A few thoughts on post-human society, one which will emerge after the singularity (if we make it that far).

First of all, a definition of Singularity for you laymen (and women) by one of those who coined the phrase, Vernor Vinge, taken from this interview:singluarity233

“My version is that in the near-historical future, it seems very likely that we will be able to create beings that are smarter than humans in every way we think of humans being smart and creative. This sort of technical advance is qualitatively different from other technical advances, and it qualifies for the name “singularity” in that the world afterwards is intrinsically unknowable to people on our side of the singularity.”

The interesting question for tonight is: where might religion, that ever-present blind belief in a creator/s and all the associated paraphernalia which has gathered round this idea over the centuries, fit in in such a world? Would it still be relevant and necessary for post-human beings, or would the radical changes which define this new civilization render religious belief obsolete?

Assuming you’re interested, there’s an easy way to answer this question: “how the heck could we know – that’s the nature of a singularity!”. This is a fair answer, scientifically speaking, however it’s not much fun and would not allow me to free-wheel in pontification. So allow me to venture forth.

Much regarding the answer to this question depends on the definition you use for the term “religion”:  is it a general fear of god – an “awe before the divine”? Perhaps it can be classified as a search for the ultimate truth, a source for guidance regarding the “right” way to live our lives: “a push…toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life”? Or a more generic classification of any and every belief in a single or multiple god(s): “a general term used… to designate all concepts concerning the belief in god(s) and goddess(es) as well as other spiritual beings or transcendental ultimate concerns”?

The definition will naturally determine the answer, with the more traditional, restricted view of deities as omnipotent beings which respond to prayer/sacrifice/meditation less likely to persist than the wider view of “the search for ultimate truth” . However, the basic question is: will post-humans still need a god or supernatural beliefs to explain the unknown or that which they cannot answer (the meaning of life and all that), or will this be coolly categorized as “not yet known”? singularityThe latter is  an attitude much more in line with the scientific rationale of attempting to explain nature using observation and experimentation, while retaining doubt towards every theory until it is proven.

Two elements may factor in the answer to this: a. what post-human society consists of  (an evolution of machine intelligence – true AI gone exponential, or the joining of human and machine followed by this rapid increase in intelligence), and b. (in both cases) what are the rules according to which this society will be founded and operate upon?

In a “rise of intelligent machines” scenario, programming could play a vital role. As some would say that the search for the meaning of life goes hand in hand with self-consciousness, the emergence of real AI would bring this intelligence to question the meaning of its existence – with the associated questioning of the nature of its creator(s) (in this case humans) figuring heavily, at least in the early phases. Seeing beyond its human parents would quickly bring the question to where they came from, leading to deeper philosophical and metaphysical questions – and perhaps coming nearer to religious ideas.

The “human integration” scenario, which is in my eyes a much more optimistic one for humanity’s future (unless you take the hardcore and somewhat morbid “we evolve or become irrelevant and that’s the way things should be” view), incorporates the human view of religion into post-humanity. Surely a more interesting concept to think about. A post-human society would include in its core make-up some measure remaining from the vast heterogeneity which characterizes present-day humanity (reasonably assuming that some groups – religious? – will opt out of combining with machines), with religious beliefs being only one small aspect of this variety in thought. Of course, Atheism would also be an important and relevant viewpoint. How would such different beliefs be mirrored into the thoughts (I use this word very loosely as the thinking of a multi-conscious being is very different from that of a single entity) of a collective?

A good analogy which can perhaps help us take a glimpse into what such collective thought would be like is the coming together of many single-celled  organisms to form a multicellular structure. Consider for a moment that you are comprised of billions of cells, each with its own copy of your DNA and its cellular structure. Singularity23However, the function of your body is part automatic and part led by your conscious thought – the product of billions of neurons firing in patterns in your brain. Thus, while many different cells with different functions and some degree of ‘autonomy’ exist, there is an overriding consciousness which can determine the path the whole organism takes. The analogy seems to dictate a central decision-making “body” which will breathe a set of beliefs, ideals and mundane instructions to the super-organism. It can be suggested that since such a central body will determine these central tenets, the “Body” of organized  religion will become redundant and disappear, with only the central, philosophical ideas such as the search for the meaning of life and the nature of creation remaining. Which is (or should be) of course, the central point of religion anyway 🙂

This entire subject is, of course, a matter to be discussed and debated. My opinion is limited to myself, and I’m sure many would argue with my limited conclusions here, and even with the rationale underlying them. Nevertheless, it makes for a very interesting thought experiment, one which I will pursue further within this blog.