Monday, June 24, 2013

Singularity: It's Not Just For Black Holes Anymore

Around a hundred years ago, give or take a decade or two, Albert Einstein imagined the existence of one of physics' most bizarre concepts, the singularity.  This happens when a large star collapses on itself, creating a point occupying zero space, but containing infinite mass.  Around the singularity point is the black hole, a construct in space with gravity so intense that light itself cannot escape.  As in so many other things, Einstein had worked out in his own mind a revolutionary concept.

Now another unthinkable idea claims the name "singularity" the brainchild (or potential abomination) of Dmitry Itskov. According to :

The 32 year-old is the driving force behind the 2045 Initiative to create cyborg avatars into which people can upload the contents of their brains, i.e., memories, personality, dreams, etc. Itskov has organized the second annual 2045 Global Future Congress which will take place on June 15 and 16 in New York City. Participants in the conference include Harvard genetics maven George Church, X Prize visionary Peter Diamandis, MIT computer genius Marvin Minsky, and Singularity prophet Ray Kurzweil, among others.

Mankind so far has been able to manufacture almost anything he has ever conceived.  Star Wars and Star Trek technology in some cases looks downright archaic compared to microbots that technologists assure humanity lurk right around the corner, for better or worse.  But merging technology with the human mind, with all the ramifications involved.  How could philosophers, much less politicians, even begin to work out the ethics and legal issues?

No need.  The singularity is impossible.

It's impossible because nature places limits on man's ability to impose his designs on the world.  A spacecraft cannot breach the speed of light.  A human being cannot run forty yards in three seconds.  None of us will ever find perfection in ourselves or anything else on this earth.

And human beings cannot transfer a divine spark.  For decades biologists and other scientists have worked to recreate the first moment of life, zapping inert amino acids and other muck with simulated lightning.  Never have they manufactured life.

And neither will the computer crowd.

The divine essence, the soul, whatever one wants to call it, comes from God or nature.  Humanity has no power to create or to transfer it from a living organism into anything non-living.  We never will.  Even if, somehow, the knowledge can be downloaded, the life itself and the essence of what makes a person a person will be extinguished when the brain dies.

This is not to say that immortality is impossible.  Scientists may be able to keep a brain alive (and the first image that will come to many minds are the heads in a jar on Futurama) forever.  That is, if the individual can enjoy fulfillment existing as a brain attached to a computer, just sitting in a jar, or tooling around in a synthetic body. 

Literature generally represents earthly immortality as a curse.  One Twilight Zone episode portrayed a man granted the ability to live forever.  He tried to test it by murdering someone.  Expecting capital punishment, he received clemency in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  Others have described holders of immortality as being eventually consumed by evil or madness.

A Stephen King character summed it up well "Sometimes dead is better."

It would be wise to pay attention to literature.  Those successful in writing have insight into the human condition that many other lack.  Whatever form immortality takes, it will have consequences on individuals and society as a whole that cannot be fathomed.  The abomination of eternal earthly life will never allow the mind of the individual to travel on and learn the truly big answers waiting.

In any event, we do not in any way need to worry about mind downloading.  With all the amazing and ghastly things that the next century will bring, this will always remain beyond humanity's reach.

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