Shuajo (shuajo) wrote in i_witness,

Here is an open letter I wrote to Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Singularity is Near"

Dear Mr. Kurzweil,

My name is Josh Leonard and I would like to thank you for your extraordinary book, The Singularity is Near. I would count it among the handful of books that have/will influence my daily outlook on this reality that we share. In general, I find “AI folks” to be a bit unbalanced in their thinking and I found your approach to the topic to be novel and more importantly, respectful of the unique nature of consciousness and subjectivity. In this light, I have two questions, both of which you attempt to address in the “response to critics” section, but in which I feel you essentially missed the deeper aspect of the questions.

First, and this is the smaller of my two criticisms, I would like to hear you respond in greater detail to a question that is really a combination of “criticism from lock-in” and “criticism from the rich-poor divide”. Essentially, what I would like to know is: How in theses days of Enron can we expect the current centralized political and economic institutions to give up their power and influence in order to usher in the next wave of democratizing, decentralized, technological developments? The truth of the matter is that we have really yet to see a technological advancement become distributed amongst all people so quickly that it does not first pass through the hands of larger, established institutions, and thus become controlled and regulated by them. For example, I do not see today’s energy companies being willing to allow, let alone facilitate, the development and distribution of the next generation of decentralized energy technologies to peoples across the globe. These companies are the ones with the resources to develop and distribute such technologies, but to do so would essentially render their own services obsolete. It seems to me that every major player in the technology market is attempting to do just the opposite – to make the consumer dependent on them. Now, I am not an anti-corporation conspiracy theorist, but this seems to me to be a significant barrier to some of these developments.

My second more subtle criticism of your argument is some combination of “criticism from ontology” and “criticism from theology”. As I pointed out earlier, I am deeply impressed by the respect and deep understanding you posses for the nature of consciousness and subjectivity. That you do not collapse subjectivity into its objective substrate and correlate is a testament not only to your intelligence, but to your wisdom. The fact of the matter is that we do not yet have a full understanding of the relationship between consciousness and its substrate. In my view, the subject-object boundary is one of the two most fundamental tools the universe uses to create phenomenon (the other being the distinction between self and other). Ultimately, both of these two major distinctions are resolved only in the spiritual realization of the One, but in the world in which our bodies exist, these constructions are as stable and absolute as anything. It is also my opinion that absolutely every object/substrate has a subject/consciousness and visa-versa. As substrates evolve into more and more complex and inclusive forms, the consciousness(es) which they support also evolve into more and more intelligent, capable, inclusive subjectivities. I do not find any major disagreements to this orientation in your work. Where it seems we part ways, is in the idea that the biological human body is the totality of the substrate that structures human consciousness. As one example, I have had a few, rare, and precious experiences in my lifetime which prove to me, without a shred of doubt, that my consciousness is not exclusively limited to, our bound by, my biological body. I have no doubt that the great majority of my experiences are indeed mediated by my biological body. There exist however, real subjective experiences which point to the fact that this is not our only, or at least not our whole, body. Psychic experiences (for lack of a better term) have been categorically proved legitimate by studies utilizing a higher standard of probabilistic correlation than most of our biological and physics studies). This phenomenon of telepathy, for example, seems to me and to the witnesses of these studies to be a very real subjective phenomenon, irregardless of our inability to account for it in our current scientific understanding of physics, biology, and the body. Nonetheless, I am not one that believes that just because it is not currently explainable means that it is not ever going to be understood or that it is something that exists in some metaphysical nowhere without any grounding in a physical substrate. I believe that these experiences are indeed mediated by a physical substrate, and I believe that someday soon, we will begin to construct the language and understanding to describe, manipulate, and study this substrate. It will be yet another instance where science will bring the mystical into its fold. While to some, this may diminish our concept of the mystical, for me it will further enrich our concept of science.

My question to you is this: So far you have spoken of the biological body and brain as though it alone can account for our deepest experiences of subjectivity. What if it cannot? What if the substrate of our consciousness extends beyond the brain and its computations? What if this deeper body, if you will, extended all the way to its source, to God? What implications would that have for “downloading our consciousness into a newer, more supple substrate”? Would this larger, unbound body be able to metaphysically fit into the new substrate you envision for it? I recognize that our understanding of physicality is likely to undergo a great series of transitions as we develop these new technologies that make matter itself more supple and respondent to the will of subjectivity and consciousness, but will even this subtlized matter be limited by our current understanding of the physical world? If even one subjective experience necessitates the understanding that our substrate for experiencing the world transcends the biological brain, then there is a severe limitation built into your concept of the singularity. I have had such subjective experiences Mr. Kurzweil, and while your theory is compelling, I fear you have missed an essential aspect of creating “spiritual machines”.

In great respect,

Josh Leonard
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