It seems risky not to question the ideology driving the changes foreseen by the technological singularity. It seems even more reckless not to try to predict the social impact of the acceleration of scientific progress. Our society is on the threshold of an era of tremendous political transformations that will be encouraged by technological progress. History will surely show us, once again, that technology determines politics.
This article is the third in a trilogy addressing the concept of the technological singularity and its possible impacts on our society.
The technological singularity: Heading For Transhumanism
Nebulous understanding of the technological singularity
At the dawn of a political upheaval called singularity
This article is a translation of “A l’aube d’un séisme politique nommé singularité” by Timothée Froelich.
Ideology vs. ideology
The real problem that the technological singularity will raise will be in the repercussions that the growth in knowledge will have on social transformations. Basically, which ideology will lead the technological revolution? The nootropics-boosted, exocortex-enhanced and dimensionally extended augmented man may be attainable, but which way will he lean politically?
For the most part, the theories structuring the concept of the technological singularity are fraught with liberalism. English-speaking thinkers took the risk of objectively confronting this notion, and most of the writings on the subject come from these researchers. Transhumanism made the technological singularity its own concept, and this theoretical current is not politically neutral. It oscillates between one kind of liberalism and another, that is, from social democracy to right-libertarianism. A thinker such as Kurzweil illustrates this perfectly. As a defender of both transhumanism and libertarianism, he participated in the development of the Singularity University with Google. This institution, which aims to grasp, in an interdisciplinary fashion, the impact of technological acceleration on humanity, exemplifies the fact that European research is lagging on this front. If the ideology of the Anglosphere gains control over this issue, the great risk could be its strongly utilitarian tinge. Utilitarianism becomes dangerous when the human being, as an individual, appears as a hindrance to humanity. Asimov’s zeroth law tackles this issue and puts the interests of humanity before the interests of the human being.
A utilitarian and liberal programming of artificial intelligence could represent a real danger for living beings, which the machine could consider useless. However, as Slavoj Zizek says, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than a modest alteration of the political model. Liberalism has become the reality that will outlast humans.
How can we understand the technological singularity? (Source: MyScienceWork)
Steering reflection from productivism to eudemonia could be a starting point to a revolution of the ideological approach to technology―some economists have made this choice when emphasizing gross national happiness over gross domestic product.
The singularity has to be approached with an awareness of the ideologies underlying the question of progress. The social struggles and the conflicts of interest that exist in the scientific and industrial fields have to enter the debate so that we can envision a technological growth focused on happiness―a sort of transhuman eudemonia.
From a utilitarian artificial intelligence emerges a friendly artificial intelligence, according to the results of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s research. This could correspond to a political humanization of the artificial.
The preludes of a collective intelligence
From democracy to cognition to social interactions, every social foundation will be renewed. Relationships between humans are already being redesigned by social networks, which outline what appears to be a collective intelligence. The individuals’ interconnection creates a network that gives shape to society’s reactivity to an event. A collective empathy becomes more and more visible as the diffusion of information accelerates, thanks to tools like Twitter. This interconnection could be represented as a web on which every vibration rapidly spreads to the whole structure. The fact that tools like Wikipedia are within easy reach makes it possible to externalize memory, to free intelligence from the task of remembering, and give it the opportunity to evolve, as Michel Serres, in particular, claims. Collective intelligence is still in a passive state, with simple reaction providing satisfaction. This level, which could be qualified as emotional, is slowly giving way to an active rationality using socially distributed cognition.
In the political sphere, software programs have been able to create new models, notably with the concept of liquid democracy, which gathers the forces of direct and representative democracy. From technological creation emerges political creation. In the economic sphere, crowdfunding decentralizes fundraising by eliminating traditional intermediaries that slow down innovation. Technological advances allow individuals to regain the means of production and profoundly alter the contemporary economy. Between phenomena like the free culture movement, with the renewal of intellectual property rights, and the creation of devices, like the 3D printer, which give one the opportunity to take charge of the means of production, abandoned until now to industry, a major destabilization of the economic, industrial and liberal model promises to appear in the years to come.
