Are the end, and beginning, nigh?
August 1, 2003 1:07 AM   Subscribe

The World Transhumanist Association met recently at Yale to discuss the pending demise of humanity and the rise of post-human beings, and the Village Voice was there to cover it. With more and more and more media attention paid to the idea that the Singularity is a-comin', are the issues getting clearer and more interesting, or have you just had enough?
posted by AlexSteffen (13 comments total)
Can't speak for anybody else, but I'm just hoping I live long enough to upload my mind into Quake XXVII.
posted by Ryvar at 1:42 AM on August 1, 2003

"I go straight to the question of why on earth we would want to do this in first place. I've been unable to come up with an answer," McKibben says. "All of this enhancing and souping up presupposes a goal or an aim."
Evolution doesn't have a goal or aim.

Interesting stuff, AlexSteffen, thanks for bringing it together in one place. Good FPP.

Ryvar, just divest yourself of any aimbots before you do, mkay?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:51 AM on August 1, 2003

Remember Robert Oppenheimer? He was trying to tell us something.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:30 AM on August 1, 2003

I go straight to the question of why on earth we would want to do this in first place. I've been unable to come up with an answer," McKibben says. "All of this enhancing and souping up presupposes a goal or an aim.

That may just be the most ignorant statement I've ever seen. Wow. I would not want to be trapped in that man's skull.
posted by rushmc at 5:40 AM on August 1, 2003

I for one welcome our new cyborg overlords.

Seriously (and speaking as someone who has permanent steel implants, out of necessity), it seems inevitable that there will be some sort of genetic and cybernetic tweaks to humanity in the future, but it strikes me as bizarre and precious to make this into a crusade. These transhumanists and extropians need to get out more.
posted by adamrice at 8:22 AM on August 1, 2003

Yeah, this is really getting old.
posted by soyjoy at 9:37 AM on August 1, 2003

To quote Bruce Sterling, from his recent book of futurological speculation, Tomorrow Now:
"The posthuman condition is banal. It is astounding, and eschatological, and ontological, but only by human standards.… By the new, post-Singularity standards, posthumans are just as bored and frustrated as humans ever were."
posted by Rebis at 11:13 AM on August 1, 2003

Rebis - I don't need Sterling to tell me that.

Meanwhile...."I go straight to the question of why on earth we would want to do this in first place. I've been unable to come up with an answer," McKibben says. "All of this enhancing and souping up presupposes a goal or an aim." "

So much the moralist, this McKibben. But, hard as he tries, he cannot dig in his heels deep enough to slow down this train - not even a little. Further, I happen to think that the only way out of our historic dilemma - of the current mess humanity is wreaking on the biosphere - would be an essentially transhumanist approach: re-engineering the human genome - for lower aggression, greater altruism, greater sensitivity to longer time horizons, stronger biophilic impulses, and so on.

Aah..... but then comes the Singularity, rushing hot on the heels of this genomic tinkering. The opened floodgates - to the Boschian avalanche of patchwork forms - looses the torrent, and all the while the robots creep and sidle around the edges (and the cyborgs point the way) as they prepare to overwhelm the seething organic life forms with an oceanic tidal wave of silicon and steel.

The only way to prevent the Singularity might be the imposition of an utterly totalitarian World Government the likes of which Orwell did not even come close to describing.

But I'm hungry - what's for dinner?
posted by troutfishing at 2:03 PM on August 1, 2003

In any case - Gaia will crush this upstart phenomenon like a bug.
posted by troutfishing at 5:45 PM on August 1, 2003

Gaia is a tired old hag and a lousy parent. I, for one, welcome our emancipation from someone so abusive.
posted by bunnytricks at 2:39 AM on August 2, 2003

I think I like Charles Strauss's view of the singularity best:
"I will be all right," Donna declares. The waiter comes over. "Mine will be a bottle of schneideweisse," she says. And then, without breaking step, "Do you believe in the singularity?"

"Am I a singularitarian, do you mean?" asks Pierre, a fixed grin coming to his face.

"Oh, no, no, no!" Donna waves him down, grins broadly, nods at Su Ang: "I do not mean it like that! Attend: what I meant to ask was whether you in the concept of a singularity believe, and if so, where it is?"

"Is this intended for a public interview?" asks Ang.

"Well, I cannot into a simulation drag you off and expose you to an imitative reality excursion, can I?" Donna leans back as the bartender places a ceramic stein in front of her.

"Oh. Well." Ang glances warningly at Pierre and dispatches a very private memo to scroll across his vision: don’t play with her, this is serious. Boris is watching Ang with an expression of hopeless longing; Pierre tries to ignore it all, taking the journalist’s question seriously. "The singularity is a bit like that old-time American Christian rapture nonsense, isn’t it?" he says. "When we all go a-flying up to heaven, leaving our bodies behind?" He snorts, reaches into thin air and gratuitously violates causality by summoning a jug of ice-cold sangria into existence: "The rapture of the nerds. I’ll drink to that."

"But when did it take place?" asks Donna. "My audience, they will to know your opinion be needing."

"Four years ago, when we instantiated this ship," Pierre says promptly.

"Back in twenty-sixteen," says Ang. "When Amber’s father liberated the uploaded lobsters."

"Is not happening yet," contributes Boris. "Singularity implies infinite rate of change achieved momentarily. Future not amenable thereafter to prediction by pre-singularity beings, right? So has not happened."

"Au contraire: it happened on June sixth, nineteen sixty-nine, at eleven hundred hours, eastern seaboard time," Pierre counters. "That was when the first network control-protocol packets were sent from the data port of one IMP to another–the first ever internet connection. That’s the singularity. Since then we’ve all been living in a universe that is impossible to predict from events prior to that time."

"That’s rubbish," counters Boris. "Singularity is load of religious junk. Christian mystic rapture recycled for atheist nerds."

"Not so." Su Ang glances at him, hurt. "Here we are, sixty-something human minds. We’ve been migrated–while still awake–right out of our own heads using an amazing combination of nanotechnology and electron spin-resonance mapping, and we’re now running as software in an operating system designed to virtualize multiple physics models and provide a simulation of reality that doesn’t let us go mad from sensory deprivation! And this whole package is about the size of a fingertip, crammed into a starship the size of your grandmother’s old walkman, in orbit around a brown dwarf just over three light years from home, on its way to plug into a network router created by incredibly ancient alien species, and you can tell me that the idea of a fundamental change in the human condition is nonsense?"

"Mmph." Boris looks perplexed. "Would not put it that way. The singularity is nonsense, not uploading or–"

"Yah, right." Ang smiles at Boris and he wilts.

Donna nods enthusiastically, beaming at them. "Fascinating!" she enthuses. "Tell me, what are these lobsters you think are important?"
Okay, that was a bit too long to post. But I think its coolness makes up for it.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:24 AM on August 2, 2003

Tlogmer - Not too long at all: just right.

bunnytricks - when thinking of Gaia, why not think of the many faces of Kali?

If Gaia is your parent, then....she is a mindlessly fecund parent who eviscerates you with a casual flick of her sharp taloned finger. Ouch.
posted by troutfishing at 9:16 PM on August 4, 2003

Fahrenheit 2570
posted by Opus Dark at 2:08 AM on August 5, 2003

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