When Machines Fall in Love

When I want to have a good scare, I seldom think to turn to Time magazine. This week’s issue, however, has me more jittery than a Stephen King novel. One of the purest delights in life is being introduced to new concepts. Those of us hopelessly addicted to education know the narcotic draw of expanding worldviews. Once in a while, however, a development changes everything and leaves you wondering what you were doing before you started reading. A change so profound that nothing will ever return to normal. Singularity. The point of no return. According to the cover story by Lev Grossman, we are fast approaching what theorist and technologist Raymond Kurzweil projects as the moment when humanity will be superseded by its own technology. The Singularity. Noting the exponential growth of technology, Singularitarians – almost religious in their zeal – predict that computing power will match and then surpass human brain speed and capacity by 2023. By 2045 computers will outdistance the thought capacity of every human brain on the planet (more challenging for some than for others, no doubt). The software (us) will have become obsolete.

A corollary to this technological paradise is that by advancing medical techniques (for those who can afford them) and synching tissue with silicone chip, we may be able to make humans immortal. We will have finally crossed that line into godhood. Kurzweil notes laconically, death is why we have religion. Once death is conquered, some of us will be left without a job. (Those of my colleagues who actually have jobs, that is.) We have empirically explained events as far back as the Big Bang, and no deities need apply. The evolution of life seems natural and inevitable with no divine spark. And now we are to slough off mortality itself. O brave new world!

There was a time when mythographers created the very gods. They gave us direction and focus beyond scraping an existence from unyielding soil. We have, however, grown up. There are a few problems, nevertheless. Scientists are no nearer explaining or understanding emotion than they were at the birth of psychology. We might explain what chemicals produce which response, but we can’t explain how it feels. Emotion, as the very word indicates, drives us. Until Apple comes out with iMotion and our electronic devices feel for us we are stuck falling in love for ourselves. Computers can only do, we are told, what they are programmed to do. The mythographer steps down, the programmer steps up as the new God designer. Having dealt extensively with both, I feel I know which I trust better to provide an emotionally satisfying future.

Zadoc P. Dederick's Steam-Man