This post was edited by WarmWeather at 2013-3-21 06:52|
For centuries people have feared Hell, the place where "sinful" souls suffer eternal, unimaginable torment. Gradually, as the light of reason began to dawn upon the world, or at least certain parts of it, the concept of Hell began to lose its power. It became a somewhat politically incorrect relic of a bygone dark age, not to be taken too literally or seriously. Nowadays, few people in the civilized world believe that Hell exists, although, oddly enough, many still claim to believe in God. Well, they're wrong. While God, Heaven, or angels may be little more than childish fantasies, Hell most certainly does exist. It is right here, right now. Hell is all around us. We live it, breathe it; it's our reality. A reality ruled by entropy, where suffering and death are the sickening defaults for every living thing. The question isn't whether you will suffer and die, but rather how much, and when. Some may be luckier than others, but in the end no flesh is spared. The shadow of death and misery hangs over us like Damocles' sword, and poisons all pleasures. Ours is a brutal natural order where organisms have to kill each other for food, the struggle for status and resources is constant, and disease, violence, disasters, and accidents perpetually vie with steady degeneration in their bid to inflict suffering and death upon the living. In a world such as this, it can hardly be deemed surprising that many seek blissful oblivion via drugs, sex, religious psychosis...or suicide.
After aeons of pain, fear, despair, frustration, and perspectiveless drudgery, of countless lost generations, there is, however, finally some genuine hope. Ex machina libertas; technology will set you free. Science and technology have, ever since man learned to control fire and began to make simple tools, steadily improved the quality of life. It is they who gave birth to civilization, man's ongoing rebellion against a harsh, chaotic, uncaring universe. Now, in what is commonly known as the 21st century, this technology-driven rebellion is about to reach its zenith. Soon, our species will have the ability to not only liberate itself from Hell, but to create Heaven on Earth; to finally fulfill its destiny among the stars and "become as gods".
Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended. This event, the relatively sudden emergence of superintelligence (SI), is often referred to as the (technological) Singularity in Transhumanist circles. The longer definition is: SINGULARITY: the postulated point or short period in our future when our self-guided evolutionary development accelerates enormously (powered by nanotech, neuroscience, AI, and perhaps uploading) so that nothing beyond that time can reliably be conceived.
Assuming, of course, that we actually survive the next 15-40 years and reach the Singularity, which may be assuming too much. There is no shortage of existential risks, after all, with runaway / military nanotech, genetically engineered or synthetic bacteria and viruses, and good old nuclear warfare being among the most likely candidates for near-term human extinction. Even if superhuman intelligence wins the race, survival is by no means guaranteed for those who don't participate or fall behind in this burst of self-directed hyperevolution. Technology, like most things, is a double-edged sword, and will give us or our creations not just the means not to improve life immeasurably --to banish aging, disease, and suffering forever-- but also to extinguish it on an unprecedented scale, practically unopposed.
Directed efforts to stop some of the more dangerous technologies which might cause a "malevolent" Singularity (or global destruction in general) can only slow the process down somewhat, not stop it entirely. Unless, of course, one is prepared to sacrifice science, technology, and civilization itself. This, however, would be a certain death sentence for every individual and, eventually, the species itself, while the alternative offers at least some hope, even if the odds are stacked against us. Rather than trying to enforce an essentially immoral and ultimately doomed program of relinquishment, as suggested by Bill Joy et al, we should try to develop the most empowering, mind & body-enhancing technologies as soon as possible. Above all we need to become smarter, more rational than we currently are in order to deal intelligently with the complex challenges ahead.
Evolution says organisms are replaced by species of superior adaptability. When our robots are tired of taking orders, they may, if we're lucky, show more compassion to us than we've shown the species we pushed into oblivion. Perhaps they will put us into zoos, throw peanuts at us and make us dance inside our cages.
The Posthuman future may be glorious, filled with wonders far beyond our current comprehension, but what good is that to a person if he can't be part of it? If, for example, AIs become superintelligent before humans do, this will reduce us to second-rate beings that are almost completely at the mercy of this new "master race". During our dominion of the Earth we have wiped out countless animal species, brought others (including our "cousins", the apes) to the brink of extinction, used them for scientific experiments, put them in cages for our enjoyment etc., etc. This is the privilege of (near-absolute) power. If we lose the top spot to our own creations, we will find ourselves in the same precarious position that animals are in now. While it may be more or less impossible to predict what exactly an "alien" Superintelligence would do to/with lower life forms such as humans, the mere fact that we'd be completely at its mercy should be reason enough for concern.