Monday, March 21, 2011

Singularity ≠ Unity

So-called "artificial intelligence" has been around in the popular consciousness for some time now. Without a need for deep clarity, this and many concepts float about in the information glut that we call modern mass media, particularly with respect to the information super-sidewalk (so named by me more so for how we use it rather than what it is). "AI", like these other ideas and physical/social processes often represent corporate/industrial initiatives that become part of the social lexicon without proper social and communal critique to discern with deliberation if we actually want to move forward with them as a major cultural element.

Singularity is one of these up and coming ideas that many say is inevitable. It deserves greater social engagement particularly with respect to indigeny and energetics as it challenges and devalues the bases of indigenous (and all other) relationships to the world and the cycles of energy that have kept humans alive and whole for eons. Modernity has revealed itself as an ideological and systemic challenge to indigeny in its insistence on supporting concepts of "better life through chemistry" as seen in post-"world war" II industrial society and machine-based processes and processing as being 'essential' to human life, inevitable and preferable to almost all previous ideas and processes. Consider the functionally symbolic metaphor of "artificial imitation processed cheese food" being called "American" cheese. In addition, ideas like singularity have the full support of the capitalist corporatocracy and the imperialist ideas and structures that keep it alive. Numerous indigenous perspectives have shown these larger ideas and structures along with the machine culture and the chemocracy to be ultimately flawed, fallacious and failing concepts with respect to humanity, nature, the earth and to grounded spiritual development.

In my cultural media literacy work, I have often "joked" about the possibility of whether my students will have to choose between having a USB or firewire port being installed into their newborn babies. I have done this to provoke thought and discussion and a deeper awareness of technological trends and the easy social acquiescence that seems to come along with these technological systems. We have a much more intimate relationship with our digital technologies, computers, internet-capable phones and game consoles than we have ever had and seem absolutely pie-eyed no matter what new gadget, communicative tool or digital panacea comes down the pipe.

During one of these conversations with my students, one of them informed us about a concept called singularity that he explained to be a technological ideology of that inevitable and even more fatally intimate relationship with human performance enhancing hardware and software physically incorporated into the bodies of humans. In a way, my hopefully provocative sarcasm in class was a low tech suggestion as people like Ray Kurzweil and Kevin Warwick assert that not only is it possible, but desired to place micro-chips and other computer-based, nano-technological, digital hardware into the brain and body, along with the assumed benefit of bionic prosthetics that would be even more accepted than cosmetic plastic surgery is now.

The presence and projection of singularity is disconcerting for a list of reasons that cut to the core of the rationale for engaging indigeny and energetics as a real and integral, dominant part of the human experience on earth. As a particularly clinical and corporatist endeavor, computer/digital technologies in their creation and use embody a system of thought that allows for manufacturing (I dare not say "creation") and marketing for the sake of manufacturing and marketing. This expression of modernity has an unclear air of technology, the machine, human hubris over nature in a way that has led to the domination, or better yet abuse of nature much to our own detriment. Even though the proponents of singularity project this inevitable trend deep into the future, it is an inherently short-sighted idea that assumes a built-in pathological inadequacy to the human being with no discernible discussion of spiritual concepts or ramifications.

Kevin Warwick, as interviewed by Socrates on September 26, 2010 for his website states the following:

“...I do see humans as being very, very limited in what we can do and the sooner we get into post-humanity and cyborgs and so on, the better, really...well I don’t know that I do want to save humanity (interviewer laughs). The sooner we get done with humanity and move on to something that’s a little bit better, so be it. And to me, the singularity is about moving on from humanity...getting humans living through the singularity as cyborgs...we come out of it as something a lot better, when we say bye-bye to humans unless there’s a few of them around that still want to live on islands and something and don’t cause any problems.”

