I read a few years ago in The Atlantic of an impending “death shortage,” an unfortunate consequence of technological advancements that would turn 70 year olds into early-career professionals. These people—we people—would still die; it was just going to take a lot longer to happen.
But leafing through back issues of Wired last night, I came across an article about a technology prodigy trying to buy eternal life. Not the kind paid for with the blood of a lamb, but the kind that could be achieved here on earth if you were to download your brain to your laptop. You just have to live long enough.
Let me explain.
This ambition is based on a theory called the singularity, the point at which technology will surpass human intelligence and become independent, like Skynet without the nuclear winter. “AIs will help us see and hear better. They will give us better memories and help us fight disease. Eventually, AIs will allow us to conquer death itself,” Gary Wolf writes in Wired. Believers say the singularity will arrive in phases:
First, lifestyle and aggressive antiaging therapies will allow more people to approach the 125-year limit of the natural human lifespan. This is bridge one. Meanwhile, advanced medical technology will begin to fix some of the underlying biological causes of aging, allowing this natural limit to be surpassed. This is bridge two. Finally, computers become so powerful that they can model human consciousness. This will permit us to download our personalities into nonbiological substrates. When we cross this third bridge, we become information. And then, as long as we maintain multiple copies of ourselves to protect against a system crash, we won’t die.
So Ray Kurzweil, who has written a few books that are the Bible of the movement and is the focus of the article, is spending a lot of money, and taking 180 to 210 vitamins a day (so many he has a “pill wrangler”), to try to stay alive until the singularity arrives.
As a driver he is cautious. He frequently bicycles through the Boston suburbs, which is good for physical conditioning but also puts his immortality on the line. For most people, such risks blend into the background of life, concealed by a cheerful fatalism that under ordinary conditions we take as a sign of mental health. But of course Kurzweil objects to this fatalism. He wants us to try harder to survive.
His plea is often ignored. Kurzweil has written about the loneliness of being a singularitarian. This may seem an odd complaint, given his large following, but there is something to it. A dozen of his fans may show up in Denver every month to initiate longevity treatments, but many of them, like Matt Philips, are simply hedging their bets. Most health fanatics remain agnostic, at best, on the question of immortality.
(That last line could just as easily be a criticism of a lot of religious people, ambivalent agnostics “simply hedging their bets.” See what the Apostle Paul’s commentary on this.)
Clearly Kurzweil and the growing faithful have removed God from their religion. Oddly, though, Mark Anderson argues they’ve done away with science too.