By Jeevanmukta Das
The last time they said it was when they developed DDT, the miracle pesticide. ‘Just give us a few more years, we will defeat death, overthrow God and paint the sky green!’ DDT was considered a miracle pesticide and in those days—1940s I think— people even went to the extent of regularly breathing in lethal doses of it, just to stay healthy, live longer maybe even get a shot at eternity! Fortunately or unfortunately, thalidomide happened and that burst that heady chemical bubble.
Fast-forward to the year 1996.This time it was the unprecedented euphoria over the internet and its unlimited e-commerce possibilities. E-gurus big and small heralded it as yet another ‘tantadang’ moment. So great was the excitement of this particular ‘tantadang’ moment that whole batches of B-school students dropped out to start… well startups, that would have a head-start and thereby steal businesses off the slow-on-the-uptake brick and mortar establishments. Fortunately or unfortunately, the dotcom bubble burst, the gurus got washed off their pedestals, and the Stanford kids all crawled back into their class rooms or day jobs.
What is ‘tantadang’?? Why, it is the theme music of every James Bond movie of course! It goes like ‘ta da ta daang… ta daang…’ and invariably preludes 007’s daring conquests. ‘Tantadang’ is how a kid I know says it and a ‘tantadang prophecy’ is when scientists go hyper with a ‘we got God by the short hair’ prediction.
Fast forward to 2011 and here they are back again with another effervescent tantadang prediction! And, this one is—as sure as there is a blue God in heaven—all set to snowball into the mother of all bubbles!
‘By 2045, we will have reached ‘technological Singularity!’ goes this ‘hot off the oven’ brave-new-world prediction.
Whoa… what the hell does it mean?? Should we be worrying about building bunkers or something? And why 2045? It seems awfully close!!
Well, we just might have to… build bunkers, I mean. For, according to the American computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, who Bill Gates describes as ‘the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence,’ by 2045, ‘the non-biological or artificial intelligence created will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today.’ And when this threshold termed ‘Singularity’ is reached, man will cease to be man; he would have effectively evolved or transcended to a super-human-machine—a brand new specie—and become the latest link in the great evolutionary chain.
Now, because this specie is super-intelligent, modern-day thinkers such as Ray, Vernor Vinge, I.J. Good, etc., believe that, upon its dramatic and dreaded awakening, it is obviously going to take charge and initiate a through housecleaning. All the things we have been struggling to resolve can be expected to be resolved in jiffy. Curing incurable diseases, colonizing the universe… etc., will be accomplished in the blink of an eye.
All this good news is marred by just one bit of bad. These super-human-machines are definitely going to size us up with the critical eye and… they just might decide to …eliminate all of humankind! At the very least, the weak, the poor, the undesirables (including the Hare Krsnas!) who use up precious natural resources, crowd and burden the planet for no reason, may find themselves high up on the super-machine-man’s ‘throw out of the window’ housecleaning list! Such is their fear and conviction of this happenstance that modern-day scientists have already initiated steps to ensure that this Frankenstein is kept on a leash or cage.
Ray Kurzweil calls this evolution by the way. Tadpoles (or whatever it is that preceded monkeys) to monkeys, monkeys to man, and now man to super-human-machine. Fed up with playing around with tails and other appendages for eons, evolution has gotten out of the body, entered the mind and then oozed out into its creation—the machines!
Admittedly, unlike the earlier premature shots at a technologically assisted nirvana, this time the effort is somewhat impressive. Exponential growth in three or four concurrent fields of technology is what has created this new burst of optimism. They are: computing power, nano-technology, genetic engineering, and the internet.
Computers have become faster, more powerful over the years. This one at least, we know all too well. Indeed, I still remember the first personal computer I lugged home was a 486, and by the time I plugged in this ponderous machine, it had gone obsolete on me! All the big boys had moved onto Pentiums. After laboring away and finally gaining admittance into the Pentium club, I was shocked to find out that everybody and his dog had switched to Pentium 1! Not much later, when I shopped for a Pentium 11, which I thought was incredibly clever of me… the salesperson froze me a disgusted look that made me felt like ‘Lot hibernating in the mountains of Edom with his daughters,’ and said he had only Pentium IIIs on offer. I had assumed that the universe was conspiring to make me feel like the worm I was, but what really was happening was that technological advancement in the field of computing power was growing exponentially.
