What does a French Catholic priest born in the 19th century named Teilhard de Chardin have in common with a modern day inventor and business magnate named Ray Kurzweil, whose inventions include the Kurzweil electronic synthesizer as well as the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind? Both of them, in their own way, have contributed to the idea of a coming technological singularity, a point in human history when the evolution of man’s knowledge and technology excedes our ability to predict just where technology is heading.
Although de Chardin cloaked his ideas in religious language, his writings remain controversial and influential in religious as well as scientific cirlces to this day, despite being suppressed by the Vatican. Kurzweil, while managing to build a successful business in Kurzweil Computer Products, has been called a “kook” by some in the scientific community for his theories that humans will one day merge with their technology. In his book, “The Singularity is Near” Kurzweil claims that this will happen sooner rather than later, speculating that the mid-twenty-first century or sooner will be the date that the singularity begins to take off.
So how is this relevant to our class and our discussions? The subject of mobile communications and the growth of that particular technology seems nearly limitless, and one could almost make the argument that human beings are already merging with our technology. We are in a state of constant communication with one another using our smartphones as an interface already. This sounds eerily similar to what de Chardin predicted when he claimed that the world would be enveloped in a “noosphere,” or an interconnected web of knowledge and information. Although the 19th century priest could not have predicted the invention of the smartphone, wireless internet, or 4G networks, he did predict what these inventions would mean for humanity, even if he was unable to predict the nature of the inventions themselves.
So, is humanity coming close to a technological singularity? It definitely seems that if technology continues to develop at its current rate that there will come a time when the line between human and technology will become blurred, whether that will happen in this century remains uncertain. In the mean time, however, it is exciting to track the developments of new communications and computer technologies as they arrive.
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