Kurzweil’s Singularity and artificial enhancements to our body

The concept of the singularity came up last night while I was researching an aspect of my novel. According to Ray Kurzweil, the singularity is point in the evolution of the universe when technology can improve itself faster than humans can improve it and the technology cuts us out of the loop.

ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumb

Long before this point, however, Kurzweil predicts there will be only a few humans without extensive artificial enhancement wether it be enhanced limbs, digestive systems, or the insertion of entertainment driven nanobots. He also suggests the possibility to upload your mind entirely from your physical body. I found this disconcerting and a little depressing. It is not the future I imagined for my grandchildren where the line between their natural human presence and a humanoid cyborg is blurred.

This was a distraction to my research and I pushed these thoughts to one side and continued along, suitably engrossed, on my original path of discovery. The next time I looked up from my books and notebook I noticed it was 1am and thought, “Why do I have to sleep? There’re so many things I want to research and understand!” My mind raced while I reluctantly closed the notebook and slid my fountain pen into its leather case. How could I get by with less sleep? And then, like the target of my own satirical attack I choked on the thought. This is why humans will opt for artificial enhancement; not just to run faster, or to breathe in a CO2 rich atmosphere, but to release our mind from the dirty biological container it’s entrapped in.

I realised I will be tempted to upload my mind. But this realisation led me to consider what would become of the mind/body that remained—I must assume the uploaded “consciousness” is a copy. Would it be culled and consumed as some form of payment for service, or could the physical part be “parked” as a potential refuge for the mind if an emergency eventuated that threatened the security of the artificially supported entity in the world wide neural web? A hard copy backup or snapshot…

How would these artificially supported consciousnesses interact? Just consider the difficulty in sustaining a long distance relationship without the occasional physical visit. Maybe we’ll interact in a completely virtual environment so authentic the experience sufficiently meets the demands of our minds; however unclear they currently may be. There’s has to be a short story here at least!

Authorial Groups and Intrinsic Worth; “Collaborwriting”

MirandaChasm

Why don’t we see authorial groups like we do with musical bands? A quick answer could be that performing a musical work often requires a group of musicians while writing is completed in isolation. As artists, writers may be selling their work short by attempting to keep it pure and cleansed of external influences. Of course we are all influenced by other artists work but what I’m suggesting is to collaborate; a process where two or more minds produce something that could never be formed by individual writers working in isolation.

Writing a novel—any writing in fact—is a complex mix of many different processes; plotting, structural design, constructing themes and visions, discovering unique plot twists…it’s never simply putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. There’s editing too, and in some situations a good editor can tease out an author’s ideas to produce a work of art that is more intelligible. This is more akin to a record producer who tinkers and cleans, tidying the work as it exists on the page.

Collaborwriting as a group can help to avoid common pitfalls of writing such as a loss of confidence in your ability and becoming overcritical of your work. I know first hand how debilitating these moments can be. Human nature and an environment of trust will ensure we do not become too critical of a collaborative work. Group dynamics can also foster supportive behaviors; lifting members out of their low points and at other times they can stand on each others shoulders to reach heights not possible alone.

A moment of genuine collaborative writing, or “Collaborwriting”, occurs off the page when two minds collide and meld together two form something unique. An early theory about the formation of Miranda, a moon of Uranus, suggested it was formed by the collision of two planetesimal bodies melding to form a single moon. Hugo and Nebula award winning author Kim Stanley Robinson used Miranda’s unique geological history to highlight and suggest the human mind is the integral part of environmental beauty:

After that they hiked down the spine of the buttress in silence. Over the course of the day they descended to Bottoms Landing. Now they were a kilometre below the rims of the chasm, and the sky was a starry band overhead; Uranus fat in the middle of it, the sun a blazing jewel just to one side. Under this gorgeous array the depth of the rift was sublime, astonishing; again Zo felt herself to be flying.

“You’ve located intrinsic worth in the wrong place,” she said to all of them… “It’s like a rainbow. Without an observer at a twenty three degree angle to the light being reflected off a cloud of spherical droplets, there is no rainbow. The whole universe is like that. Our spirits stand at a twenty three degree angle to the universe. There is some new thing created at the contact of photon and retina, some space created between rock and mind. Without mind there is no intrinsic worth.” – Blue Mars (Pages 435-436).

Further illustrating Robinson’s metaphor, the intrinsic beauty of good writing is not contained on the page, that is just ink and paper, and it is not the words and punctuation we craft as writers, it is the thoughts and feelings the writing manifests in the reader’s mind. I’m not suggesting that this higher plane of communication is unachievable when writing in isolation, but that through collaboration we open up possibilities and manifest ideas and concepts that could not be formed by any singular sentient mind.