27 May 2015

The Religion of Transhumanists

Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future?, Simon & Schuster, 2014, 448pp., $17

Over the years I have posted about the transhumanist movement several times. (Try here and here.) Transhumanists hope for the day in wich the "singularity" of human and technological will merge and we--or at least (some of) our consciousnesses--will be uploaded to the great cloud in the sky to "live" forever.

For an inside look at what can only be called the religion of transhumanism, which is alive and well in Silicon Valley, go here to read a review of Samuel Loncar's review of The Vibrant Religious Life of Silicon Valley, and Why It's Killing the Economy by Jaron Lanier.

Lanier is not a Cassandra who prophesies whereof she does not know. He was and indeed is a Silicon Valley insider who nonetheless sees the presuppositions and dreams of the technologists in the only terms that fit: that of a religion.

Quoting from Loncar's review:
Few things embody the religion of Silicon Valley better than the idea of The Singularity. In 2045, according to futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, the exponential increase in technological innovation will reach a point where humans transcend biology and merge with technology, becoming functionally immortal as spiritual machines, no longer dependent on our embodied condition. In short, technology will provide the answer to the fundamental human anxiety, mortality, and will lead us towards the most basic aspiration of traditional metaphysics and religion, union with divinity. When describing the Singularity ... Lanier says: “these are ideas with tremendous currency in Silicon Valley; these are guiding principles, not just amusements, for many of the most influential technologists … All thoughts about consciousness, souls, and the like are bound up equally in faith, which suggests something remarkable: What we are seeing is a new religion, expressed through an engineering culture.
Hardly a utopian vision if you ask me but nonetheless one that keeps its thousands in thrall to a technological version of the beatific vision.

What Lanier's book add to an insider's dissing of the transhumanist vision is a prescription for a future with the benefits of technology for everyone, not merely the computational elite. I've not read the book but check out Loncar's review and see for yourself if it doesn't look worthwhile.

1 comment:

  1. I listen to a podcast called "What's Tech" that just did a short episode on the singularity. I must say I found it confusing, which may be the fault of the podcast. But I think they generally do good work, so maybe I was just distracted. In any case, I thought you might be interested: http://www.theverge.com/whatstech/2015/4/21/8458797/singularity-explainer-whats-tech-terminator