According to Ray Kurzweil, a noted futurist, the “singularity” is heading our way. The physicist and author Louis Del Monte has also devoted a lot of brain power to investigating the pros and cons of the approaching singularity, which should be coming to a planet near you — or literally beneath you — around 2045 … ish.
What is the singularity? I’m glad you asked. In a nutshell, it’s the date when the robots win. Well, maybe that statement has been influenced by one too many sci-fi flicks. (Skynet, anyone?) The singularity is an event predicted by some of the most prominent thinkers of our time that will herald in a new age when human beings and robotic technology become one.
Cyborgs, baby! We’re talking about cyborgs here. According to Del Monte, when 2045 rolls around, Homo sapiens will no longer be the most dominant species on the planet. Machines, as well as human beings augmented by machines, will be stronger, faster and smarter than the average non-cyborg man or woman. Kurzweil is so excited about the merging of humans and robots that he takes 150 pills a day, made up of dozens upon dozens of substances, to alter his body’s biochemistry so that he’ll be around for the big day. (He’ll be 97 in 2045.) In other words, Kurzweil is trying to prolong his mortal life in order to taste cybernetic immortality.
With the age of rapidly accelerated, machine-directed evolution almost upon us, we should look at some of the advantages of going “cyborg.” While I could focus on negative aspects here, what could I really say that film franchises like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” trilogy haven’t said already? There’s got to be some good news, too, right? Kurzweil seems pretty amped up about it, although Del Monte is a bit more reserved in his praise …
First of all, forget what movies have told you about cyborgs or “Doctor Who”-esque Cybermen. While obvious mechanical alterations have already been integrated into some human bodies (artificial limbs, organs, skin, breathing apparatus, blood-pumping apparatus), it’s a good bet 3-D printing and nanotechnology will be at the forefront of human/cyborg transformations.
Minuscule nanobots could one day be cruising through your body, making sure arteries don’t clog up, repairing cells, organs, muscle and tissue. They will keep a tiny eye on vital systems, like your heart and your pulmonary system, making sure they don’t fail, as well as rebuilding or repairing trouble spots. Some nanobots will also be on clean up duty, mechanically removing harmful pathogens and cancerous cells from the body — albeit on a microscopic scale.
With 3-D printing, organs, both big and small, and whole body parts (ears, hands, joints) will be able to be printed to spec with biological materials — although opting for carbon fiber composites or some futuristic alloy might still be on the menu, ensuring spectacular bone strength.
I’ve always imaged that self-replicating nanobots, numbering in the millions, would one day be able to build massive structures such as space ships in outer space. By coordinating through a “hive” mind, these minute construction workers could erect incredible wonders, while producing all the workers they need to get the job done. In many ways it would be analogous to termites in Africa building giant chimney mounds for their underground colonies — but, of course, more high-tech.
But I digress …
The thinking computers of the future will be millions of times more powerful than the incredibly powerful CPUs running things today. If these machines develop a consciousness (with or without a conscience) and emotions, sure, they might want to take us out. But chances are our fragile bodies will have already been heavily integrated into the world of robotics and computers by that point, which would make the distinction between man and machine far less clear.
While it’s fun to imagine action-packed dystopias where human beings fight brutal machines, if managed right, the coming singularity could very well bring on a second enlightenment for mankind. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the latter, rather than the former, shall we?
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.