Although I have spent much of my time reading books that highlight the wisdom of ancient traditions, I have been equally fascinated by modern technology as a tool towards advancement on all levels. Technology is a tool like fire that can either ‘cook the food or kill the man’ depending how it is utilized.  

 

I came across the following documentary called “Transcendent Man” which features Ray Kurzweil.  

He says, “In the future, humans will live forever. This is the promise of the coming Singularity.” The charismatic and prolific inventor has dedicated his life to accelerating intelligence. Called “the rightful heir to Thomas Edison.”

 

Although I don’t agree with all the concepts presented in this film, it nonetheless is a great documentary and a must see if you want to expand your mind in terms of the possibilities of technology and the potential applications.  I have pasted some intriguing quotes from an interview with director and his intimate portrait of futurist Ray Kurzweil and his belief of the coming Singularity:

http://matadornetwork.com/bnt/ray-kurzweil-the-human-machine-civilization-is-our-destiny/

BNT: First off, what is the singularity? 

BARRY: The singularity is a point in time in the near future when technology will be accelerating so fast that we’ll have to merge with it in order to keep up.

Ray says “the most important phenomena in the universe is intelligence.”  How do you define intelligence and how is that different than wisdom?


It would appear that intelligence resides within patterns of information. A pattern of information could be a hydrogen atom, a redwood tree or a Shakespearean poem. We happen to live in a universe that wants to evolve these patterns of information in an iterative process, moving always towards more complexity and more order. This has been happening since the big bang.

Recently, in the last few hundred thousand years, the level of complexity and order has become so great that the universe produced its greatest invention — the human brain. The human brain is the most cutting edge form of intelligence in the universe that we know of, but it is now on the cusp of creating a new higher form of intelligence. This has been called Artificial Intelligence, but both Ray and I agree that there is nothing artificial about it. It will simply become a more complex and ordered form of intelligence.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is an application of intelligence that utilizes our memories and experiences for better quality of life – to make better choices. So in this way you could call wisdom a branch on the tree of universal intelligence.

Ray refutes the idea that “the purpose of life is to accept death,” and sees death as a profound tragedy. Yet in his own life, attempting to overcome death appears to have driven all of his passion into technology.  In a future without death, what would fuel our passions? Where would we derive meaning? 

I think Ray is driven by the uniquely human quest to transcend our limitations. He sees death as one of those limitations. Blindness is another. Gravity another. Etc. There are an infinite number of limitations that we face and there will always be new challenges for us to overcome. I think we will always be passionate about breaking through barriers and transcending limitations. This is why I called my film Transcendent Man.

Ray says we have skyrocketing rates of obesity because of a limitation of our DNA (how we process food). He believes the solution is to engineer new pills that allow our habits to continue, without having the adverse effect on our bodies.  Yet this “adverse effects” often serve as barometers on how to live our lives – is there a danger to looking to change our “bodies” as opposed to say, the system that serves us unhealthy food? 

The system we live in is still designed around a biological body that evolved millions of years ago when we walked around in a world of extreme scarcity. Having Big Macs that serve us 1000 calories per sitting would have seemed ideal to our ancestors, but we have too much of a good thing today and don’t realize it.

I enjoy eating. I am programmed to enjoy it. But I would prefer to enjoy a meal and for it not to have any deleterious side effects on my body. Since there can still be unhealthy consequences to eating even a healthy meal I think we need to reprogram our biology away from these consequences. Eventually as we transcend our biology we will overcome our need for consuming calories and take energy in a more direct way, like from the sun.

Ray sees his father’s death as a profound tragedy, that he was never able to express his musical gift – therefore the “point” of his life was never fulfilled. But what if the point of his life wasn’t to fulfill that role, but many other roles instead?  Could his “role” have been to push Ray to be the person he became? 

Assigning meaning to the life of someone who has passed has been the human justification for death for thousands of years. We had no choice but to accept death and find ways to rationalize it. I don’t believe Ray is implying that his father’s life had no meaning because he wasn’t able to fulfill his musical potential. But, rather, there is no benefit in losing the memories, experiences, relationships and beauty of a human life.

So while his father had a meaningful and worthwhile life and everyone who ever knew him may have had a meaningful experience with him, it is a profound tragedy that that intelligence and creative life force had to die.

Happiness, as my studies and practices of Eastern philosophy have led me to believe, is not dependent on external conditions.  It lies in our own interconnectedness with the universe, and the ability to tune into the timeless moment. Yet Ray, and other futurists, appear obsessed with manipulating external conditions. Do you believe we can ever achieve this happiness? 

It is true that happiness is a relative condition, but I don’t think one could achieve it without one’s biological needs taken care of. Like Maslov’s Heirachy of Needs the more we move up the pyramaid the more we can create our own self-actualization. I think creativity is where our happiness comes from and I think Ray is describing how we can get all 7 billion of our inhabitants able to participate in that self-actualization.

I don’t think Ray suggests that technology will save us but rather we can use technology to overcome the greatest challenges we face today. Ray is supremely aware that technology is a double edged sword and always has been, however history has revealed that we used fire primarily to heat our homes and cook our food and not to burn down the next village.

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