It would seem immediately that Warwick has no sense...then clearly no sense of the energetic nature of the naturo-spiritual(-human) dynamic. The limitations he sees in humanity as a whole (if he even indeed sees humanity in a wholistic way!) are astounding even simply in the above quote...that tragic quote. What Warwick says is tragic for two key reasons. First, Mr. Warwick clearly has led such a narrowed, uninspired and disconnected life that he seems to have no faith in human nature, no faith in the resilience of humanity and no understanding of the depth of the naturo-spiritual dynamic within which humans, much like him, have been nestled warmly for millions of years (temporocentrism is a terminal ailment for Warwick). Second, it is also clear that Warwick is not a student of history (which can give rise to temporocentrism), at least not of the Zinn, Clarke or Deloria variety, and he has not learned any of the amazing stories that truly define the human indigenous experience.
[author's note: I clearly do not know Kevin Warwick personally and have never met him. I sincerely hope that he has never experienced the kind of personal or social/ancestral trauma that could cause him to feel so little hope for humanity, so little compassion for others and himself as to say what he has said above.]

What Warwick is suggesting, along with so many others supportive of the narrow-minded idea of singularity, is that the only way humanity can advance, that the only way we can experience progressive redemption is through an even more intimate relationship with computer-based, digital technologies. Keep in mind, Warwick and many others are suggesting that we we literally become the machine, so much so that we have them floating around in our bloodstream, our brain or that we have parts of us, million-dollar-mannishly, that are computer-based mechanical prosthetic technologies. While it is clear that these technologies are helpful to many of us who have terminal or chronic, serious diseases, physical conditions and disorders, it is not clear that these technologies are necessary to remediate the "problem of humanity". There is no basic and terminal, fatal flaw inherent in the human being nor the human becoming. No matter how deeply the christian ethic of original sin has become secularized in modern, industrial society, humans are no more flawed than the programmers and technicians who would be creating the hardware and software foundation of this singularitists', uber-geek fantasy. That said, what "flaws" do exist in humanity cannot be coded out of the process of manufacturing this virtually redemptive mistake.

It must be remembered that the idea of singularity comes out of the same capitalist, machine chemo-culture that created the pharmaceutical cartel that rushes poisons to market and refuses to test for the mixtures of its chemically explosive devices (read their warning descriptions recently?) and sits quietly by while reports come in attesting to the presence of said pharmaceuticals in the drinking water and reservoirs across Turtle Island - simply from the urinary tracts of the drugged. It comes out of the same non-indigenous socio-economic system that gave rise to a natural resource extraction and exploitation debacle that has brought humanity and many other species to the brink of extinction (if not over that boundary) and seriously thrown off the balance of many of the global and regional natural processes that keeps everything alive. It also comes out of the same system that gave rise to the computer glitch.

Said on the WBUR FM 90.9 webpage for their interview with Ray Kurzweil:
"Tiny computers in our brains, artificial intelligence, maybe even eternal life. It’s not science fiction, according to futurist Ray Kurzweil, it’s the future."

“They’ll go into our brains through the capillaries, interact with our biological neurons, put our brains on the Internet, give us vastly greater memory and problem-solving capability, keep us healthy from inside, augment our immune system,” Kurzweil said."
Ray Kurzweil is undoubtedly a technical genius, but his futuristic machinations leave a lot to be desired. His projections, though completely plausible on a materialistic level, are totally devoid of an embrace of the sacred, of an embrace of divinity in humanity and in nature. I wouldn't be surprised if he shared some of the basic philosophical tenets of judeo-christianity, but whether he does or not seems inconsequential in his quest to change the nature of the human energetic enough to filter its innate ability to sense and heal its own internal and external world through the sieve of nano-technology and microchips. It seems that Kurzweil has no inkling of the enormous capacity the human being has for self-regulation and self-healing (and communal healing!) when you simply take away the constant injurious nature of the modern socio-politico-pathological world. It seems Kurzweil does not know that the cancers and sicknesses and diseases that are plaguing even us entitled and privileged USAmerican patriots are created and, at least, exacerbated by the stresses and environmental disruptions and degradation of the last one to two hundred years of anti-life. The very social system that created these diseases also created the technologies and ideologies of the singularities. If Ray Kurzweil was possibly more interested truly in the redemption of humanity than his own notoriety, he might be more willing to support technological restraint along with a deepening spiritual and environmental engagement that would hasten and catalyze the creation of a liberating OLD world order, one that acknowledges the deep human connection to nature, the analog world, the world-wide-web of life incarnate as earth, water, blood and bone, branch and butterfly. It seems he would rather send alight a mechanical version of the variegated fritillary, complete with servo-controlled flight systems, than to be a humble part of sustaining a world in which butterflies, frogs, fish and osprey find vibrant support from the teeming abundance of a world ecosystem allowed to humbly balance itself without the deadly effects of excesses in mining, extraction, exploitation, contamination and infection that a computer-based modernity seems so completely empowered and emboldened to set in motion.

