Are We Ready for the Singularity?

It seems to me that the reason why the larger society expresses feelings of unease towards the posthuman topic is because there are many posthuman stances, but little clarity as to what exactly it is and what it means. In Hayles’ essay, “What Does it Mean to be Posthuman?” she suggests that posthumanism examines man’s integration into his technological environment, and that man has always been posthuman. In this case, the topic does not seem to warrant fear because it implies that the posthuman is not unfamiliar to us.

However, Ray Kurzweil, renowned for his singularity theories, represents another spectrum of the posthuman topic, speaking on the future relationships between man and machine. In this week’s presentation, Ray Kurzweil’s role in the posthuman discussion was briefly introduced. Kurzweil has produced a large body of work, but his 2011 appearance on the Jimmy Kemmel show can provide us with an overview of his singularity predictions: Kurzweil explains that within the next decade(s) humans will be inserting computers and technology into their bodies to make them smarter, monitor their biological functions, and alter their genetics. Jimmy Kemmel, on the other hand, voices the fundamental concern that the larger public can’t help but focus on, and that is, “What happens when the computers, and they eventually will, become smarter than we are?” Kurzweil does not directly answer this, but instead asserts that the computers will not be a race separate from humans, but an extension of us, and of our own construction. This is the singularity that he describes, that man and machine will become one merged race.

But as confidently as Kurzweil discusses the singularity, and as logical as he makes the merge between humans and their computers (compumans in Kemmel’s words) seem, why are we still fearful? I believe that many of us remain reluctant to the singularity postulation because the predicted future of the human and computer relationship drastically contrasts the current status of our world, and this is highly disconcerting. Kurzweil describes a world we won’t recognize, and processes that seem unnatural, such as the reprogramming of our biological processes. He predicts that these procedures and technologies will be available in about fifteen years. Are we, the general public, prepared for these integrations? Will we welcome its promise to extend our lives, or oppose its promotion of genetic identity tinkering?



  1. I think what Kurzweil is missing in his discussion (or at least, in this talk) is the notion of control. Eventually a technology’s distribution can become rather widespread, but at first, it is generally in the hands of a very small number of people, often determined by factors such as governmental control, commercial forces, and scientific proprietary rules. Perhaps the public’s reaction will depend on how well it’s marketed?

  2. If posthumanism is defined as “a mans integration into his technological environment” as stated above, yet “man has always been posthuman”. This is a problem as Kurzweil is overgeneralizing humanity. Not only do people from different countries not have access to “technologies” as such, but there are groups who choose to live “apart from the world” such as old order mennonites. How has an average old order mennonite been integrated into his technological environment, where cars, computers, and everyday items we take for granted are obsolete? Kurzweil may be on to a good point, but it is important to not take it as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As that will inevitably lead to miscalculation.

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