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Intelligent Reactions to 'The Intelligent Universe'

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People love to talk about the future, even when it terrifies them—and even when that future might render humanity obsolete. Abou Farman's "The Intelligent Universe," from our current Summer issue, proved no exception, as his provocative take on the Singularity movement inspired comments from all sides of the debate. "The Intelligent Universe" profiles a loose school of thought dedicated to the Singularity, which, roughly speaking, is a point in the future at which machine consciousness will finally outmanoeuvre humanity as the known universe's supremely intelligent being. Some are giddy at the prospect of bringing about such an event; some are terrified; a great many more dismiss the entire prospect as hogwash or speculation. Here's a selection of some of the feedback we've received so far on the article, and you can expect more in the Letters section of our upcoming Fall issue.

From Sentient Developments:

Abou Farman has penned a must-read essay about Singularitarianism and modern futurism--even if you don't agree with him and his oft sleight-of-hand dismissives. Dude has clearly done his homework, resulting in provocative and insightful commentary.

From Naked Capitalism:

Will this imminent wonder emerge from the same technical culture that has taken 25 years to progress from Windows 3 to Windows 7?

Maybe it will come from the wizards at Google, whose translation service appears to be fluent in all the languages of mankind except the ones you happen to speak.

I have literally grown old hearing forecasts of the marvellous things machines will do just 10 years into the future. Meanwhile, in the last five decades, computers have grown 30 million times more powerful, per Moore's Law. I think we're all familiar with the results.

So when do the miracles start? I hate to sound like a cynic, but I'm beginning to suspect the futurists have been bullshitting me.

A selection of comments from the online version of "The Intelligent Universe":

think_further: A highly plausible scenario. Looks a better alternative to the cycles of ignorance, prejudice, war and hope of the last 10,000y. Time we started building the future instead of wallowing in the past. If we all know everything, then conspiracy theories, self-importance, fear and a whole lot of other useless baggage becomes redundant. What's not to like? You want to stay corporeal on a planet that's overcrowded and running out of resources fast?

Harry S.: Read Lewis Mumford. This is simply the latest chapter of a very old story called techno-utopianism. Like religious believers, these folks believe what they believe because they believe it. Not impressed.

Paul Andrews: Without motivation, a being will by definition do nothing. Our motivation is propagation of our species. Why would we create a being with a motivation other than propagation of our species?

Without knowledge, decisions will still be flawed, regardless of "intelligence". Increased "intelligence" may not mean freer information, able to be assimilated into knowledge: in fact it could mean the opposite (ask an intelligent poker player).

Matthew: It is so inconceivable to me that anyone believes that humanity, evolved as earth-bound corporeal beings, can somehow " transcend" corporeality. It is anti-human, a betrayal of what we are, and I can't get over the suspicion that advocates for this point of view are a sad, sad collection of people deeply unhappy with the way their own corporeal lives have turned out.

It's ludicrous. Still more ludicrous is the notion that this would somehow enable humans to transcend "cycles of war, fear and prejudice", as think_further suggests. It is techno utopianism, and there's no future in it. Consider me human, and not willing to betray my species for some sort of post-human geek fantasy. 

Related on maisonneuve.org:

—The Intelligent Universe
—Run For Your Lives!
—Exploring Outer Space Through Architecture

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