Singularity, as a social disease, can not be divorced from the capitalist concept of unlimited growth, yet another narrow-minded mistaken identification of the human as overlord of a simplistic, reductionist's nature. The modern misconception of a desacralized, violable judeo-christianized natural world is anathema to our indigenous lifeways, indigenous technologies that allowed for an abiding functional and practical respect for nature and other human beings so that all the interconnected systems of life could flow and grow freely, even with the high-tech levels of management that have recently come to life with regard to traditional Native American environmental stewardship (as referenced in Mann's "1491" and Outwater's "Water: A Natural History"). To date, I have heard nothing of Kurzweil's or Warwick's interest in any of these technologies, even though those indigenous agricultural/social/spiritual technologies have a much longer, better record of sustainability and for harmonious inter-relationship and integration with the humans that developed them. The resource exploitation and e-waste on the front and back end, respectively, of the medium-tech computer/virtual information industry should be evidence enough that singularity might not even have its one wobbly leg to stand on in proving to an awakening (or is it ensleepening into a virtual dream-world a la droid cinema and follywood movies streamed on wide-screen televisions?) techno-matrix-populace. Yes, the singularity is the blue pill.

And singularity is not unity. It is highly questionable whether the proliferation of cellular wireless "smart" phones, the internet and social networking websites has really helped humanity get beyond some of its deepest problems of alienation, disconnection and disharmony. Though we can access emails, images, videos, news, international and global events in split seconds, "connected" (now the modern mantra) to our loved ones, friends and family through persistent text messages, chats, tweets and rolling stati, more fundamental social and personal issues are just as persistent. Our reactionary fears of truly engaging the healing and sustenance of community, inabilities to invest fully and emotionally in friendly and romantic relationships and a deepening fracture between children, teenagers, adults and elders, more crippling and traumatic than the neat images of market niches would convey. Singularity is a terminal distraction away from that which holds the key to human social unity and spiritual harmony with sacred nature.

Jerry Mander, in "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television", asserts that it is the modern tendency to create artificial environments, ranging from office buildings to supermarkets to digital virtual realities, that is the danger of our losing our ways of knowing, our ways of organically sensing the world that not only has created us and our culture but, has been our teacher, our harmonious cosmological travel partner, our primary, if not only, home.

Mander says the following:
"Living within artificial, reconstructed, arbitrary environments that are strictly the products of human conception, we have no way to be sure that we know what is true and what is not. We have lost context and perspective. What we know is what other humans tell us." (pg.68)
Mander challenges us to recognize our natural environment as our primary locus of cognition, the primacy of the corporeal and esoteric world around us and within us as being a sort of epistemological ecosystem that is dependent upon all of its elements working in conjunction and in its natural balance, not filtered through the auspices of a mediated digital matrix. We are even behooved to consider singularity as an attempt to actually make us the medium itself. If we are to have computer-based nano-technologies inside of us or otherwise permanently conjoined to our physiology, we in essence and in function become a veritable medium of digital communication. We would cease to be humans (if Warwick had his way) and would become the media themselves, fused into the datastream (of course, a matter-of-fact factor of singularity) of bits and bytes, controlled by the whims of the servers' impulses and the programmers' caprice. The control/power deferential issues would be astronomical.

