“Death is the road to awe,” whispers the dying Lord of Xibalba to Grand Inquisitor Silecio in the 2006 film about the quest for immortality called The Fountain. Chills. But what does that even MEAN, anyway? Define your terms: awe—a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder; death—the destruction or permanent end of something. I guess a part of the reason why I like that line so much is because I don’t think there’s anything to fear, wonder, or respect about death in 2013.
The really tired joke that gets trotted out (by me) whenever I talk to a tax lawyer is that the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes. I take issue with this joke (I’m taking issue with myself, to be clear). Death might not be certain anymore. The futurist, Ray Kurzweil, has spent the bulk of his life writing and lecturing on something he calls the Singularity, a speculative point in future-time where our Artificial Intelligence [A.I.] will have advanced to such a state that it will become capable of augmenting itself. And I ain’t talkin’ ’bout Skynet, here. We’re human beings, and we’re smart enough to have read the literature proposed by our most gloomy and dire noir-prophets, and consequently to plan ahead in creating A.I.—embedded with failsafes—that won’t augment itself into wanting to DESTROY ALL HUMAN LIFE.
So what is the speculated outcome of the Singularity? Hold onto your butts, ’cause I’m talking ’bout the Tree of Life, the Fountain of Youth, the portrait in Dorian Grey’s attic, and the Philosopher’s Stone—I’m talkin’ ’bout immortality. But not in the sense that we’ve traditionally conceived of immortality in our literature and philosophy.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Technological Singularity: “a theoretical point in time when human technology (and, particularly, technological intelligence) will have so rapidly progressed that, ultimately, a greater-than-human intelligence will emerge, which will radically change human civilization, and perhaps even human nature itself.” Kurzweil prophesizes that the Singularity will smack us upside the head around the year 2045, but popular science fiction writer Vernor Vinge predicts a more hopeful 2030.
Back to immortality. Listen to what a speaker at the 7th Annual Singularity Summit held last year in San Francisco had to say about death: “We don’t die because the laws of physics require us to die—we die because we’re not currently smart enough not to die … Why settle for predicting human behavior when we can re-engineer the human genome? … An exponential function is a multiplicative derivative … Solving the problem of friendly artificial intelligence is the key to saving the world.”
I’m getting chills again.
Kurzweil says confidently to a 60-year old man at the Singularity Conference, “Life expectancy tables are based on what happened in the past. In 25 years, we’ll be able to add one year of life for every year that passes. We have a very good chance of making it through.” And I’m only 25 years old. This is great!
The takeaway here is that none of us should really bother planning ahead to pay the tax consequences of our loved ones passing away. Canada doesn’t have a specific tax on dying, but this is only because a person’s assets are said to have passed on to the beneficiary exactly one minute before you died, according to the law. But don’t worry about that. You aren’t going to die.
Together we will live forever.