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|Mormons and the Coming Singularity|
Dec. 11th, 2006 at 9:37 am
This one might require some background. In simple terms the Technological Singularity is a time in the future of unprecedented technological progress. It will mark the begining of a new era in history. I’d like to know how MM readers think it will impact Mormons and Mormonism.
But first more background information. I think two talks from the TED Conference provide such information better than I could.
I’ll start with Aubrey de Grey’s talk. I should warn you that he uses some PG-13 words that will offend some people, so don’t click if the milder four-letter-words burn your ears. It is also somewhat funny. He argues that technology will allow us to begin to defeat aging in the next 25-30 years, allowing us to extend human life by some number of years. Then further advances during those interveening years will allow those same people to live longer still and so on. In my mind it seems like there will be a wave of progress and if you are by virture of the year you were born well positioned to catch it you will live some undetermined but fantastic amount of time.
For a more general discussion, which I believe is swear word free, listen to Ray Kurzweil’s presentation. He starts a bit slowly, but that is in order to build his argument. That argument is that progress in many areas is proceeding exponentially. He then draws the conclusion that the combination of computer hardware, software, biology, nanotech, and brain mapping will lead to revolutionary changes in how we live our lives. This will include not only the life extension that de Grey discusses, but intelligence enhancement, AI, true VR, and my favorite: the ability to stay underwater for several hours without breathing. Hopefully it will also lead to a good way to clean up the environment as well.
Maybe they (and other futurists) are crackpots, but I don’t think so. In 20 to 30 years we’ll either have hit unforeseen roadblocks that will seriously impede progress in a way that hasn’t happened before or many of these things will have happened.
So what are the consequences for Mormons if these things come about? Some of this is goofy speculation, and I encourage you to tolerate my speculation and augment it with your own.
I would think that several of these areas merit their own posts, but they’re all interelated, so I’ll post summaries of each.
Acceptance or Rejection of the Technology
It is possible that when these changes happen the members of the Church will be instructed to not take advantage of the new technologies. We’d be like the Amish, but stuck in the early 21st century. This would probably marginalize us and hurt missionary efforts. But it possible that the Church might take this stance, especially if some of the foundational technologies are based on something controvesial like embryonic stem cells.
Being able to postpone death by hundreds of years brings with it a raft of dilemas for Mormons. Faithful Mormons should not fear death, but we aren’t in any hurry to get there either. If life extension treatment becomes commonplace will not getting it be akin to not getting treatment for cancer? Will it be immoral to die? Does choosing to utilize life extension technology show a lack of faith in the ressurection?
Longing for our Families
Maybe this one is just more on the topic of death. If the singularity occurs, one thing is inevitable. The first generations to participate in it will endure a sense of loss that later generations might never know. Imagine that the singularity happens tomorrow, and the benefits are quickly distributed. Your grandchildren will live with you for hundreds of years. Yet you will remember grandparents, parents, siblings, or even children that passed on before this miracle of science. Will the desire to stay with your living family outweigh the desire to be reunited with loved ones? Will death become an act of faith?
Kurzweil predicts that we’ll be able to do some amazing tricks to our brains. They’ll be augmented with nano-probes that will be able to not only provide acess to a wealth of information, but be able to control your senses as well. So you could shut down your actual senses and log in to a virtual world that would appear to your mind to be as real as the physical world. Or it might be an unreal world with different physics and so forth. Using the same technology you could stream your perception to others, allowing them to experience your life. And you thought blogging was addictive… But this raises some real concerns about how we’ll interact, and what the boundaries might be. Imagine doing missionary work by sharing not only a description of a spiritual experience, but directly sharing the sensation as well. This could be a powerful tool or could lead to ever more reliance on borrowed light. Or accusations that the experiences are a simulation. It might become hard to trust any experience that isn’t your own, and even then how could you be sure?
People potentially have all the world’s knowledge at their disposal, instantly. This has the potential to change how we experience Church. For instance, members and investigators will probably download and digest all the available literature on Joseph Smith Jr., or polygamy, or any other issue. It seems to me that this will change Sunday School, to say the least. If you think that (mis)information on the internet has become a stumbling block for many wait until the internet’s super powered grandchild lives in your head.
Assuming that the singularity is a positive one (ie not a Terminator or Matrix scenario) it has the potential to bring many of the benefits promised by the Millenium. Many of the pains of this life would be taken away, death would not be a worry, and people would have knowledge and power that previously were unimaginable. Are the two concepts (the Millenium and the Singularity) mutually opposed? Could they co-exist? Will it be a race to see which one happens first? Could the Singularity be the mechanism for the ushering in of the Millenium? Might participation in the Singularity and its technologies exclude one from the benefits of the Millenium?
Finally, I would hope that the Singularity would solve the following problems:
So, reality check time. Am I crazy? Are the people in this clips crazy? If not, and the world is on the cusp of a series of revolutionary changes how will they affect the Church and its members? Would you choose to live indefinitely? Would you augment your intelligence? Or would you live out your natural life and await the ressurection?