Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Singularity is Near?

I just learned a new phrase, The Singularity! It's not a new concept, however, because though it is a term borrowed from astrophysics describing a point in time-space where none of the usual rules of physics applies, it now refers to the prediction that computers will someday be smarter than we. With the exponential growth in their computing power Raymond Kurzweil author of a book by the title of this article thinks, as evidently some others, that in the year 2045 computers will overtake us and the end of civilization as we know it will occur. Golly, as if we didn't have enough to worry about!

It's hard not to laugh at such hubris. Oh, I don't mean that computers won't keep getting smarter and do lots of things, both beneficial and potentially destructive, but that such seemingly "smart" people can be so "dumb." I don't mean to be arrogant or unkind, here (after all I hardly know the fellow), but only that our super-rational scientific types still thoroughly believe that consciousness is a by-product of the process of evolution that has produced the human brain. I admit that why should they bother with the concept that this vast, complex, beautiful and awesome universe could be, itself, the manifestation of a supreme, overarching, or infinite consciousness?

But it's not as if they can admit that it's just as possible as their own theory, and, in fact, given our interest in the subject, probably slightly more likely than theirs. All the lightning fast intelligent computations imaginable are not going to randomly produce the Mona Lisa or the Tempest or the Bhagavad Gita, unless by prior (human) programming.

I don't really want to argue with anyone, nor will I pretend to know anything. It feels silly for a chump like me to take exception to smart guys like him, but I posit for your contemplation that the essence of consciousness is a combination of self-awareness and feeling. I, at least, cannot fathom how any machine, no matter how intelligent, can feel or be self-aware except mechanically by being programmed to label certain processes or conclusions as being one or both.

Some might say, "How can a computer have a soul?" Problem is, who knows what a soul is? Well, that's true for happiness, too, or, for that matter, consciousness itself. Only intuition attests to the state of happiness or self-awareness. It cannot be proved. So too the Indian scriptures aver: "Iswar Ashidha" - God cannot be proved. Does that mean neither you nor I can say that the computer ain't got one? Well, ok.....we've painted ourselves perhaps into a corner. Sure, the computer might insist it has feelings, or a soul ..... does that make it so?

Well, perhaps this is all too academic for most of our problems today! I just thought I'd share with you something I read about in my weekly TIME MAGAZINE (how embarrassing to admit I read it at all!). I find it slightly amusing, that's all. I suppose what harm can these nerdy types inflict as a result of their grand predictions? I'm sure their machines will inflict all sorts of harm but I won't blame the machines.

I was alive (or I think I was) when TIME MAGAZINE pronounced GOD IS DEAD. Now it has declared that humanity - our bodies, our minds, our civilization - will be completely and irreversibly transformed. Not only inevitably but imminently. "Beam me up, Scotty!" I'd be age 95 in 2045, so sorry, friends, I'll probably miss the event.

Blessings, Hriman