I now have an AMD 64bit dual core and by the year 2014, computer chips with up to 1000 core would be available. All this exponential growth makes the above-mentioned euphoric claim believable. By that time the machine will have passed the Turing Test (when a computer is indistinguishable from human in response to a series of questions) and can think intelligently like a human.
Incidentally, our seemingly prodigious capacity to think is merely a product of the phenomenal capacity of the brain to compute very much like a computer does. The brain has about 100 million MIPS (Million computer Instructions Per Second) worth of processing power while recent super-computers only have a few million MIPS worth in processor speed. Soon however machines will be capable of racing ahead and even do ‘quantum thinking,’ which in simple terms is simultaneously thinking at multiple levels (we think linearly or algorithmically by the way; it only seems quantum, but it is not… though not all scientists agree) and then their so-called intelligence would be infinitely superior to ours.
The internet by then, and I mean no later than 2045, too would have advanced and we would be able to download information on just about any subject directly into our brain, and be virtually omniscient. Here again, the claim is believable, for, even as I write, I am able to download information with my IPhone and can indeed intelligently talk on just about any subject under the sun at a moment’s notice.
Same is the case with the other technologies mentioned. Today they have red-blood cell sized nano-robots or ‘nanobots’ as they are endearingly called, that can be introduced into the blood stream, identify cancer cells and destroy them. Come 2045, and these nanobots will be doing the work of white corpuscles more efficiently. Indeed, according to nano-technologists, white corpuscles are alarmingly slow and do a poor job of attacking foreign bodies! Nanobots will apparently do the same job in a trice and with their eyes closed!
And while this is happily going on, genetic engineers would have identified the ‘timer’ or telomerase gene, (the one which kicks in the planned obsolescence in our body, and runs our body aground, ages it and ultimately switches it off) disabled it for good, and allowed us to live indefinitely.
Ray is a genius, make no mistake, very savvy and articulate. And the best part is, he has factored in a kind of spiritualism too into this model, which he terms as ‘Singularity’ and hints at a synonymy with self-realization.
Two-bit armchair philosophers are terribly impressed by Ray and others like him and are already worrying about things like: will these super-man-machines become our masters? Will machines take over; eliminate man itself from the equation? Will the immortal super-man-machines colonize the cosmos and make God obsolete? Will we, on gaining immortality, lose our humanness? We are transient beings, and that is what makes us capable of love and sacrifice, joy and sorrow… it is death that makes life tastes sweet… what will happen if we become immortal?
But the question I ask is, what are we, the traditional spiritualists, with pathetically archaic ideologies, with scriptures that speak of mango trees the size of elephants, and a God who refuses to show himself, going to do about it?
All the above-mentioned scenarios are believable. And while they may not pan out exactly as giddily prophesized, the chances are that it will be difficult for us to deliver our seemingly simplistic ‘chant and be happy’ message and expect to find any takers. To be very frank, with the current scenario of science and technology, and now with this futuristic scenario being bandied about in forums on the internet, it is going to become increasingly difficult to preach to a well-informed person. It is going to be increasingly difficult to ‘frighten’ them with the ‘disease-old age-death’ argument. It is going to become increasingly difficult to use any of our other stock arguments. In short, if you encounter Ray Kurzweil or any of his disciples (just about anybody with a decent education) we really have no fire power left to hold their attention, much less gain their conviction.
What we need are arguments that make sense in today’s context. We need to dig deeper and hope to find a brahma-astra of an argument that can defeat this singularity business fair and square.
But do we have a brahma-astra argument somewhere buried beneath that elephant-sized mango?
Fortunately, we do. Here then are a few arguments we can use to hold our ground and perhaps even make headway with disciples of Ray:
First and foremost, let us understand exactly are they saying and how much of it is runaway and rabid optimism. Here then is what they are saying:
By the year 2045, they will have super intelligence. They will have become omniscient, disease free, and can live longer if not indefinitely. So, in a nutshell, what they are really saying is: they will have achieved a technologically assisted ‘sat, chit, ananda’ and obviously there is no God in their equation.
Which is absolutely great news!!!
I mean, how long have we waited to hear these words come from the dense crowd we have been preaching to? This is indeed our message, and we sure are glad that they have finally arrived at this goal all by themselves! So, first and foremost, we welcome them into the ‘nirvana club.’ Once that formality is taken care of, we take them aside and… basically sell them our version of nirvana by pointing out its infinitely more evolved ideologies.
