by Bill Lauritzen
Singularity Clarity: The Hype and The Hope
by Bill Lauritzen
What is fundamental in this universe? Most would say physical particles and energies. However, a case could be made that natural selection is more fundamental, as nature has selected those particles, energies, and forces that will best survive in this universe. This theory, in its most expansive form, is called Universal Selection Theory.
Let’s apply it to the technological singularity.
First, what is technology? It could be stated as simply this: if you want to dig a ditch, then use a shovel, not your hands.
The technological singularity states that at some future date, as computers get smarter and smarter, they will surpass us in intelligence, learn to build and improve themselves, and there will be an intelligence explosion, creating all kinds of new things and consequences that nobody today can even imagine.
However, some have imagined. Depending on who you believe, this explosion will either result in the smart machines killing us (they can find other uses for our atoms), ignoring us, or humanity merging with machines and becoming immortal and living in blissful peace and abundance. This last option has been cynically called the “rapture of the nerds.”
I think the first two options, the machines killing us or ignoring us, are somewhat possible, while the third option, merging with the machines, is impossible without some modification, namely, the removal of “living in blissful peace and abundance.”
Darwin showed quite clearly that survival entails struggle and competition for resources. However, claim some techno-optimists, in the future, there will be plenty for everyone! We will all eventually get smart phones, brain upgrades, immortality treatments, etc. While I think that all of this technology is quite possible, even inevitable, how this will lead to “blissful peace” escapes me.
What about that latest brain upgrade?! That new immortality treatment?! That house in Malibu?! That new stem cell treatment?! Humans, or human-machines will still struggle with each other, to be the first, to get the best. Natural selection will not suddenly cease. Those who tell you differently are trying to sell you something.
No. There is no “post-scarcity” world coming.
Natural selection depends on an abundance of life and a scarcity of resources. It then selects (and at the same time eliminates). It selects those that have what it takes to get enough resources to procreate. It eliminates those who don’t.
A world without any scarcity would be a world without any emotions. Imagine if you had all the resources you wanted. Then, if someone stole your money, no problem! You have more! If someone wrecked your new car, no problem! Get another one! You lost your new mobile device? Get another one. A world without scarcity, a world without emotions, would not be a heavenly bliss, it would be a boring hell.
There may be some changes in what is scarce. Automobiles were once scarce. Mobile devices (called cell phones) were once scarce. Global communications and transportation were once scarce. Vaccines were once scarce. Salt was once scarce. Glass was once scarce. What will be scarce in the near future? Maybe clean drinking water. Probably beach front property. Probably energy. Probably the latest and best life-enhancing technologies.
However, sometimes solutions to scarcities are not always good. At one time natural occurring sugar was scarce. Those who craved this sugar tended to survive better, as they had a strong desire to seek it out, usually in fruit, and so fuel their bodies. Those who didn’t crave this sugar did not have as strong a desire to seek it, and so they did not reach the fruit that would fuel their bodies and keep them alive. They left no descendants. We are their descendants of the sugar-cravers, and we still crave sugar.
Now, however, refined sugar, or similar products like corn syrup (as opposed to healthy naturally occurring sugar) are mass produced and dumped into many different kinds of foods. Has this all this sweetness made us any happier? More blissful? Maybe temporarily. It has also created a world full of decaying teeth, obesity, diabetics, and many other ills to numerous to mention.
So although many new technologies are live-saving or life-enhancing, this new technology, mass production of refined sugar, turned out to be not so good after all.
Furthermore, natural selection’s “goal” is not happy people. It’s more people. Lots more people. Lots more species. How does it achieve that? Simple. Pleasure and pain. It gives you pleasure when you eat, when you have sex, when you raise a child. It gives you pain when you don’t.
It “hopes” that some of those people or some of those species will have the genetic makeup to survive whatever the hell might come our way in the future. If we humans don’t make the cut, well, it “hopes” that some other species will. If none of the species do, well, it will continue to select particles, energies, and forces that can survive in this universe, and maybe someday, some of those particles will be in the right place at the right time to reproduce themselves again.
Happiness is fleeting for a reason. Nature “wants” you to keep going, to keep struggling, to keep procreating, not drift off into some blissful nirvana after you get that new device, that new vehicle, that new house.
Admittedly, along with the struggle, there is plenty of cooperation. After all, we are not just individuals. We are also a family, a community, an organization, a nation, a species, or whatever, competing with other similar entities. The result is a vastly complex interplay which is called life. It’s quite interesting, sad, frustrating, exhilarating, horrifying, painful, pleasurable, and all the other emotions and sensations, and combinations of those.
Scarcity is natural. Emotions are too. Use technologies. Don’t let them use you.
(c) 2014, all rights reserved.