Media, Information and Technoculture 2500A/B Lecture Notes - Lecture 9: Transhumanism, Postbiological Evolution, Image Scanner

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MIT 2500B: Meaning of Technology
Week 9: Singularity
March 7
We live in a world which is determined by a wide variety of spectacular lies
World continues to appear as an immense accumulation of technologies
We are told repeatedly that time is a straight and pre-determined line
Technology is the motor propelling us along this line
As we continue along this line, we will eventually achieve our destiny
The singularity is a technified myth. By which I mean, the singularity is a myth presently
instrumental to political mobilization on behalf of the powers that be. Indeed, as a myth
disseminated to mobilize people in the service of a specific socio-economic end, the singularity
helps perpetuate the status quo by engendering, reinforcing, and thereby reproducing an
understanding of technology commensurate with, or agreeable to, maintaining the longevity of
the status quo—that is, capitalism, and the uninterrupted growth of capitalism
When we talk about the future of technology or the future of humanity or our destinies, we are
not really speculating about the limitless possibilities that are open to us
We are closing off a whole range of possible futures in favour of a fiction that would allow us to
continue to develop the world in the way we are
Proponents operate according to a set of principles that they rarely question
Every idea, new book, film, TV show is always in some ways the same
Every venture celebrates the world as it is
Definition encapsulates everything relevant and meaningful
Dominates our conception of time, curtailing possible conceptions of the future
The singularity presents us with a vision of the future that is consistently framed as both perfect
and inevitable
oAlways deferred – always said to happen not now, not yet, but soon
Singularity is an image of the future, but isn’t the future
Says that everything that appears is good, everything good will appear
The singularity is a dream
Although frequently presented as apolitical, it is a highly politicized dream that is utilized to
mobilize people in the service to achieve certain political and economic objectives
Nothing is inevitable, there is no destiny
The singularity is a myth, continually reinforced and presented as something good
Time is a road to utopia and technical development automatically leads to the realization of a
perfect society, we are told
As long as we continue to live as we already do, the world will develop as it should and our faith
will be rewarded
There is a sense that humanity as we know it has gone as far as we can go
In order to continue the evolutionary process, we have to start receiving ourselves not as
embodied beings, but rather as programs encoded in a storage medium that is already obsolete
Human beings are really just patterns of information, a collection of algorithms, according to
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oOur bodies are irrelevant
oJust functional vehicles designed to protect and sustain those patterns
oWe can do no more with what we have
oIf we are to progress to the next stage in evolution, we must abandon our bodies,
transcend our biological limitations
oEverything relevant will survive in ways we cannot imagine
oCreation of an invulnerable self – does not tire, defecate, etc.
oA self without physiology, substance
oDeath and decay will not apply
Kurzweil’s projections may appear as sci-fi, but isn’t the only one to believe in this future
For many, the world he describes is absolutely desirable
Our skin will be impermeable
New bodies will be interchangeable, disposable
We will have the capacity to duplicate ourselves
Whatever lies within will always live on in one way or another
How will this future come about?
Kurzweil and the Transcendent Man
oRobotics – artificial intelligence
Reprogram biology away from disease and aging
Merge with non-biological intelligence
An AI will be able to match human intelligence and go beyond it by 2029
AI will give us superhuman intelligence
oSolve problems we are not able to solve today
Can back up our brains
Brains will be largely non-biological
Can stop aging, live indefinitely
Our biological bodies are limited and we must deal with overcoming these limitations in one
way or another
In the future, you are not only perfect but you are immortal
Without weakness, inability, limitations
Unlike current body, new body allows us to do anything
Presented in the language of inevitability
New self would be made possible by scientific breakthroughs which haven’t even happened
This is not science – this is power fantasy
oMust be made clear
Kurzweil is an engineer, inventor, businessman
Created the flatbed scanner, reading machines for the blind
Has produced a number of very good things
Kurzweil is also a committed transhumanist
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