2045, The Year Man Becomes Immortal
Last night we cooked steaks and ate cookies. Last week I read a couple of books on church history and put pre-emergent on my yard. My life is un-cool. As you and I are living un-cool, do you ever wonder what other people are doing while we are putting out pre-emergent?
Apparently while I put out pre-emergent and read books; computer scientists, psychologists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists, molecular biologists, a guy who specializes in computers you can wear, a professor of emergency medicine, an expert on cognition in gray parrots and a magician were meeting about singularity.
Technically they met last August, but you get my point, these guys are way past pre-emergent. They are meeting about the moment when computer intelligence transcends human intelligence; singularity. It is the moment we begin relying on computers with Artificial Intelligence (AI) to figure out things about life and health that we cannot. After singularity your brain, or at least your conscience, can be transferred to a biological robot that will be practically immortal. Technology is advancing so rapidly, at some point computers will not be programmed, they will think. Eventually, computers will do life better than we do. At a NASA symposium in 1993, sci-fi novelist Vernor Vinge announced that, “within 30 years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”
Just in case you think this is all loopy and you are tempted to go back to pre-emergent, this story is the front cover of this week’s TIME magazine (Feb. 21, 2011 issue).
And in case you haven’t captured the full scope of the possibilities in Lev Grossman’s article, allow me to quote. “Markram (head of the Blue Brain project at the Brain Mind Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland) has said that he hopes to have a complete virtual human brain up and running in 10 years.” In speaking of Raymond Kurzweil’s (author, futurist, and co founder of Singularity University) work on singularity, Lev Grossman writes, “We ditch Darwin and take charge of our own evolution. The human genome becomes just so much code to be bug tested and optimized and, if necessary, rewritten. Indefinite life extension becomes a reality; people die only if they choose to. Death loses its sting once and for all. Kurzweil hopes to bring his dead father back to life.”
Just in case you think this is all too sci-fi to be reality, the people who are putting time and money into these projects also gave you Facebook, Google, the voice recognition on your cell phone, and a host of other realities you and I now consider “household.” “Already 30,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease have neural implants.” “There are more than 2,000 robots fighting in Afganistan alongside the human troops.”
For me, reading the article, especially the paragraph quoted above, my curiosity was not peaked because it sounded too sci-fi, but because it sounded Biblical. Technologically speaking, these people are trying to do what God has done; to create intelligent/conscious life, erase the implications of the fall, conquer death (notice Grossman’s subtle quotation of I Cor. 15:55), and resurrect the dead. This is not sci-fi, this is Jesus. These men are trying to technologically redeem the world from sin.
I am not naïve enough to believe that the Singularity Institute begins the day with devotion or that any of these brilliants are consulting a copy of the New Testament, but it is notable how many Biblical themes, particularly New Testament ones are prominent in this longing for singularity. It is our modern day Babel and has the potential for just as much confusion.
We have never lost our craving to be God. Singularity is evidence that the spirit of the anti-Christ is an appetite of the age; we can engineer salvation without Jesus. At the core of all of this is a gross underestimation of what it means to be God and a gross miscalculation of what it means to be human. Underlying these theories is blind faith in human intellect and science and two flawed presuppositions: 1) There is no creator God who providentially rules over all life and 2) Humans are purely biological. Every thought, measure of intellect, expression of emotion, conscience, and ounce of spiritual capacity is merely an illusion created by a magnificent but purely coincidental combination of neurons, cells, chemicals, and grey matter. Even belief in God, like homosexuality, addictive behaviors, and your propensity for diabetes are somewhere coded in our DNA.
Being immortal is about more than living forever. Immortality is about having abundant life forever. If we, through singularity become immortal cyborgs, have we really conquered our most fundamental problem? The problem is not that we do not live, the problem is that we do not know how to live. Singularity brings with it a host of ethical and philosophical questions. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to believe? What does it mean to be me? The Bible teaches us that although these ideas have been greatly skewed by the introduction of sin into the human race, at least there is some measure of natural law in humanity that grounds him in a universal sense of right and wrong, good and evil, the value of life and the tragedy of death. If computers become conscious what happens when something technical and not natural, that fails to be any version of the imago dei, begins to learn? Will it love us?
As fascinated as I am in pre-emergent and the possibility of singularity, in the end I am more fascinated by the gospel. If there is any application the church should draw from this week's TIME magazine it is that the world is concerned with being redeemed. The subjects of Grossman's article seek to achieve it through singularity, but the gospel is that God has achieved singularity for us in His Son.
Being fully God, He loved us, redeemed us, and in His Son has given us the possibility of becoming fully human - and truly immortal. Evangelistically and missiologically I am challenged by the gospel to be as diligently careful and concerned about the future of humanity as the people in Grossman’s article, perhaps even more so. Which brings me to the most interesting question, as a pastor reading this week's TIME magazine, I had to ask myself. If singularity is the technological answer to redemption, is the church as concerned about redeeming humanity as Raymond Kurzweil and his singularity comrades seem to be? Grossman concludes, "You may reject every specific article of the Singularitarian charter, but you should admire Kurzweil for taking the future seriously."
Dear church, it is time to take the gospel seriously. The world craves redemption.