virtual existence or swap our bodies for immortal robots and light out for the edges of space as intergalactic godlings. Within a matter of centuries, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe.”

A few reflections…
1. Death isn’t essential to our humanity, and therefore to eradicate it would not necessarily lose what is most central to our human identity.  In fact the defeat of death is the very thing that will enable man to fulfill his destiny. It is man as a “life-giving spirit” that transcends his prior existence as a mere “living being (1 Corinthians 15:45).”  That deathless end is the destiny of the new humanity, the “new man” of Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3.
2. Death is more than biological.  Biological death is the final and inevitable result of being cut off from the “tree of life,” Adam and Eve didn’t perish the moment they ate – in fact they lived many more hundreds of years.  Their biological death came as a result of being cut off from the sacramental source of spiritual life.  There is a new tree of life whose fruit we can eat of, for to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood is to live.  Therefore to merely extend the present human existence indefinitely is to extend an existence that is fundamentally dead – it is to extend humanity’s misery apart from God.
3. Death is both bane and boon; it is the just punishment for our rebellion and being punishment it is therefore the primary source of dread – it is a curse.  And yet, the curse is boon because it puts a definite end to man’s rebellion, it is a restriction on the evil they can do, and not only that but the limitations of death lead men to “feel their way toward Him and find Him (Acts 17:27).”
4. I believe humanity is capable of creating such a set of circumstances unless God were to providentially intervene.  But in this brave new world of “human evolution” Christian faith and practice could be a great rebuke to the foolish human notion that we can have life apart from God.  It would be the faithful few who welcome death as the doorway to real life, who would stubbornly refuse the human solution to the human condition, but would rather look back to the death of the one man and His resurrection from the dead as their destiny.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephen Barrett permalink
    February 15, 2011 10:05 pm

    Very cool post. It stretches the mind to think of such an age. Yet the age old question of meaning and purpose still need to be answered. One might say hell is eternal life apart from God.

  2. JRutt permalink
    February 16, 2011 10:40 am

    My initial thought in reading something like this is “why in the world would you want to eliminate death?” This response obviously comes from a God-fearing mindset that this body is a mere”tent” filled with sickness, decay and sin. To remove the element of death would mean I would have to suffer forever in this human-shell for a long time. Pretty much what you stated here “Therefore to merely extend the present human existence indefinitely is to extend an existence that is fundamentally dead – it is to extend humanity’s misery apart from God.”

    My second response to this is that it would never happen. The idea that death is cured in the sense described here would really be calling Christ’s death on the cross a waste. It would remove all hope, joy and grace that floods our souls through the true conquering of death on the cross.

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