I'm The Last GrandFather
I have been ruminating on the Singularity for some time. Rudy Rucker's PostSingular was a great story about an omniscient network that anyone can tie into at any time. I think that the Singularity is more than just about information. It's about transforming us into supermen. But to transform us into supermen, the current human race is going to have become extinct. If Verner Vinge's math is right, the Singularity will come into swing during my daughter's adult life, maybe after she's started a family.
For the uninitiated, The Singularity is a turning point. Computers will begin building computers independently of us. They will improve on the designs, then use those improved machines will build still improved computers. The snowball effect is the Singularity. Computers will be self-aware, intuitive. They will be able to think thousands of times faster than us and they will be interconnected. Will they be malign? They could be-- it makes for good fiction. If they are, they won't plug us into the Matrix. They'll just smear us in one fashion or another.
So when the Singularity comes, we're gone gone, or we're effectively gone. For the latter, I see it playing out like this:
There won't be Singularity Day. There will be an accelerating pace to the evolution of technology. Phones will get smaller: the Bluetooth headset will get to the size of a tiny band-aid then it will be a tattoo, then it will disappear beneath the skin. All technology will go from convenient to tiny to barely noticeable. Think of the Internet connectivity: in 1993, you gave up for your phone line, there were cables all over, it squealed and gave you a pedestrian speed of data. Now, you can get wireless data transmitted at 1000 times faster and do it with nary a cable in sight. Technology marches from obvious to invisible. When it becomes invisible, it can be incorporated into our everyday life. A lot of the technologies that we have in our day-to-day life will be able to be invisible by the time the Singularity is in swing.
We will get hooked on cool. Smaller to invisible may come early to medicine. Big Pharma is hooked on chemical compounds, mood altering drugs and making money through patent wrangling. They will not research and certainly won't release fire-and-forget drugs. For example, if you could get an injection of nanites that corralled fat cells and made then march out of your body, that wouldn't do alot for Big Pharma if they want people to keep taking their weight loss drugs. Stop taking the drugs and you get fat. If Pharma latches onto nanotechnology, they could keep people addicted to software updates. That could get wrecked if the Open Source equivalent of nanotechnology gets into the marketplace. Regardless of who gets involved in supplies high tech health, we could get as healthy has possible within a generation. Funeral directors may hate this trend, but terminal diseases could become a thing of the past as micro-tumors and all manner of ailments are nipped in the bud. Critters in our bodies isn't a new advent: we are symbiotic creatures. A whole host of bacteria and viruses run through our bodies. The next couple decades could see a generation of biological or technological micro-creatures enter our bodies with the mission of keeping us healthy. If we can't die from disease, we could live maybe 150 years or more. We could keep going until the cell walls and cell replication starts to give up the ghost. The only thing that may be able to cut us down is accidental death or poverty (eg. maybe we couldn't afford the microscopic cure-all).
What's the point of living for a long time if you're bored? We've had Segways for almost a decade, why not a Singularity designed equivalent that looks like rollerblades? Why not wings that pop out from our jackets and lift us away-- heck give us jet powered travel ala Iron Man? We're to blame. For some time, jet fighter engineers have been limited by the limitations of the human body. They can make a jet that goes 10 gees now, but that jet would just deliver unconscious masses of jelly. The Singularity designed jets and pocket flyers will not be able to overcome the one design weakness: the human being.
When confronted with machines that can give us anything, we're going to be hit with the kids in a candy shop dilemma. How can we eat of all of this candy? Well, we can't no matter how good our medicine gets, we can't become supermen with these bodies-- at the cellular level, a cell can only stand up to so much stress before it pops. A repair system can only repair the cells so fast. What happens when that Singularity designed spaceship needs to get you to Jupiter for the weekend but the space is so great that all they'll be delivering is human flavored jam in space suits? To cash in on all of the terrific inventions that our post-Singularity computers will design for us, we're going to need to change. We're going to need to be made of sterner stuff: polymers that can handle 20 gees; skin that can both hold up to super sonic speeds and sense that feeling of freedom. That won't be our skin.
To take advantage of these advances in technology, we can go one of two ways. We can live precariously through avatars. Instead of your elf wandering a dungeon in WoW, your superman can buzz the Amazon and give you a live link of the experience. A real experience that you are experiencing remotely is indistinguishable from a fake experience. And who cares if you could dive to 2000 feet in the deep Pacific then get mowed down by a car on the walk home? To cash in on the Singularity, we need to have computer engineered bodies capable of handling the superman-like feats we're going to want to accomplish. What happens to our consciousness? We should be able to upload our identities into computer engineered super bodies. Contrary to how file copies work in Star Trek and the opinion of the RIAA: making a copy leaves the original. What happens when you upload to the robot? The lights go on and the robot looks back at its meaty alter-ego. Does the robot strangle its human progenitor and then get off to flying into space? Or, does it tip its robo-hat to its hairy predecessor and take off, leaving the original standing there unable to fly or snokel to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico or do anything cool. If the latter happens, what's the point of prepping a sturdy robotic equivalent?
Maybe by the time we get to the Singularity, we'll have a different view of The Self. We're the first generation who have lived with the concepts hard drives, file back-ups and restores. Maybe in 20 years we'll consider our brains as hard drives and the file move will be no more concerning than moving files during a computer upgrade? If that happens, we'll casually shed the meat and embrace the infinite as living machines who can be all they can be. Will we consider this an extension of biology? As single celled organism begat multi-celled creatures, synthetically generated organisms will be the evolution of biology? If that happens, my grandkids may be the last generation of homo sapiens. We will have all crafted replacement models, copied our consciousness into the machines and decommissioned the old models.
I'll be among the last grandfathers and those grandchildren will be the last humans. Whether I like it or not, the march of technology may take us there. Will I be sad? Yes. My grandmother had grandkids. Why shouldn't my grandkids have grandkids of there own? Maybe that's sentimentality. My grandmother is gone. Will my grandkids be okay with this? In exchange for uploading, we can have a 1000 years of adventures together. We can tinker-- make additional models. Those new models could spark up, learn and grow into their own beings. As technology improves, we can upgrade. If we nailed back-up technology to shuffle our consciousness into the robotic bodies, we'll likely have rolling back-ups of who we are. So if my grandkids and I go to Titan, but I accidentally burn up on re-entry, they can restore me and we can chuckle about it all.
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