There are not many choices:
- 1) The economic model could question its fundamental values and evolve. (Libertarianism is attempting this, particularly when it comes to intellectual property.)
- 2) A new economic model could emerge. The idea of the post-scarcity economy is being taken over by a notion of horizontality where the individual’s interactions with his/her environment become more and more frequent.
- 3) The current model could try to make sure that the interests of a few people prevail over the common interests by imposing more restrictions. We can observe this tendency with digital rights management in the face of an emerging diffusion of digital culture.
Heading for a collective intelligence (Source: Fotolia/Morganimation)
The interconnection of individuals that computer networks already augur opens up the possibility of the society of the global brain, where all beings will be linked like a nervous system that will act as a whole. The noosphere, introduced by the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, is the idea that the phenomenon of cognition is mutualized in a collective consciousness of humanity. It turns out that the concept foretold the technological revolution now underway. The outline of a cybernetic society starts to surface in this electronic swarming. This society’s interactions will make it possible to self-regulate the interconnected entities and will constitute the very identity of a transcended humanity.
The environmental issue
The acceleration of the technological growth will raise another political question: transhuman ecology. The numerous environmental issues caused by the modern production model could increase with the technological progress of our time–with increasing space pollution, for instance. Waste management would then become a crucial issue related to scientific advances. A stance such as technogaianism considers technological progress not a threat, but rather a way to restore Earth’s ecosystem. This idea is encouraged by scientific discoveries like nuclear fusion or artificial photosynthesis. The environmental perspectives are eminently of an ideological nature, whether we choose an anthropocentric approach or respect for the biosphere predominates. This opposition can be perceived as part of the deep ecology philosophy, which no longer gives priority to human interests, as traditional ecology does, in order to place them in the larger context of the interests of living things. Exploiting raw materials existing in space, for example through asteroid capture, especially for mining purposes, promises solutions to the overexploitation of Earth’s resources. Even the eminent Stephen Hawking lends credibility to such science fiction dreams with his prediction that humanity’s future resides in colonizing space.
The demographic explosion
Another fundamental ideological issue that the technological singularity raises concerns demographics. An acceleration of the medical discoveries, like the regeneration of organs using stem cells or even organ printing, could considerably increase life expectancy. Researchers even predict the quasi-immortality of the human being: even if longevity is only a few centuries long, the mind could be transferred in an android that would replace the body. Demographics have always encouraged social transformations throughout history. The demographic explosion that could happen along with the increase in longevity will inevitably transform humanity. Aubrey de Grey speaks of Methuselarity to describe a period when death would only come by accident or homicide. Humans would become Methuselahs in the making. There could be many outcomes of such population growth: wars between declining and growing populations—which could correspond to differences in access to healthcare—or some kind of gerontocracy, or even the development of space research to colonize neighboring planets (Mars One).
A time is coming where knowledge will bring knowledge, where the augmentation of humans will lead them to a reorganization of their values, and where science will assert itself as the driving force for social and political expansion. In this time, the necessity of reflection will be essential, in the hope of directing this future explosion of knowledge toward the greater good.
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About the author:
After attending law school, Rodhlann Jornod is now focusing on studying practical philosophy. He is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Criminology in Paris, and is currently writing his dissertation, addressing the structures of morality related to the phenomenon of criminal justice. His interest for new technologies also led him to study the impact of sciences on notions of practical philosophy, such as moral and politics.
Articles by the same author:
Nebulous understanding of the technological singularity
The Technological Singularity: Heading for Transhumanism
Un neurodroit pour une neurojustice (in French)
Hacktivisme : les voies du pouvoir ne sont plus impénétrables (in French)
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Intelligence artificielle et domotique : (re)-mettre l’humain au centre du développement technologique (in French)