The Babel Singularity
Technology that is Changing the Human Experience

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What is The Babel Singularity?

1/12/2016 12:00:00 AM 

Superintelligence and our Posthuman Future

"And now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do."

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel. The Babel Singularity
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel

The eleventh chapter of Genesis opens with one of the earliest recorded stories of collective human ambition. The brief account, commonly known as "The Tower of Babel," relates the attempt of the people of Babel to build a tower tall enough to 'reach unto heaven.' According to the biblical version, the plot was foiled by God, who, upon witnessing the effort, put a stop to it by confounding the language of the people and scattering them across the face of the earth.[1]

The reason for God's intervention is not made precisely clear. Classic interpretation claims that the people were punished for their arrogance. They sought to put themselves on the same level as God.[2] The implication is that God did not want his children to advance in such a way. The event marks an early endeavor by humanity to reach a godlike status through its own means.

Today, we are attempting the same feat.

Since its origin, life on earth has evolved slowly through natural selection. The advent of human self-awareness brought rapid transformation to our race, which led to societal life, advanced cultural practices, mass civilization, and eventually to the scientific revolution. Each giant leap has caused change at an exponential scale. As significant as each of these surges has been, they have all developed naturally.

In recent decades, however, we have begun to take the future into our own hands. Just as the tower-builders, we have abandoned our fear of God, and are once again seeking advancement by our own device.

The process of deliberate enhancement of human life is known as Transhumanism. Its goal is to lift humanity to a higher level: the Posthuman, a point where we will have evolved to such a state that we will no longer be considered human.

The Singularity is the point at which a Posthuman status is achieved. We are currently well on our way. Advancements are taking place that are changing the human condition, in some cases through directed effort, but also as the byproduct of scientific discovery.

The philosopher Frederick Nietzsche dealt with the idea of the Posthuman in his landmark work, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," which was first published in 1883.

I teach you the Übermensch. Man is something that shall be overcome...What is the ape to man?...Just the same shall man be to the Übermensch.[3]

Nietzsche's Übermensch (often translated into English as 'Superman', 'Super-human', or 'ultra-human') is essentially synonymous to Posthuman. The term implies a new race that humanity will create of its own design: a race vastly superior in intellect, to the point that our understanding of our own creation will be as limited as an ape's understanding of human intelligence. A race that will be godlike.

Thus far, the most significant contributions to the Transhuman effort have come through developments in medicine. Doctors and medical researchers are constantly finding new ways to extend and improve the quality of life. With the discovery of psychiatric drugs, we are able to taper negative emotions by biochemical means. Medications such as Adderall augment the brain's ability to focus, effectively increasing intelligence. Clonazepam and other Benzodiazepines can decrease feelings of fear and anxiety, thus creating a state of mind that heightens performance.

Although the law currently reserves the use of such medicines primarily to those who suffer from mental illness, why not make them available to any person who wishes to enhance his personal ability to function? The day will likely come. Already, within the United States, a simple visit to the doctor is generally all it takes to obtain a prescription.

More important than medical enhancements, in the long run, are the giant leaps in technological progress that have been made, and those that are coming in the near future.

All who live in the modern world have known constant change. Not so many years ago there were no radios or televisions, not to mention desktop computers or smartphones. The last several decades have seen an explosion of technology unlike any era in all of history, particularly since Alan Turing's introduction of The Universal Machine model in 1936.

New innovations such as Google Glass (which is certainly destined to survive in some form), and countless mobile apps are replacing maps, printed books, and even taxis. Social media has caused a major cultural shift by changing the way we communicate with each other. The world our children know will be vastly different from our own, just as ours is a broad stretch from that of our own parents.

All of this is merely the beginning. By combining medical research with new technology, inventors are looking for ways to enhance the mind by inserting machine intelligence into the brain, through electronic implants or nanotechnology that could theoretically merely flow through the bloodstream. If the unique creative qualities of the human brain can be augmented by the processing power of a supercomputer, the possibilities become limitless.

As such changes come to pass, we must ask ourselves, what will be the consequences? There are serious ethical questions to be considered in light of our inevitable self-evolution.

Where are we going? To what end are we working? What possible unintended consequences might result?

Is Posthumanity truly desirable? Will immortality be a benefit or a curse?

Unfortunately, human ambition so often overshadows honest moral inquiry.

The purpose of this column is not to answer these questions, but to encourage serious thought about the possibilities, both positive and negative, of our current path. Future installments will explore specific aspects of current Transhumanist efforts and the pending ethical problems that ensue. ◼

[1] Genesis 11:1-9 King James Version
[2] Bartholomew, Craig G., "Renewing Biblical Interpretation", Paternoster Press, p. 302
[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich, "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", Translated by Clancy Martin, Barnes & Noble Books, p. 9

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