Last week my son-in-law sent me David Brin’s latest great sci-fi novel, Existence. I couldn’t help but immediately put it into my reading stack. Like most of you who frequent RR, I read several books concurrently, and Brin’s description of the state of the world in mid-century was something I had to know sooner than later. As a geo-politics, philosophy, and machine intelligence junkie, I was not disappointed as this page-turner immediately grabbed me.
I’m a third through the tome and hope to report more on it later. But Brin’s world of about 2050 is a very plausible one for those who have agreed with my prognostications here on RR, and those of George Friedman on Stratfor. America has fragmented into a loose federation of semi-sovereign states and regions that still calls itself United States. Global warming has caused the sea level to rise precipitously, apparently from the sudden loosening of massive ancient freshwater lakes underneath the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps. And the social order is more stratified than ever with various “estates” of people having even a wider range of wealth, belief systems, and various affinities for technology.
The Singularity has not yet arrived, however robots and very intelligent machines dominate all areas of human activity. The web has multiplied into several levels of extremely broadband nets, and sensors are deployed everywhere, looking at and listening to everything. Everyone is plugged in through various implants and headgear that superimpose layers of information and data into the visual and aural fields as people go about their business. However, society is at a potential breaking point, having suffered several short but intensive global catastrophes and political calamities between now and then. There are layers of visible and corrupt invisible layers of power with the main contention being between the ultra-rich (trillionaires) and the religionists – one group seeking stability, the other a revolution to a new world order.
And then Earth is contacted by what is clearly an established galactic society.
Long time RR readers are familiar with my ruminations about transhumanism and the Singularity. Transhumanism received its first big boost from legitimate science when physicist Frank Tipler wrote his now classic Physics of Immortality (1994). In it he showed how individual sentiences could/would be reconstructed by a universe that inevitably becomes intelligent (God) in its course of evolution. The Singularity has invited a lot of speculation about Homo Sapiens ‘climbing aboard’, given that the machine(s) would permit it. The result would give rise to enormously long transhuman lifetimes and, of course, wondrous enlightenment that follows the abolishment of material want.
Today, these belief systems are spreading and becoming ever more specific and organized. One modern 'religion' that seems to be gaining traction is Cosmism. On Ray Kurzweil’s website, Giulio Prisco argues that
Cosmism, an emerging “religion 2.0” that is part of a radical futurist conception of the future development of humanity, can give us the positive optimism and “strenuous mood” to overcome our current problems and embark on our cosmic journey.
So say contemporary cosmists, who believe that the “manifest destiny” of our species is colonizing the universe and developing spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination.
In this vein David Wood recalls Arthur Clarke’s “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” in his piece ‘Super-technology and a possible renaissance of religion’, and describes how a future could “resurrect the dead by copying them to the future.” This, of course, takes us full circle back to Frank Tipler’s thesis.
And don’t forget David Brin’s compelling description of what we have to go through to get there.