FW: Boston Globe: That Singularity sensation

From: Tyler Emerson (emerson@intelligence.org)
Date: Thu Feb 24 2005 - 23:42:28 MST

This wasn't too bad, in the end, since he did quote Kurzweil at-length.
If you email the author, feel free to forward me your response.

Tyler Emerson
Executive Director
Singularity Institute
P.O. Box 50182
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Phone: 650.353.6063



That Singularity sensation

By Alex Beam, Globe Columnist | February 24, 2005

Inventor/entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil has become the high-tech version of the
cartoon character carrying the sign: "The End Is Near." With dogged
consistency, the founder of eight different technology companies has been
proselytizing an end-of-humantime event called the Singularity, a Buck Rogers
vision of the hypothetical Christian Rapture.

Like everything, the term was first coined by mathematician John von Neumann,
who spoke a half-century ago of "the ever accelerating progress of technology
. . . approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race." More
recently, San Diego State computer scientist Vernor Vinge has predicted that
man-made "entities with greater than human intelligence" would dominate the

In his forthcoming book, "The Singularity Is Near," Kurzweil calls the
Singularity "the inevitable next step in the evolutionary process." Already,
human activity is enhanced by technological substitutes, e.g., robotic
prostheses, artificial skin, blood plasma, etc. The Singularity, which
Kurzweil says will occur at mid-century, is the moment when biological
material ceases to exist, and we become products of the revolution in "GNR":
genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.

It's as if the flesh and blood Neo of "The Matrix" progressively morphed into
the digital Agent Smith. See, that was easy.

Naturally, Singularitarians have been greeted with hooting skepticism.
Kurzweil allows that few people are yet "Singularity-aware," and he expresses
surprise that even Nobel Prize winners have attacked him. (That's why they
have Nobel Prizes, no?) To be fair, Kurzweil welcomes questions about his
idiosyncratic views. In conjunction with the Singularity, he has long been
plugging the idea of radical life extension, for which he has been
"aggressively reprogramming" his biochemistry," pumping about 250 pills a day
into his 57-year-old "version 1.0 body."

But I am more interested in the religious implications of the Singularity. How
is this techno-Apocalypse so different from Judeo-Christian end-of-time
scenarios, or from the Rapture, the now-popularized notion that Jesus Christ
will soon swoop down from the heavens and embrace (Christian) mankind with

Raised as a Unitarian, Kurzweil realizes that outsiders seize on the spiritual
dimension of the Singularity. In his book, he reprints a private exchange with
Bill Gates on this subject:

"Bill: . . . So is there a God in this religion?

Ray: Not yet, but there will be. . . . Ultimately the Universe will become
saturated with intelligence. It will 'wake up,' be conscious and sublimely
intelligent. That's about as close to God as I can imagine."

Kurzweil waxes astringent on religion, which he says exists primarily "to
rationalize death, since up until just now there was little else constructive
we could do about it." "But I'm not promoting a religion based on faith," he
explains, "except the belief that the Universe actually exists and that there
is something going on other than thoughts in my own mind. My thinking has not
gotten a lot of resistance from Christian thinkers, because they see the
Singularity as a scientific reflection of what they've always believed.

"I always knew something profound was going to happen around the middle of the
21st century, it's just that I got there through science."

Found object
Shall I compare thee to a Summers' day?
Thou art not modest nor yet temperate.
Rough winds do shake the Mass-y Halls of clay,
And Summers' lease hath all too short a date
Sometime too hot the seat of power glows,
And fair and dark and wise sometime combine,
To bring the course of Summers to its close
And thy 'eternal' Tenure shall soon fade
And lose possession of that Hall thou hir'd;
The learned have given thee thy grade.
So go thy way or know thou willst be fired
Now that ladies count and Hebrews farm,
Now farewell to all of Summers' gold'n charm.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.

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