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A Scientific Rapture?

Avon Science Fiction magazine cover

Avon Science Fiction cover from the 1950s. Wikimedia Commons.

If you haven’t heard of the Singularity it’s time to pull your head out of the sand. A few years ago I asked my history of science class to look at a Web site (now defunct) on post-humanism. We were working through ideas of utopias in history and this, I thought, would be an interesting take on modern ideas of utopia. Most of the class thought the site was a spoof; that no one could take the idea of technological transcendence seriously. The idea of an accelerating technology leading to a complete overturning of what it means to be human (the Singularity) with its extreme conclusion being the uploading of human intelligence onto machines was simply ridiculous.

Now, according to an article in RD Magazine, technological utopianism may be going mainstream—triggered by an IBM computer beating the best Jeopardy players. The underlying belief is that “our minds can be replicated outside of our brains if we simply copy the pattern of neuro-chemical activity taking place in our bodies. That pattern, rather than the brains in which the pattern takes shape, 'is' the personality. If it can be transferred to a digital medium, it can be made immortal.”

This belief appears to be more common among roboticists, inventors, some engineers, and science fiction writers, such as Vernor Vinge. I have not come across any biologists or chemists who believe this. And this is purely a belief—one without any connection to empirical science; one where mind and body are completely separable, as long as you have the right chemicals and can digitally copy their behavior in the body. 

Historically utopias often have a religious dimension, connected to the idea of creating heaven on earth. Technological transcendence is no different. It is a religious idea clothed in science, just like scientific creationism. The outfit is different, but it all comes out of the same wardrobe. This is my belief: such an approach denigrates human bodies and life itself. Rather than creating a utopia, it’s more likely to create Hell on earth.

Posted In: History | Technology

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