April 02, 2012

It’s ironic that I found Ted Kaczynski’s Industrial Society and its Future on the Internet in the late 90s. A few years later, I read a hardbound copy of Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines and immediately thought, “€œDamn, Ted, you weren’t kidding.”€ Contrary to every apprehension I felt, Kurzweil actually looked forward to a coming “€œSingularity”€ in which artificial intelligence surpasses its creators, forcing humankind to merge with machines in order to survive. It sounded like a bad scene to me. Apparently, the vast bulk of society doesn’t share my reservations.

By that time, everybody and their grandmother had a cell phone plugged into their ear. Friends were replying to my handwritten letters via email. Every form of print media”€”newspapers, novels, encyclopedias, even love letters“€”got sucked up into cyberspace. Child’s play went from romps in the woods to high-res psychopathic fantasies of blood-splattered bodies. Thousands of surveillance cameras popped up overnight. Total information awareness became a distinct possibility.

Machines have replaced workers in the fields and the factories. Amputees are now fitted with robotic prosthetics, humans can control computers with their brains, remote-controlled drones drop bombs on Third World countries, and cars drive themselves“€”with or without David Hasselhoff.

And now these goofy Google Glasses are poised to hit the market. They might flop like the stupid Nintendo Power Glove. Or maybe they are another trendy step toward transhumanism. I’m placing my bets on the latter, but if so, the future won’t take me without a fight.

Ray Kurzweil’s obsession with transcending the flesh seems to be rooted in a religious impulse”€”a misguided longing for approximate omniscience, virtual omnipotence, and digital immortality. But it’s also possible that his transhuman ambitions boil down to his desire to become a transgender pop star backed by fat, shirtless dancers. Either way, what nature denies, human beings demand. And those without patience will be the first to take electrodes into their skulls.

Cutting-edge technologies tend to trickle down to the masses as production becomes more efficient. Should the economy recover, look for your average Billy Scabknuckles to get suited up like the Lawnmower Man for a Saturday night out on the circuit board.

But not me. I’ll be staying at home, thanks.

Today, you’re sporting Google Glasses. Tomorrow, your disembodied consciousness is playing Conan the Womb-Basher in some lecherous digital adventure while your actual body becomes a withered sack of potatoes.

Call me a redneck, but I’d rather go fishing. If immortality requires digitizing my soul, then let me turn to dust.



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