If the Singularity can not be prevented or confined, just how badcould the Post-Human era be? Well … pretty bad. The physical extinction of the human race is one possibility. (Or as Eric Drexler put it of nanotechnology: Given all that such technology can do, perhaps governments would simply decide that they no longer need citizens!). Yet physical extinction may not be the scariest possibility. Again, analogies: Think of the different ways we relate to animals. Some of the crude physical abuses are implausible, yet….In a Post-Human world there would still be plenty of niches where human equivalent automation would be desirable: embedded systems in autonomous devices, self-aware daemons in the lower functioning oflarger sentients. (A strongly superhuman intelligence would likely be a Society of Mind with some very competent components.) Some of these human equivalents might be used for nothing more than digital signal processing. They would be more like whales than humans. Others might be very human-like, yet with a one-sidedness, a dedication that would put them in a mental hospital in our era. Though none of these creatures might be flesh-and-blood humans, they might be the closest things in the new environment to what we call human now. (I. J.Good had something to say about this, though at this late date the advice may be moot: Good proposed a “Meta-Golden Rule”, which might be paraphrased as “Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors.” It’s a wonderful, paradoxical idea (and most of my friends don’t believe it) since the game-theoretic payoff is so hard to articulate. Yet if we were able to follow it, in some sense that might say something about the plausibility of such kindness in this universe.)
I have argued above that we cannot prevent the Singularity,that its coming is an inevitable consequence of the humans’ natural competitiveness and the possibilities inherent in technology. And yet… we are the initiators.
A textbook dystopia – and Moravec is just getting wound up. He goes on to discuss how our main job in the 21st century will be “ensuring continued cooperation from the robot industries” by passing laws decreeing that they be “nice,” and to describe how seriously dangerous a human can be “once transformed into an unbounded superintelligent robot.” Moravec’s view is that the robots will eventually succeed us – that humans clearly face extinction.
Given the incredible power of these new technologies, shouldn’t we be asking how we can best coexist with them? And if our own extinction is a likely, or even possible, outcome of our technological development, shouldn’t we proceed with great caution?
To continue, what Bill proposed to avoid (according to him) the planetary destruction and the extinction of human and animal species by techno-advance is “…to renounce them, restricting research in the technological domains that are too dangerous, putting limits on our research of certain knowledge.” But what is not analyzed is that Technology never stops, always tending toward the Domination on greater and smaller scales.
Perhaps there are some scientists who believe that continuation in the study of nanotechnology would be an immoral error, and therefore leave their work and academic positions, but there will be others continuing as couriers of civilized progress who do not stop for, nor at, anything.
A subsequent book, Unbounding the Future: The Nanotechnology Revolution, which Drexler cowrote, imagines some of the changes that might take place in a world where we had molecular-level “assemblers.” Assemblers could make possible incredibly low-cost solar power, cures for cancer and the common cold by augmentation of the human immune system, essentially complete cleanup of the environment, incredibly inexpensive pocket supercomputers – in fact, any product would be manufacturable by assemblers at a cost no greater than that of wood – spaceflight more accessible than transoceanic travel today, and restoration of extinct species.
Put simply, Fedorov defined the “common task” as the abolition of death, and resurrection of the dead – all the dead, from all generations. I said in my last lecture that initially his ideas appear far more eccentric than Solov’ev’s, but I would suggest that is only the case at first glance. And that’s because of the way he approached this idea. The clue here is in the word “task.” Fedorov does not believe that the dead will simply start rising from their graves at some point. Rather, humanity needs to direct its work towards the sacred task of physically resurrecting the dead; this is active resuscitation, not passive resurrection (Lord, p. 410), and his meaning is not figurative, it is literal.
What is significant here is that he is not referring solely to spiritual work; his idea is that all branches of knowledge should be harnessed towards fulfilment of the common task, from history and museum studies (learning about our dead ancestors) to biology (understanding the physical make-up of human beings) to physics and technology (everything from controlling the weather and gravity to space exploration – of which more in a second). Walicki (who was not a great fan of Fedorov’s, and thinks his importance has been exaggerated) says on this: “he had an almost magical belief in man’s ability to master the forces of nature and to use them to find a solution to ‘ultimate issues’.” (386) Perhaps that is the case, but I would at least add that Fedorov’s contention was that knowledge/learning/technological advances had been limited in the past because of the disunified nature of society, which meant that those he called “the learned” were not focusing their energies in the right direction; therefore once they were aware of the common task and the role they had to play in it, and all learning was directed towards this aim, technological progress would be made.
The fusion of religious impetus with technological advances is one of the most striking aspects of Fedorov’s conception of the common task. Among other inventions, he envisaged rocket science and space travel as essential developments, because the means to resurrect the dead do not exist on earth due to the process of disintegration:
“to recover particles of disintegrated ancestors, Fedorov imagined, research teams [would travel] to the moon, the planets, and to distant points throughout the universe. Eventually these outer points of the cosmos would be inhabited by the resurrected ancestors, whose bodies might be synthesized so as to live under conditions that could not now support human life as it is known (Young, p. 15). “
And although this may have seemed rather far-fetched and more suitable for fiction than religious philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century, it is well known that one of Fedorov’s disciples was the father of Russian rocket science Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), who spent three years studying in the Rumyantsev museum where Fedorov worked, and who later propounded a theory of cosmism that had much in common with Fedorov’s, as it involved space colonization as a route to human perfection and immortality.