The Singularity may be defined in different ways depending upon whom you are talking to. In this article, I’m particularly interested in discussing the utopian vision posited by Ray Kurzweil and supported by Singularity University. In this sense, ‘the singularity’ is a point of technological innovation to be pursued that will result in a fundamental disconnect from reality as we now experience it. This culmination of technological process will continue to escalate and result in beyond-humans or perfected-humans.
I Am An IT Geek
I’m an IT Geek. I spent the last six years working full-time in the IT world and spent most of my self-aware life before that immersing myself in technology. So, I’m interested in the singularity and I am especially interested in the ways in which technology can be utilized to improve the world we live in, for example:
- Reducing healthcare costs while improving outcomes.
- Advanced warning systems for earthquakes and tsunamis.
- Automated Cars that can drive themselves and eliminate the tens of thousands of deaths each year in accidents.
- Improved political processes through public awareness made possible via the internet and mobile device networking.
- Innovations in “green” technologies that allow for a healthier environment.
- Innovations in food production and distribution which could eliminate starvation.
I get really passionate about the ways that technology can change our lives. My smartphone has changed my life – just ask my wife. I am now a more responsible version of me b/c I have a “brain enhancement” in my smartphone that alerts me to upcoming meetings and ensures I don’t miss them.
I am an early adopter when it comes to using technology to improve health – I bought a Zeo, want a Withings, use Noom, and so on.
I Am A Christian Pastor
At the same time, I am also a Christian. I went to Cairn University for Pastoral Studies, have spent nine years as a youth minister, the last two to three years pastoring, and now am full-time as a pastor. I am passionate about Jesus in an evangelical way. I believe that Jesus has changed my life and continues to do so – and I believe He can change yours as well. Yeah, I know, I know – you may not like that – but I’m just being honest.
I believe that God has intervened in history (through Jesus) and will bring history to its ultimate consummation at some junction in the future. I believe I will become a beyond-human or perfected-human and that I have that life in seed already within me.
In other words, I believe in a Christian singularity, but I also am fascinated by a technological singularity…and I think the greatest challenge to Christian belief in the future will not be from another traditional religion (e.g. Buddhism or Islam) but from The Singularity.
Singularity vs. Christianity?
“But the Singularity isn’t a religion.” In one sense it is not, but in another sense it is. It is the “higher power” to which men call out in hope of a better future. It is the way many are looking for ‘salvation’ to be realized.
“Singularity is more of a philosophy.” The fields of philosophy and religion overlap. Both are inherently a worldview which represents how one lives and acts in the world. But I digress, I don’t need to convince anyone it is a religion to suggest that it could replace religion.
I don’t want to spread FUD1Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. and encourage Christians to be afraid of the singularity or to think those spearheading it are evil. I believe people who are pursuing the singularity are well-intentioned – desiring to see a better world. I do want to encourage Christians to interact more intentionally with the concept of the singularity and to talk more deeply about how it interacts with Christian theology.
Theoretically – what would keep us from “saving ourselves” via technology? The traditional answer is that we will keep ourselves from saving ourselves. But is this a legitimate answer? And if it is not, then what role should the Christian take in pursuing the singularity? Should the Christian be opposed to the singularity?
I pursue technological innovation, I pursue medical innovation, I advocate for better lives lived now – yet I also believe in Christ and His sole ability to reconcile us to Himself and one another. How do I (we) balance our belief in technological/natural progress with the belief in the necessity of divine progress?
I know this will skirt on the fringes of heresy 2I am not advocating such a position, but I think it must be discussed. We cannot simply close our eyes to the implications of singularity philosophy upon the future of the world. – but I think it is an important question for us to interact with: “Could God use the singularity as the means of bringing about His intended reconciliation?”
In the Singularity we are facing a variant of humanism, but perhaps it should have a different name – technologyism. We recognize our inherent flaws, but believe we can rectify them through technology (see for example, Peter Kramer’s3I do not know if Kramer is even familiar with The Singularity, I am not suggesting he is an advocate of it, only that his work demonstrates how technology could cure significant ‘human problems’ – and if it can be used for this – could it not be used to restrain people from violence, etc.? excellent book Against Depression which discusses the disease processes behind depression and how we may soon be able to “cure” these problems).
Obviously, for premillennial4Those who, generally speaking, believe in a eschatology in some form similar to the Left Behind series. Though even here, there is significant freedom in fictional work and many who would hold to a premillennial eschatology would not hold to a pretribulational rapture as is represented in the Left Behind series. Christians there are significant issues with a divinely guided singularity redemption, but for postmillennials or amillennials perhaps there is not such a dilemma?
At this juncture, I am positing that while it is theoretically possible that a technological singularity could “redeem” mankind, that it is practically impossible. That is, that humankind’s interactions with nature5I hypothesize, based on chaos theory, that all natural disasters, etc. are the result of humanity’s sins. Not that those who are destroyed by such disasters are the sinners – but the conglomeration of our sins causes the disasters. Even to say that sins in America might result in a natural disaster somewhere on the other side of the world would be a vast oversimplification of the matter. It is more that all humanity’s negative actions past and present have resulted in those disasters. and each other will ultimately sabotage such an effort. That while life exists on earth there is always the “hope” that man could “save himself” through technology, but that in reality this cannot occur. That is, in all possible universes that God could have created while retaining humanity with the freedom and design He has given us, there is no universe in which humanity would embrace technological salvation, thus the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice.
This is a variation on the Law. That is, just as the Law could theoretically result in a beyond-human/perfect-human yet it never will,6Perhaps it could have if God had created a different universe, but perhaps such a universe could not have had humans such as us in it. so a singularity could result in the same, but it never will. If it was possible, Christ would not have needed to die and rise again.
On the other hand, I am willing to contemplate the possibility that God would divinely utilize a singularity to bring about the perfection of His people. This tastes bitter to my tongue and rough to the touch of my hands – I cannot (barely) imagine it as such – but if we as Christians believe that humans7I say humans rather than Jews b/c I believe that the Jews of Jesus’ time were not more stubborn or wicked or etc. than we, but are representative of us – their stubbornness and wickedness, their rejection of Christ is our rejection. There is no grounds for anti-semitisim within the Christian faith. could be so wrong about the Messianic prophecies – is it possible we could be wrong about the end-of-the-world prophecies? Could the conquering hero come as suffering servant? Inconceivable! I cannot imagine it! But could He? I will not limit Him, I lay the matter in His hands, while embracing what seems the clearer teaching of Scripture.
- Do you believe in a coming technological singularity? If so, what are your thoughts on religion, Christianity, etc.?
- Is anyone aware of materials written by Christians interacting other than from a FUD perspective with the concept of the singularity?
- What about more generally the role of technological progress and supernatural salvation and our relative dependence/investment in either?
“Boy, Dave, this rant came out of left-field.” Well, not exactly. It was inspired by Steve Aoki, Angger Dimas, and My Name is Kay’s music video “Singularity.” (HT: Tom Olstead/Mashable) I’ve embedded it below. Note, it is quite disturbing – it doesn’t contain offensive language or sexual content but it does portray a disturbing reality including some disconcerting forms of becoming beyond-human.