Now that Ray Kurzweil is on Google payroll to build an artificial mind and the US government has an official zombie uprising protocol, two once dissonant trajectories of the human race–transcendence via the Singularity and mass human extinction via the zombie apocalypse–appear closer to fruition than ever. The question now is: which will happen first, and will they merge?
But first, some clarification is in order…
Despite pompous and acrimonious debate among the digerati as to what ‘Singularity’ means and if/when it will come about, there are a few general characteristics we can list here:
~immersive virtual reality
~strong artificial intelligence
Many singularitarians refer to the Singularity as a point at which the universe will wake up; as the powers of sentient supercomputers expand outward into the solar system, they will begin to convert raw matter into intelligence–yielding a theoretical substance known as computronium–waking up the dead matter in the universe and using it as computing power, harnessing stars and galactic cores as fuel. Meanwhile, back on Earth, humans who have not upgraded and merged their brains with vastly superior AI interfaces will be essentially left behind as the new order of brainiacs inherits the planet, the solar system and eventually the galaxy.
In this future scenario and, to an extent, even now, transhumanists and singularitarians are not only hungry for brains–quite literally, starving for enhanced cognitive powers–they are rabidly seeking to use this new intelligence to ‘take over’. They want to cover not only the surface of the Earth with a new artificial intelligence/nanotechnology controlled infrastructure, they want to saturate the known universe with it. In the strictest sense, this is an uprising by something that may soon become the undead. It’s hard to look past human/AI artilects of the future as brave new permutations of zombies, smart zombies. They’ll run faster than you and without legs.
Unfortunately, technological advancement plays perfectly into the hands of a zombie apocalypse, and not just metaphorically. The parallel rise of biotechnology in the coming years will open us up to an exponential increase in potential diseases and viruses. So much so that many technologists fear the 21st century is more likely to be remembered for horrific biological warfare than mind uploading or Dyson spheres. A zombifying virus has been considered by some of the top minds in science. And some biotech scientists are even working on creating friendly human hybrids that by 2045 could help to generate a neural network of human minds. Creepy anyone?
One would be tempted to say that the Singularity, on the other hand, is relegated to esoteric academic towers. But Pandora’s box has been opened. The masses will soon be consuming the Singularity just as voraciously as they consume horror movies. [Do you really think augmented intelligence is going to reduce consumer fetishism? If so, you’ve been taken in by the sale of the century.]
Take this, for instance: in American popular culture, nothing sells better than zombies. Big Death, so to speak. This has been an entertainment truth for well over a decade now, with zombie movies raking in over $2 billion in the last decade alone. All told, between movies, television shows, video games, merchandising, and digital worlds, zombies are worth about 5 billion dollars.
The robot uprising has not been as ubiquitous…or has it? While representations of the coming android economy are restricted on the silver screen to I, Robot, AI, and the upcoming films Robopocalypse and Roland Emmerich’s The Singularity, the pervasiveness of exponentially growing technology within our society is hard to ignore.
Full blown virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology are still about a decade off, but our lives are already brimming with interfaces, pocket-sized digital computers, and real time information. And we’ve barely scratched the surface. Soon we’ll have robot cars, smart contact lenses, and nanochips, with smart grids soaring to a trillion dollars in costs by 2016. From there we accelerate toward a point where human comprehension merges with artificial intelligence and beyond, to a point that feels eerily similar to the teaser shot from World War Z–an unstoppable tower of shimmering zombies breaching the wall.
Finally, with advanced forms of technology being embedded into our brains, perhaps a new unforeseen form of dementia will take hold. How can we possibly predict how these ancient evolutionary engines (our brains, our souls) are going to take to all this tampering? Only time will tell whether or not the Singularity and the zombie apocalypse become one in the same. Maybe, just maybe, the first uploaded mind will wake up like a red-eyed zombie, hungry for brains–the slimy kind.