One of Ray Kurzweil‘s more provocative theses from The Singularity is Near is that the singularity will clean up all the environmental mess from the past centuries, those slagheaps of our reliance on fossil fuels and dirty industry. Postscarcity means that the sins of the father will no longer be visited on the sons, daughters, cousins, etc. As much as I can understand that Kurzweil is not coming from a position of optimism, but rather what he interprets as a logical inevitability of technological development (albeit with the Law of Increasing Returns taking a very questionable central role), I find it on some levels offensive. A little game I like to play with myself when bored is “Reasons the Singularity is will never happen” (my current favourite is ‘Athlone‘…), but when not being glib and doubting Kurzweil’s technoeschatology, I have other genuine difficulties.
One of the problems with thinking about technology is that because we are born into a world of technology, this clouds our ability to see how it restricts our ability to think beyond what is right in front of us. We have difficulty thinking clearly about it in and of itself, and so all our difficulties with it are effectively distributed. Accordingly we have an ethics of technology, latched on to the side of the big machine. We think of specific problems with technology, we even expand this into the biggest of spheres, and discuss the existential risks attached to technology, or the risks which are integral to certain types of technology.
This is not the fault of philosophers of technology. It is simply another symptom of how our thought about the implications of all our actions are farmed out to different areas. Continue reading