It is commonly understood that technology is advancing at an exponential rate. Everyone is familiar, for example, with the rate at which mp3 player storage capacity is increasing. Eight years ago, I bought a Nokia phone that was very fancy indeed – it could hold 12 or 13 tracks of mp3s. Today, iPod storage is measured in tens of gigabytes. And that’s only what’s commercially available – researchers are pushing forward with new technologies that will make today’s iPod seem like a punch card.
And probably in only a few years.
Ah, the exponential rate! It gave Malthus nightmares. It leavens bread and ferments wine. It makes pyramid schemes work. And it might just usher in the technological asymptote that revolutionises what it means to be human.
Ray Kurzweil is a nutter who probably drinks his own urine, but in a recent interview with Computerworld he talks about the possibility of human immortality in 30 to 40 years. Health- and youth-maintaining nanobots in the blood, the ability to upload total human personality and memory functionality to a non-biological substrate – the stuff of science fiction is getting closer, faster.
The technological singularity is coming. The inventions that re-invent invention. The advance that overtakes advantage. The leap that escapes the gravity well.
I don’t think we’re giving enough thought to just how radical a change in priorities this should bring. Does what is important to us change with the prospect of functional immortality? What will economics become the world becomes truly and obviously post-scarcity? How will the world’s religions deal with such rapid changes in what it is to be human?
To me, the most interesting impact is this. As immortality or greatly extended lifespans become realistic possibilities within our lifetime, the stakes get exponentially higher. To die is to lose the rest of your life, and that loss is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. The potential cost of any risk increases accordingly.
In the long view, one is left with a sensation something like being diagnosed with HIV or cancer and trying to hang around long enough for the cure.
We’ve all been born with congenital mortality.
What happens if there’s a cure?
Speed is about human evolution, right? It’s so obvious. The bus represents the world. Watch it again – they’ve got every nationality on there. Not only that, but it’s being driven to disaster by this guy who’s either made up to look Cro-Magnon or chosen because he looks that way. He’s our brutal evolutionary heritage, driving the world to Armageddon while everybody argues. The whole thing’s symbolic… Just look at the amount of times you see the number 23. It’s in scene after scene. That’s not coincidence. The whole things a coded message.
And finally , after the whole tantric love trip on the subway train at the end, they burst out into the street in front of a cinema showing 2001 – A Space Odyssey…
I mean, I could go on all day. Check out Speed next time you watch it, just keep in mind that the bus is the world and that big gap in the highway construction is the Apocalypse.
– Grant Morrison, The Invisibles.