Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Re-Enchantment Cosmologies: Mastery and Obsolescence in an Intelligent Universe

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Re-Enchantment Cosmologies: Mastery and Obsolescence in an Intelligent Universe

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Following modernity's founding dream of human mastery over the natural world, scientific discoveries produced a picture of an infinite, random, and indifferent universe, thus paradoxically revealing the utter insignificance of the "master/dreamer." Recently, the convergence of a number of extreme technoscientific projects-AI, Nanotechnology, Life Extension-has activated science-based cosmological visions in which humans and their "intelligence" are given a central purpose in the unfolding of the universe. The movement formed around the event-horizon of the Singularity is the most well-known version of these re-enchantment cosmologies. Yet this reenchantment only serves as a prelude to an obsolescence: humans are here to give rise to other, better minds, a prospect that makes Singularitarians restless with both fear and exhilaration. [Keywords: Cosmology, Singularity, disenchantment, transhumanism, information, modernity]

Foreign language translations:

Re-Enchantment Cosmologies: Mastery and Obsolescence in an Intelligent Universe [Keywords: Cosmology, Singularity, disenchantment, transhumanism, information, modernity]

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Cosmologias de Re-encantamento: Dominação e Obsolência no Universo Intelligente

[Palavras Chave: Cosmologia, Singularidade, desencanto, transhumanismo, informação, modernidade]

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(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Welcome to the Singularity

The young volunteer at the Singularity Summit steps up to the microphone in front of a full house at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York City to deliver a TV host-style, drum-roll introduction: "And now the moment you've all been waiting for...Ray Kurzweil!" All the tweeting stops as the smart phones fall silent. Next to me, two graduate students wearing "Homo Sapiens Siliconis" t-shirts crane their necks for a better view. Behind me, designers from Lockheed Martin rise on tiptoe and a Canadian longevity activist takes a deep breath.

The dapper man who glides on to the stage is the unofficial leader and predictor-in-chief of The Singularity, a loosely organized social movement of futurists planning for the advent of superintelligence. Short and tan, with a thinning tuftof silver hair, Kurzweil has often claimed that his regimen of 100+ supplements a day and careful medical supervision have kept his biological age two decades lower than his chronological age. Longevity and youth are intrinsic goods, but he also would like to live long enough to see the Singularity. After all, what he calls "the most critical event in human history" is only about 40 years away. Nevertheless, he is signed up for cryonics just in case his least-favorite "event-horizon," death, arrives prior to his favorite one, the Singularity. The main idea behind the Singularity is that humans, currently building faster, more powerful devices, will soon build greater than human intelligence. Such an intelligence will be able to build an intelligence greater than itself, which will build one even greater and so on, leading to an "intelligence explosion" so fast and vast that it will change all the rules we are familiar with. Kurzweil, who has made his career as much on predictions of the Singularity event as on technological invention,1 predicts two principle features. The first is human obsolescence, with humans either merging into machines or being surpassed by them. However, he also has an anthropological awareness that "human" is but a human category: when, near the bagel table, I asked him why we ought to worry about humans at all, his answer was that maybe we don't since "human is only that which can change itself." His second prediction is that "intelligence, derived from its biological origins in human brains and its technological origins in human ingenuity, will begin to saturate the matter and energy in its midst" and "spread out from its origin on Earth." He declares, "This is the ultimate destiny of the Singularity and of the universe" (Kurzweil 2005:364-372). …

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