Friday, December 31, 2010

Android Nightmares

Eric Utne, Utne Reader, Januray - February 2011

"Have you noticed the latest TV ads for the Droid, a Verizon mobile phone that uses Google’s Android operating system? One features a handsome young man sitting in a business meeting. He pulls out his Droid, flips open the keyboard, and begins typing at increasingly superhuman speed. First his fingers, then his hands, and finally his arms turn into sophisticated circuitry—the bionic man. The sell line comes via a voice-over at the end of the commercial: “Turning you into an instrument of efficiency.”

Another ad for the device shows the iris of the user’s eye transforming into digital circuitry as he merges with his technology.

What’s the message here? I believe it’s that Google, the company whose maxim is “Don’t be evil,” has given itself over to a vision of the future in which human and machine morph into a monstrous hybrid. As Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin recently declared, “We want to make Google the third half of your brain.”

Brin and Larry Page, the visionary entrepreneurs who together founded Google, are unabashed enthusiasts and promoters of what has come to be known as “the Singularity,” a vision of the near future in which human beings and machines merge so that illness, old age, and even death become things of the past.

Computer pioneer Bill Joy sounded the alarm about the Singularity a decade ago, in a Wired article titled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” He argued for voluntary relinquishment of genetic, robotic, and nano technologies, warning that intelligent robots could soon dominate humanity, and that all of nature could be swallowed in an oozing sea of tiny “gray goo” machines."

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  1. Brin & Larry Page & Bill Joy are, of course, right about an impending major change (a phase transition is a better term than "singularity")

    However, the have become obsessed with the old trans-humanist notions about the nature of the change.
    A far more likely model is that presented in my latest book "The Goldilocks Effect" which is now a free download from the "Unusual Perspectives" website.

  2. This is what I posted on the Utne Institute blog on the singularity (

    I agree that it’s a nightmare. It’s not a vision of the future that I can in any way support.

    In addition, I don’t think it’s a possible future. It seems to me that if it was a true singularity, it would take an infinite amount of money and energy to accomplish. Moreover, history tells us that human progress is just not that fast. We adapt much more slowly that most “futurists” imagine.

    An alternative, and much more positive vision of the future, can be found in de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere where technology is assisting mankind to form a global sphere of knowledge and spirit.

    The Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2008