Human Exceptionalism

Kurzweil’s Baby Boomer Narcissism

For Baby Boomers–my profoundly disappointing generation–it has always been about us. And now, according to Ray Kurzweil, inventor extraordinaire, some of us may live forever. 

Yes, he’s on again about human immortality. From the story in the Wall Street Journal:

“I’m right on the cusp,” he adds. “I think some of us will make it through”—he means baby boomers, who can hope to experience practical immortality if they hang on for another 15 years. By then, Mr. Kurzweil expects medical technology to be adding a year of life expectancy every year. We will start to outrun our own deaths. And then the wonders really begin. The little computers in our hands that now give us access to all the world’s information via the Web will become little computers in our brains giving us access to all the world’s information. Our world will become a world of near-infinite, virtual possibilities…

We will have vast new brainpower at our disposal; we’ll also have a vast new field in which to operate—virtual reality. “As you go out to the 2040s, now the bulk of our thinking is out in the cloud. The biological portion of our brain didn’t go away but the nonbiological portion will be much more powerful. And it will be uploaded automatically the way we back up everything now that’s digital.”

“When the hardware crashes,” he says of humanity’s current condition, “the software dies with it. We take that for granted as human beings.” But when most of our intelligence, experience and identity live in cyberspace, in some sense (vital words when thinking about Kurzweil predictions) we will become software and the hardware will be replaceable.

I don’t believe it for a minute, and living in Google’s “do no evil” cloud raises some profound dictatorial possibilities.

But consider the utter selfishness of the thing. If we stopped dying, we would also have to stop birthing. Rather than making the world a better place for our posterity, we will throttle the future and be constantly looking for new ways to entertain ourselves, because it can get pretty boring living forever. Heck, that’s a problem now in the decadent West. Children still die of measles in Africa and some of the richest people in the history, blessed with tremendously inventive minds, look in the mirror and think the most important thing in the world is that they never die. 

Kurzweil tells the reporter that he has good ideas about how to cure cancer. But he isn’t going to hop on that project unless he gets diagnosed. Then he’ll drop his current toys and set about developing the treatments. That is very telling. The immortality project is high tech Baby Boomer narcissism. Nothing more. 

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