Friday, March 28, 2008

Kurzweil and Immortality

Albert Camus:
I shall tell you a great secret my friend. Do not wait for the last Judgement, it takes place every day.

For some immortality
is not a subject of religious speculation; It's tangible. A group of scientists  led by Ray Kurzweil believe that death will soon become a thing of the past.

 We are far from any technology that could extend our life span indefinitely but Kurzweil and his supporters believe we are much closer than we think. This group base their belief on the the expansion of the exponential scale. Exponential development has been characteristic of advance in computer technology. If you doubt this, compare the memory and processing power of today's computers to the lumbering models of 5 years ago and those to the ones five years before. The advances in store for us in 10 years are beyond our imagination.

Ray Kurzweil has an intimate sense of these changes. The computer scientist and inventor has been on the cutting edge of the field for more than four decades. He played a large role in the development of text to speech and voice recognition software, applications common place today but not long ago were considered intractable problems. 

These days idea his focus is on a moment in the foreseeable future when human beings cross biological constraints to achieve immortality. Kurzweil's idea of eternal life is not what many would imagine, bound to a machine in a strange biological and digital hybrid. It's a a moment he has popularized with the term the Singularity. At this date technology will have advanced to an extent that human beings will unload their consciousnesses onto machines. It's the subject of a fascinating article in this month's Wired magazine.

The story interests me on a number of levels foremost is the obsessive concern with avoiding personal extinction. Being of a fatalistic and risk taking temperament I always look on life extension mantras as  tedious.  All of the things needed to live longer don't seem as interesting as the chances taken that might cut life short. But I don't think it's as simple as all that.

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