So to begin with…
Tell them that… the material world is a machine; the body is a machine. Therefore, sooner or later, scientists will be able to make their Frankenstein. We entirely agree. The soul is after all is non-different from the Supreme; it too has creative capabilities. However, the scientist will never be as adept at it as the Supreme. Indeed, although the mice so tested with a tinkered age-reversal gene did show some signs of age reversal, it also disturbed a whole host of other settings. Bottom line is, scientists are tinkering with what may be considered a complex alien or God-technology. So the results are going to be makeshift at best. The whole thing can be likened to repairing, say a complex piece of equipment like the motherboard of a computer, with a piece of wire or something. I have seen it, done it, so I know it is temporary and tacky at best. It is much easier to… get a… replacement. And, that is exactly what we are saying! Go on, get a new body bro! Why bother trying to fix a used one? Or better still, opt for a body that is eternal! See? We are miles ahead in this game!
Then tell them that… we think that old age is a farce, a deception. The dye runs out of our hair follicles and that makes us look old. What is this if not deception? The flesh on our angelic bodies separates out into hideous lumps; skin wrinkles… but is this due to wear and tear? Hell no! How can it be? Old cells are constantly being replaced with new ones. Eight percent of cells in an old person’s body are actually new! In short, the wear and tear is simulated and not real. New cells are merely acting old. All these are artificial impositions… so sure, these setting can be tinkered with and maybe even stopped. In fact, there are planets where these annoying settings are not engineered into the body. In the heavenly planets for instance, although the lifespan is limited and there is death, embarrassing old age is thankfully absent.
After you have explained the aging processes, and what exactly we think of it, tell them about nava-youvana (eternal youth) which is another one of our fine concepts. I mean, who wants just eternity? We want nava-youvana or eternal youth with our eternity! Now, this is something the material scientists have not even dreamed of! Giving them this bit of ideology will go a long way in convincing them that ours is the more mature and superior nirvana ideology than their hare-brained-machine-assisted version.
Tell them that… the super-intelligent-machine-being whose actions are difficult to predict by human limited intelligence, might well surprise us by recognizing the religionists as being on the right path all along! Indeed, they may choose us as the only core group worth saving! The rest… the karmis… with their avarice, their hoarding, exploitative tendencies, and their ‘me-mine’ small mindedness may well be deemed worthless… and best terminated. Now, that will surely get their attention!
After you have sufficiently got their attention and interest, deliver this brahma-astra.
Begin by pointing out that not all scientists believe the claim that the mind’s (or brain’s) powers can be duplicated let alone conquered by computers in the near future. Indeed, this is the Achilles’ heel of the Technological Singularity ideology. Or rather, this is the deception point. This is a false claim and they know it, yet they are deliberately trying to make us believe that it can be done!
Having put them on the defensive by airing the doubt in their own camp… tell them that according to our beliefs, intelligence and the mind are not products of the brain and it certainly has nothing to do with the size of the brain. This will surely blow their minds! Tell them that we think that the mind and intelligence are two different forms of subtle energies and in fact, we ‘plug’ into them exactly as we plug into and download information from the Internet! We believe that both mind and intelligence exist independent of the brain, like an omniscient blanket over everything (think Akashic Records) and that these energies are directly controlled by the Supreme. Indeed, Krsna says, ‘Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—all together these eight comprise my separated material energies. [BG: 7.4] Actually, there is even enough scientific evidence to support the fact that mind and intelligence are not the products of the brain. For instance, single-celled organisms, bacterial colonies and such like are seen to act intelligently. A plant displays its intelligence by positioning itself to receive the sun’s rays. Scientists attribute these intelligent actions to chemical activities (for there is no brain here) but the reality is, these really are signs of intelligence and proof that intelligence is not the function of the brain. In short, scientific understanding of the mind and intelligence is faulty or incomplete. That being the case, there is no question of ever conquering or bettering these by some artificial means.
Frankly, if science were to harness the mind-intelligence’s unlimited powers, we would have singularity right now. Meaning, we do not need a machine to gain us nirvana—we already have one! However, in their infinite stupidity, scientists have excluded this wonderful and powerful machine called mind-intelligence from garnering knowledge for us. Indeed, by dictating that knowledge be gained only by experimental or empirical means, they have severely limited it to what can be brought in by the five feeble senses. The mind and the intelligence which are unlimitedly powerful, and can even get you a ticket into the inner most whorl of Goloka situated billions of kilometers away, are apparently of no use to them!!