Neil Postman's "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology" offers powerful insight to put the limiting concept of singularity into its correct perspective. Postman likens technopoly to to yet another controlling structure that allows for our continued persuasion and manipulation to the changing ideological requirements of an already oppressive socio-economic reality...or better, surreality. Postman supports Mander's projections of this kind of technological with relationship to the naturo-spiritual (-human) dynamic saying that:
"It subordinates the claims of our nature, our biology, our emotions, our spirituality. The computer claims sovereignty over the whole range of human experience, and supports its claim by showing that it "thinks" better than we can." (pg.111)
Postman, though probably not particularly talking about singularity in 1992, asks us soundly, along with Mander, to question the issue of singularity's inevitability and to revisit our commitment to being more fully human rather than more partially bionic.

This challenge to singularity, the questioning of its utility and projected function is clearly required. The self-serving nature of the technopoly and it's corporatocratic parents must be put, at least ideologically, in check so that we don't end up passively adopting a truly and ultimately invasive systemic being into our collective and individual human body. What singularitists say is unquestionable, for one, merely because it exists can not be accepted blindly and out of hand because skilled marketers and techno-pundits are able to put an effective spin on it for the gluttonous consumption by a melancholic public.

David T. Kyle, in his important book, "Human Robots and Holy Mechanics: Reclaiming Our Souls In a Machine World", outlines the path for a successful battle with the machine culture that is the progeny of the last 50o years of human (under)development. He, refreshingly, points us toward the defeat of the machine's dominance over our human and external environmental nature. He plants our feet firmly on historical ground as he states the following:
"If the Machine's culture is truly beginning to break down, perhaps our evolutionary step is really a returning to the archaic, to that which is call the primitive within us. Returning to this primitive (or original) part of ourselves would be a step into a knowledge and experience that has been hidden deep within us, a spiritual energy that has been waiting to be released at this time." (pg.166)
Kurzweil and Warwick clearly have no interest in this "original" human experience, other than codifying it in binary so that we can play it back as a saleable, controllable data stream. Their arrogance would soundly put our connection to that essential human legacy in serious jeopardy, compromising if, most likely, forever (IF they have their way).

Kyle goes on to broaden his perspective, relating the advance of Postman's technopoly as a serious breach of human development to its indigenous roots, its indigenous soul and the key nature of that root's role in the continued positive growth of human culture. Kyle states the following:
"The indigenous peoples of the planet may be the guardians, the holders and the releasers of this inward flow of connection to the consciousness of the species. To destroy the indigenous people with the Machine's all-consuming complexity would be to destroy the access to the potential knowledge that could awaken our awareness for radical change in behavior." (pg.166)
Though I might suggest that singularity would represent more of an oversimplification than a complexity, its effects would cut to the core of what it means to be truly human, to be truly
connected to the world-wide-web of life and, indeed, to our own particularly human ways of knowing, of feeling, of sensing the amazing, physical and spiritual world inside and around us. In deed, it would be a major disruption to the unity that indigenous and many non-indigenous people wish to sustain and advance with each other and with the sacred world in which we live and because of which we live. It is that unity and unity consciousness that is a major context for the healing that can and should take place within human culture. Our current, modern failings are showing us that we can not live with out it. And singularity is not unity.


Mander, Jerry, "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television", Quill, New York, NY 1978

Postman, Neil, "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology", Vintage Books, New York, NY, 1993

Kyle, David T., "Human Robots and Holy Mechanics: Reclaiming Our Souls In a Machine World", Swan Raven & Company, Portland, OR, 1993

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