Wednesday, June 30, 2004

....More than one outsider I corresponded with compared the meeting to a support group. I was struck more by its religious overtones. The transhumanists have their sacred texts, The Engines of Creation and Mind Children among them. They have communal gatherings, which usually occur online. They have a set of beliefs about resurrection and the afterlife, couched in the language of cryonics and computers. They divide the world into believers and infidels (the “bio-Luddites”), and they call on one another to evangelize—or, as they often put it, “spread our memes.” Many transhumanists believe that we’re approaching an apocalyptic end-time they call “The Singularity,” a convergence of technological developments that will push the rate of change so dramatically that the world could be transformed beyond recognition. The WTA states that if The Singularity comes, it will probably be caused by the creation of self-enhancing, superintelligent beings.

If the religious elements also sound like science fiction, there’s a good reason. The concept of The Singularity comes from Vernon Vinge’s novel Marooned in Realtime (1986). Arthur Clarke wrote about mind uploading in The City and the Stars, first published in 1956. Robert Ettinger got the idea for cryonics from a story called “The Jameson Satellite” by Neil R. Jones, published in a 1931 issue of the science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories. In that story, a man specifies in his will that, when he dies, his body is to be shot into space, where it will be frozen and preserved. Millions of years later, he’s thawed out by robots and given a mechanical body so that he can live forever.

...not to mention the cyborg elements in V. that Carl Elliott doesn't mention in his interesting Wilson Quarterly article, Humanity 2.0.

pynchonoid gives Mr. Pynchon the parting shot, from his 1984 essay, Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?:
"If our world survives, the next great challenge to watch out for will come -- you heard it here first -- when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics all converge. Oboy.