Capitalism 1, Transhumanism 0

Posted by Pete Shanks August 31, 2009
Biopolitical Times
Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil must have some mixed feelings this week. His Singularity concept -- "a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed" -- has been pushed to the back burner of the very institution named after it.

Kurzweil did not invent the term (he's invented a number of more useful things), but he's made a good living lately out of The Singularity, which is due upon us in 2030 (according to his website) or roughly 2045 (in several interviews). The implications he draws are explicitly transhumanist; he plans on living forever, possibly by being cryogenically preserved and recreated. As the Berkeley philosopher John Searle said, "The Singularity is demonstrably bullshit. But that doesn't alter the fact that it's very thrilling."

Thrilling enough that space entrepreneur and fellow transhumanist sympathizer Peter Diamandis tapped Kurzweil to be Chancellor of the new "Singularity University." SU is a corporate networking and seminar operation, which rents space from NASA and was started with Google money. It's just completed its first 9-week summer school, and plans shorter gatherings in the winter.

Despite its name, however, SU is not a university, and it's not about Singularity either.

"We're much more for the practical and pragmatic technologies that are five to 10 years out," said one instructor. A student commented: "If you call it 'Emerging Technology University,' that's not a catchy title."

SU did attract some of the other leading lights of transhumanism, including Aubrey de Grey (of the Methuselah Foundation) and Natasha Vita-More (of the Extropy Institute). However, the student projects, while extremely techy, are focused on cellphones (3 of 4) and 3-D printing technologies.

These seem rather modest responses to the challenge "to develop projects that could help 1 billion people within 10 years," but they may be financially viable. Indeed, the curriculum proclaims its intention to "provide tools and insights for monetizing the new technologies."

Of course, if the Singularity does come about, what will these super-smart machines need of cellphones? Or venture capitalists?

Previously on Biopolitical Times: