A fashionable concept in today’s computer – IT world is the idea of “singularity” first pioneered by Ray Kurzweil throughout the 1990s and specifically in his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. The thesis of Kurzweil, who is presently Director of Engineering at Google, is that technology’s growth increases faster than humans can adapt. Progress is a devil in disguise that will outstrip humans’ ability to grasp it. This will bring about profound changes in human beings and their societies. The fields of computers, genetics, nanotechnology, robotics, integrated circuits, etc. will overwhelm the human race and by 2045 bring about a life shattering revolution that Kurzweil calls “singularity” in which “artificial intelligence” takes over our lives.
Mighty scary scientific futurism from a man recognized as a genius around the world. One thing for sure, Kurzweil’s intelligence is not “artificial.” He’s a bona fide thinker of huge dimensions, and he has convinced a sizeable segment of today’s creative minds that his predictions have substance.
This is all very unfortunate. I believe that Kurzweil, like most modern intellectuals, has succumbed to philosophical collectivism’s flawed “manner of thinking” that posits individuals as impotent, the collective as all-important, science as an omniscient oracle, our minds as nothing but matter, and freedom as dubious. In a nutshell, Kurzweil’s “manner of thinking” concludes that capitalism and freedom are inherently self-destructive, and that the cerebral essence of humanity is a weak reed in a vast torrent of evolutionary forces. Thus the mind of man is fated to be replaced by “nonbiological intelligence” spawned by exponentially growing technology that transforms human life into something far removed from what we now know.
I believe “singularity” is a fallacy flocked to by misinformed modern minds who have been cut loose from reason (and thus from truth) by the revolution of collectivism’s big three philosophers – Jean Jacques Rousseau, Auguste Comte, and Karl Marx. This revolution has been metastasizing throughout the West for over 200 years.
From the beginning, Rousseau, Comte and Marx were bent on demolishing Western civilization’s moral-philosophical-political premises. And they dealt severe blows to those premises. But their attacks were built on sophistry and myth. Consequently they did not bring “truth” to mankind, but suffocating “tyranny.” Singularity advocates are merely another outgrowth of collectivism’s flawed “manner of thinking.” Here are some insights that will explain why we should not put stock in their sinister predictions:
1. The Luddite movement of 1811-1816 England (named after the apocryphal textile worker, Ned Ludd) was a powerful manifestation of the collectivist myth that animates the Kurzweilians. It declared that the technological innovation of that day was evil because it led to massive unemployment and misery for the workingman. Thus mobs of “Luddites” proceeded to stomp through English towns trying to destroy all new inventions – the looms, presses, machines, etc. of the Industrial Revolution that were transforming England from a rustic Medieval land into an urban, corporate land of hustle and complexity.
2. Karl Marx preached that capitalism and freedom would grind workers down to starvation wages, which of course was proven to be wrong. Just the opposite took place. But his cataclysmic thinking led to the mass hatred of capitalism and distrust of freedom that dominate our government, our schools, our literati, and our media today.
3. Numerous pundits over the past 200 years have preached that the various technological inventions of capitalism would destroy the sanity of life and the safety of society. The locomotive would prove to be way too powerful and fast for humans. Automobiles would soon reach 60 mph and be far too dangerous in which to travel. Supersonic jets would create unimaginable harm when they broke the sound barrier.
4. Today’s environmentalists protest that capitalist technology creates global warming and cannot be trusted. Thus it must be controlled by big centralized government.
5. Keynesian economics teaches that freedom leads to insufficient demand and nasty depressions. Thus banking must be taken over by government, and the money supply must be continually inflated to avoid booms and busts. But Keynes disingenuously built neo-Luddite fallacies about disaster into capitalism as a system. The result of such charlatanry is that $100 trillion plus in debt now hangs over our society to end any hope of our children ever-living a decent life.
6. The doomsday prophets of Christ’s day preached that society had reached what was known as “end times.” Prepare for Armageddon, they warned. Is this not also what the Singularity doomsdayers are saying – that apocalyptic “end times” are coming?
7. Freedom is, and has always been, feared by the majority of humans. The speed of technology today and its alleged “approaching Singularity” is just a new rendition of the “freedom leads to doom” scenario that collectivist mentalities have preached over the millennia. Kurzweil’s futurism is merely the crazed prophecies of ancient Judea and the primitive plunder of Luddite England dressed up in MIT algorithms and modern bio-genetic razzle-dazzle.
8. Singularity is a fallacy because the marketplace ultimately gears itself toward technology that human beings are capable of handling in their lives. The free-market doesn’t build locomotives that go 500 mph and derail. It doesn’t develop human services that swallow up rightful institutions in destruction and chaos. Men and women are rational creatures and thus capable of moving the marketplace back in the direction of salubrity when it has gone astray. This rationality is continually brought about by Adam Smith’s famous “Invisible Hand.” But only if it is left unhampered by government is this “Invisible Hand” able to guide us toward rationality and the ability to make adjustments.
9. Society is, indeed, heading for doom today. But it is not because of the speed and complexity with which technology develops. It is because of government’s massive intervention into free-market capitalism and the centralized controls that come about as a result. Our problem is Big Government, not Fast Technology.
A Common Sense Conclusion
Ironically Kurzweil is not a pessimist; he believes that life ultimately moves toward positive values. He believes the transition of life away from its biological roots (that he predicts will take place) is a new form of religion. He tells us that humans will transcend the “limitations of our biological bodies and brain,” that “future machines will be human even if they are not biological,” that their intelligence will be artificial, yet superior to that of man’s.
What is the major flaw in all this Buck Rogers ideology? The fact of consciousness and the presence of spirit are attributes of human beings. But no matter how sophisticated the technology of man becomes, its resultant machines will always lack these two elemental forces of consciousness and spirit. Why? Because they derive from the Source of Life, not from the machinations of man.
Unfortunately hubristic man dominates today’s world, and he thinks otherwise. Hubris leads ignorant minds to believe that the laws of nature can be circumvented with high-tech wizardry, that God-endowed attributes can be duplicated by man, and that the future can be comprised of life without limits.
Biologist, P.Z. Myers, says the problem with Kurzweil’s theories is that they’re “a very bizarre mixture of ideas that are solid and good with ideas that are crazy. It’s as if you took a lot of very good food and some dog excrement and blended it all up so that you can’t possibly figure out what’s good or bad.”
Such is the nature of modernity. Good and evil are now treated as indistinguishable.
Nelson Hultberg is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas and the Director of Americans for a Free Republic www.afr.org. A graduate of Beloit College in Wisconsin, his articles have appeared in such publications as The American Conservative, Insight, Liberty, The Freeman, The Social Critic, The Dallas Morning News, and the San Antonio Express-News, as well as on numerous Internet sites.
He is the author of The Golden Mean: Libertarian Politics, Conservative Values
Email: NelsonHultberg (at) afr.org