your pricey ticket to immortality

The Gospel of the Singularity and its promise of digital immortality is now selling engineering and scientific snake oil and hope to believers.

transhuman body

Have you ever dreamed of becoming immortal over the next few decades? Does the idea of living inside a computer sound appealing to you? Are you fed up with your flesh and blood body and the thought of death fills you with terror? And lastly, but very importantly, do you have a whole lot of cash just laying around? If you answered yes to all these questions, book your trip to the Singularity Summit 2009 this October and start learning the secrets of digital immortality from the master himself, Ray Kurzweil. The only thing you have to lose is tens of thousands of dollars.

Long time readers know that I tend to give the concept of the Technological Singularity a hard time. It’s not because I don’t think that our technology will never have the potential to radically increase our life spans or even alter who we are as a species. With enough time and effort, a lot of strange things could be possible. But that’s precisely the problem with Kurzweil’s ideas. According to him, computers, bio and nano-technology will achieve near magical levels of capability in the next few decades. How? Ray doesn’t bother himself with details, relying on researchers and IT experts to do it all for him instead while he and his followers sit from on high and pitch their lofty visions to the world.

To someone who worked extensively with computers and software design, this smacks of a failure in the making. The gaps between where we are now and where Kurzweil says we’ll be by 2045 aren’t just a matter of tweaking some existing microchips or a molecular assembler. They’re vast rifts that will need more than half a century and tens, if not hundreds of billions of dollars to be bridged. We’ll need to build radically new and different technologies which are just now hitting the drawing board and require us to create brand new materials from which to craft them. To cavalierly overlook that and preach on about future computers waking up and merging with human minds a day after tomorrow is simply ridiculous. As an accomplished computer expert himself, Kurzweil should be well aware of that. But why does he do it? Because it’s good, profitable, partially tax-deductable business.

If you wholeheartedly believe that in the next 36 years, you’ll be immortal if you follow Ray’s advice, be prepared to shell out a whole lot of cash to find out how. To attend his Singularity Summit will set you back as much as $498 not including travel, accommodation or meals. Of course if you promote the event on your Twitter feed or blog, register before August 20th, or you’re a student, there will be generous discounts of up to 20% which still amounts to $399 for attending both days of the event. And if you’re motivated enough to study the ideas floating around the Singularity community, you’re more than welcome to attend Singularity University. The tuition for 10 weeks will set you back as much as $25,000 or between $8,000 and $12,000 if you’re on abbreviated executive programs, but since you’re looking for an eternal life within the bowels of a computer, that’s a small price to pay to learn how it should happen.

Let’s also keep in mind that until 2045, your odds of becoming immortal are still not fully developed. If you’re in my age group, that’s fine. I won’t even be 75 years old by then. But if you’d be pushing 90 or 100, that might be a major problem. Never fear though, the Singularity guru has the cure in the form of a very unconventional supplement and lifestyle advice business and his doctor, Terry Grossman, will gladly help you live longer for a small fee of $6,000 per appointment. But if you hope to live long enough to have machines take over your mortal shell, don’t think that just a few colorful vitamin pills a day will help. Oh no. Kurzweil takes some 150 to 210 supplements per day and you should be taking at least 40 to have a shot at extending your life until the moment of the Singularity is upon us. The cost? I’m thinking that several dozen pills a day aren’t going to be cheap or covered in any way, shape or form by your insurance company.

An important note here is that while Kurzweil may well believe he’s extending his lifespan, there’s no evidence that taking enough vitamins to keep a fully grown bull elephant happy and healthy would extend your lifespan by 20 or 30 years. It could potentially cause adverse effects and require constant advice from your doctor to make sure you’re not overdoing it with unregulated pills that claim to have abilities scientists haven’t been able to replicate in their experiments for the past few decades. Go out and ask a centenarian how many hundreds of pills he or she takes every day. Chances are, you’re going to get a confused look in reply. If it really was that simple to radically extent human life spans, believe me, Big Pharma would trip over itself to sell industrial quantities of pills to regular consumers seconds after an FDA green light.

Regardless of the technicalities pointed out, I still think that using technology to alter who we are is a very cool idea. Over the coming decades, we could very well shift closer and closer to potential ways to make some of these ideas come true. However, the major problem with Kurzweil’s Singularity is that it’s being preached and prophesized like a religion for those of us who started playing around with DOS as we were still trying to remember our ABCs. (Or in my case the Cyrillic alphabet.) And worse yet, it’s being abused to make Ray and his partners very wealthy people who use their followers’ fondest dreams to mine their wallets. Whether those actions are intentional or they truly know not what they do doesn’t really matter. Gouging people for lessons in fanciful, vague and often pseudoscientific futurism is simply unethical any way you try to slice it.

# tech // ray kurzweil / technological singularity / transhumanism


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