Archive for August 10th, 2010

singular future

August 10, 2010

Immortality. It’s not just for the religious, anymore.

You can matriculate at Singularity U. and major in it. Or something close. The curriculum includes programs in Futures Studies, bio- and nanotech, AI & robotics… but reading between the lines, the real subject at this school whose stated mission is to “address humanity’s Grand Challenges” seems to be the defeat (not just acceptance or understanding) of death. [“Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday“… Jaron Lanier on the “First Church of Robotics“]

Or you can line up with Aubrey de Grey to study “the strange science of immortality.” That’s the subtitle of Jonathan Weiner’s Long for this World, a page-turning account of the strange scientist who confidently predicts that humans will soon begin to live forever. [de Grey’s “manifesto“]

Unlike Chancellor/Trustee Ray Kurzweil, de Grey says he’s motivated not by dreams of personal immortality for himself or his kin– (he has no children, saying “anyone can have kids. I want to make a difference.”)– but to benefit humanity.

It sounds like fiction. It sounds, in fact, like Gary Shteyngart’s latest novel of a dystopian future in which people carry Orwellian smart phones so they can run instant background checks on each other and constantly monitor their credit ratings, and go to college to major in things like Images and Assertiveness.

“A cornerstone of the Post-Human Philosophy,” in the brave new world, is that if you really want to live forever you’ll find a way. The people who think this way, the narrator observes, are captivated by a singular “inability to grasp the present moment.”

Is there a sensible way we can inhabit the present, invest in the deep future, and genuinely study and advance the amelioration of the human condition? And do it without being kooky eccentric egocentric geniuses? That’s what we’re going to study in Future of Life, getting under way in just a couple of weeks at my own singular university.