Friday, December 17, 2010

mind uploading = #2 on the list of priorities

so just this past monday i was at Columbia U speaking for the Studies in Religion seminar. i argued that the tranhumanist dream of uploading minds is a really important phenomenon in the study of religion and that it probably necessitates some new ways of thinking about religion (what constitutes a religious group, a holy text, etc.) and would benefit from some new methods coming out of the sociology and anthropology of science.

naturally, there were some folks who wanted to understand where apocalyptic AI fits in in the transhumanist worldview. well, turns out it comes in second, at least according to the Lifeboat Foundation, which labels it the #2 transhumanist technology in its top ten list.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Mark of the Digital Beast

So for millennia, there have been Christians awaiting the return of Jesus, who will vanquish a cosmic beast (known by everyone who's bothered to think about the matter as the Emperor Nero) and establish a New Jerusalem for the faithful. In the Book of Revelation, the Beast has his mark stamped upon the people and without it no one can buy or sell (Rev 13:16-17).

Apocalyptic Christians in the 20th century have oddly interpreted that phrase to mean such technologies as UPC symbols and RFID tags (neither of which is likely to be placed on your forehead). So it won't be long before they jump on  barcoded embryos as examples of the end of the world.

When someone makes a million dollars on a book about barcoded embryos, the Beast, and the return of Jesus, I'm going to be really irritated that I'm too honest to have written the book and gone to the bank, myself.

Time for Kurzweil

So I've been impressed for years at Ray Kurzweil's own exponentially rising public profile, the most recent accomplishment of which is to answer ten questions for Time magazine.

There's nothing new in the article: Kurzweil tells us that we'll re-engineer bodies and brains, becoming long-lived (the word "immortal" is noticeably absent, however) and much smarter. We'll have to prevent anyone from bioengineering weapons, and we'll have a happier, more spiritual culture. These are just reiterations of claims he's made before, in The Singularity Is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines so the claims, themselves, are of little interest to me.

What is interesting is that Time has jumped on the apocalyptic bandwagon. Does the magazine endorse Kurzweil's ideas? Not yet. Does it endorse Kurzweil himself? Well, yes. By giving Kurzweil massive mainstream exposure, the magazine acknowledges Kurzweil's social status and simultaneously adds to it.