On Sunday, the same day the New York Times featured YOUR future–aka Singularity, read on–on the cover of its business section, I was listening to the head cheerleader of all-things-Singularity, Ray Kurzweil, as he presented the future of humanity at the H+ Summit at Harvard. You might recall that we interviewed Ray on SciCheer sometime last year.
Ray and I, along with several others, were speakers at the H+ Summit, the theme of which was The Rise of the Citizen Scientist. I spoke about “citizen scientists” as I know them. (A copy of my powerpoint presentation can be found, below. I’ll post a link to the video when I have it.) As it turns out, my definition of citizen science isn’t quite the same as the who follow the Transhumanist/Singularity philosophy. While they are very interested and enthusiastic about what “our” citizen scientists are doing–and quite a visionary and friendly group of people, I might add–they are more interested in how humans can, ultimately, harness the deepest powers of technology to “seize control of the evolutionary process” and create immortality.
I’ll do my best to explain what this means by pulling excerpts from my past interview with Ray Kurzweil:
Ray’s “short version” definition of Singularity: “The Singularity is a future time when the pace of technological change will be so fast and transformative that you will not be able to follow it unless you merge with the intelligent technology we are creating.”
How this work will and when: “Accessing the web from inside our brains is one good example of what we will see in about twenty years. The machine extensions to our brains will grow exponentially both in hardware and software capability. By the late 2030s, it will be the nonbiological portion of our intelligence that predominates.”
No thanks, I like things just the way they are. “First of all, it is human to change who we are. We didn’t stay on the ground, we didn’t stay on the planet, and we have not stayed with the limitations of our biology. Human life expectancy was 23 a thousand years ago. We are the only species that changes who we are and extends our reach, both physical and mental, through our tools. So it is human to change who we are. There will always be early and late adopters, but people are not going to completely dismiss these changes. How many people today complete reject medical and health technologies? When there is a therapy based on blood cells devices that overcome a particular disease, very few if any people will reject it. People put computers in their brains today if they have Parkinson’s Disease. People do not reject this FDA approved therapy due to philosophical issues.”
The buzz kill: real concerns that microscopic robots will pose a threat to the world: “Yes, that is called the grey goo scenario, and the narrative thread in the movie illustrates this danger. I do think we can manage that through a combination of ethical standards to build in safeguards into nanotechnology, as well as a rapid response system that detects threats and immediately deals with them, just like our biological immune system is designed to do. But this is not something we should be sanguine about. We need to be very diligent about it.”
So, there’s your future. Want to have a say? First step, head over to the beta website of ECAST (Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology) and sign up so we can keep you apprised of so-called “participatory” opportunities. We (see below) set up ECAST precisely so the public and scientists can inform each other on emerging technologies so smart, representative policies are initiated. And, as stated before: government policymakers, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and citizens need such analysis to capably navigate the technology-intensive world in which we now live.
“We”=Science Cheerleader, Arizona State University, Boston Museum of Science, the Loka Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.
Now, more than ever, we need to get in front of emerging technologies to help shape our future.
As promised, here’s a copy of my presentation.
Related links: Humanity + Magazine