I learned on NPR today that Ray Kurzweil believes our brains will achieve singularity with our technology in the middle part of this century. Normally, it doesn’t really matter what crazy people may say but if what the crazy person says usually comes true, then maybe he’s not so crazy after all.
The estimate actually doesn’t seem crazy at all if you think about it even for one minute. Computers were the size of rooms, then desks, then diaries and now split peas. It only makes sense that they will soon be the size of blood cells and once they are that size, what better place to put them than in our blood? In fact, it would take a crazy person to insist that in 40 years computers won’t be any smaller than they are today.
Krazy man Kurzweil believes that this singularity will blend our reality reality (his word) with our virtual reality until they are no longer distinguishable by our brains. This will be what we want mind you, not some side effect. The nano computers will decide which realities our neurons are perceiving at the moment (based on our “preferences” of course) but our brains won’t know the difference. A virtual rose will smell as good as a real rose if not sweeter. Email, texting and Facebook will be accessible by thoughts alone. I guess Logitech will be out of the keyboard business.
But really, do we want to blend these now separate realities? I suppose we do. We spend so much time on the internet it seems that reality reality just wasn’t cutting it. A few people scoff at cell phones and email but most are scrambling over each other to be the one with more “friends,” “views,” “hits” and “status updates.” It’s all about social connection. The internet makes us feel connected to other people and that feels good.
What motivated me to post this was the question of how our connection to others inspires us to feel alive. Not just the presence of connection though, but the lack of it.
If one were to go without human connection for decades they would become… well, sort of Krazy. At least we universally accept that is the case when we talk about putting prisoners in solitary confinement and watch Tom Hanks discuss how to build his raft with Wilson the volleyball. To have an excessive amount, or what seems to be an excessive amount (given Twitter, iPhone etc.), of human contact makes us feel hyper-alive. It is a rush to have five chat windows open, be watching a movie, talking on the phone and writing a post on your blog at the same time. Even driving while texting. Is there any reason to have to do this other than it’s a way to connect were there previously was none?
Why is it then that it is just as much of a rush to stand alone on top of a mountain? Canoe alone down a river without any people for miles? Stand alone on the plains with nothing but grass and clouds to accompany you?
Nobody (who’s done this) would argue that these situations make you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt. But one of the key factors in the experience is the aloneness of it. If there were 200,000 people standing with you on top of the mountain and you were surrounded by webcams and status updates, it still might be kinda cool, but it’s not going to blow your mind.
It seems we need connections to feel alive, but one of the things that makes us feel most alive is having no connection at all for a moment.
Having no connections indefinitely makes us less than human, but never having the chance to stand on the mountain with no connections makes us unaware of what it is to be human.
I wake up and log on to the computer. Often before I eat. I want to say I wouldn’t embrace Kurzweil’s future, but the fact of the matter is that I already have. If I have a computer in my head am I going to be able to shut it off when I go canoeing down the lonely river?
I want to believe that when the brain-puters are handed out, I will say, “No thank you. I’m going to keep my desktop computer” even though it’s one million times bigger, one billion times slower and a zillion times less efficient when it comes to connecting me with others.
This presumes that we will want to be able to turn IT off whatever IT becomes. The only reason things like Twitter exist today is because nobody wants to turn it off. Everyone wants it more and everyone wants it all the time. By the time the singularity occurs, there will be a preference where you can set your status to “alone” and you will be standing on the virtual mountain and it will blow your mind much more than standing on Mt. Reality.
Look at technology 50 years ago. We had the phone down pretty good and just figured out the TV. Now take a look at today. Is any one really Krazy enough to think that to be alive and to be on will be that different in 50 years?