Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Siri Can't Read: The False Metaphysics of the Singularity Age #change11

Siri can't read.

Google isn't thinking.

Technology doesn't want anything.

The internet doesn't connect humans.

Networks don't learn.

Technology is not good.

Technology is not bad.

These are all necessary corrections, given the anthropomorphic language used by techno-philosophers, those who conceive of the internet as a hive mind and are inclined to "Ask Google" something important.

Today's philosophies of the future are built on three metaphysical assumptions from the past:

1) The projection of human consciousness onto machines.

2) A teleological world view (influenced perhaps by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) that posits a civilizational movement toward unity and global interconnection, toward an omega point of history.

3) A belief in the goodness of technology and the benevolence of machines.

Despite the reliance on science and technology, these latent metaphysical assumptions result in a kind of techno-religion, replete with the promise of immortality, transcendence, and enlightenment.

If we are seeing the birth of a new religion, then its central prophet is futurist Ray Kurzweil. In the documentary Transcendent Man, we learn of Kurzweil’s bold prediction: coming advances in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics will result in intelligent machines that will exceed human capabilities, allowing us to merge with the machines and transcend our biological limitations. This is referred to as The Singularity, and it promises immortality and super-human powers. (Sound familiar?)

It all sounds plausible until the documentary focuses on Kurzweil's strange obsession with bringing his father back to life. Then you see that Kurzweil is just in need of a good Freudian analyst, and that, perhaps, his entire theory is driven by a hyper-inflated fear of death.

Perhaps the apocalyptic metaphysics of the internet are mere wish-thinking? Yet another baroque system designed to fix a deadly system failure?

The Singularity depends on all three assumptions I listed above. Its supporters seem unaware that the theory is as much metaphysics as physics. (Atoms are immortal; Adams are not.)

And while, as I've noted here, advances in artificial intelligence may challenge our human-centric notions of consciousness, we currently seem much too eager to describe the internet and advanced networks in terms that degrade human consciousness and creativity, as if sentience were merely an algorithm.

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