The sheer stupidity of artificial intelligence

A geek religion that aims to exalt machines instead diminishes humanity

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

5 July 2014

9:00 AM

The latest US census found that 43 per cent of the population in Santa Clara County, California, were members of a religious institution. This is slightly less than the American national average of 50 per cent, but you’d probably expect that because the area includes Silicon Valley, where geeks are busy designing our online, gadget-laden future. You might assume they would be pretty secular types.

You’d be wrong. As a measure of religious observance, that census is useless. Perhaps the geeks don’t all belong to churches, but the reality is that the inhabitants of the Valley are in the grip of a religious mania so bizarre, so exotic, that it makes the Prince Philip-worshipping inhabitants of the island of Pacific Tanna look positively mainstream. For the geeks worship a machine that has not yet been built.

This machine will appear in about 2045 at a moment its worshippers call the Singularity. It will be the last machine we will ever build because, being superintelligent and able to redesign itself to be ever more intelligent, it will do everything we need, including make us medically immortal by curing all our ills, or, perhaps, genuinely immortal by uploading us into itself. Or it will kill us. The mood of the machine is as unpredictable as that of Prince Philip; it may be an Old rather than a New Testament god.

Ray Kurzweil speaks on "Singularity" dur
Ray Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and large-vocabulary speech recognition Photo: Getty

The Abraham — or perhaps John the Baptist — of this faith is Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil has long been the hot gospeller of the future. As with all futurologists, his forecasts have proved more often wrong than right. Yet he is a marketing genius and that has led to him being lauded by presidents and employed by Google to work on artificial intelligence (AI). This genius has also led to the establishment of the Singularity University, the campus of which is inside the mighty Nasa Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley. It is Kurzweil who chose the date of 2045 for the advent of the Singularity and who has been the final machine’s most effective disciple.

Singularity is a term derived from physics, where it means the point at the unknowable centre of a black hole where the laws of physics break down. For Valley believers, the tech version of this is where the rules and conventions that have previously ordered human life come to an end. It is the ‘trans-human’ moment at which we transcend our biological destiny.

Considered as a religion, this is very American. It is structurally similar to the fundamentalists’ belief in the Rapture — the moment when the elect are swept up to Heaven to avoid the ensuing Tribulation — which is also said to be imminent. And, indeed, in their subliterate way, Kurzweil’s books do read like fundamentalist tracts.

Furthermore, some techno-Christian sects have embraced the Singularity as being all part of God’s plan. ‘Live is purposeful,’ runs the creed of the transhumanist Terasem Movement. ‘Death is optional. God is technological. Love is essential.’

That great Valley apostate Jaron Lanier, who sees through the folly of techno-babble better than anybody, has noted this convergence of technology and faith. ‘What we are seeing,’ he writes, ‘is a new religion, expressed through an engineering culture.’

The Singularity is, indeed, a faith. But its adherents conceal this awkward fact with an analysis that the gullible might mistake for science. This analysis is based on the idea of an exponential growth in our technological prowess, particularly in the development of AI. Ultimately what once took thousands of years will happen in seconds, and the machine-god will emerge.

It is, of course, absurd. As Professor Andrew Blake, managing director of Microsoft Research at Cambridge, observed at a recent Spectator event, ‘There is no scientific basis for any of this.’ The only model for such exponential acceleration is the growth in power of computer chips over the past few decades. This may or many not continue, but even if it does there is no reason to think it will lead to real machine intelligence.

Should we care about the appearance of this ridiculous faith? Well, obviously, yes. The people who cling to this faith are, in their geekish way, among the most powerful in the world. They make the machines which increasingly dominate our life and work. Even if they are not conscious Singularity believers, they certainly tend to worship the machine as something that will somehow liberate us from ourselves.

This is apparent in the aspiration to free the geeks from the ordinary restraints of society. Peter Thiel, founder of Pay-Pal, for example, has founded the Seasteading Institute, which aims to build floating cities in international waters — ‘An open frontier,’ he calls it, ‘for experimenting with new ideas in government.’ Larry Page, co–founder of Google, has also idly suggested that we should ‘set aside some small part of the world’ for innovation to take place without regulation.

Furthermore, the rhetoric associated with AI and the Singularity feeds through into the way we build and use machines. Lanier has pointed out the way this rhetoric is used to fool us into thinking the technology is much smarter than it actually is. For example Watson, an IBM computer that won the American TV gameshow Jeopardy!, was advertised as a breakthrough for AI. Lanier observes that Watson was nothing more than ‘a new phrase-based search engine’. This does not sound quite as sexy or as marketable as machine intelligence; it just happens to be true.

The rhetoric, Lanier says, is double-edged. It encourages us to think of people ‘more and more as computers, just as we think of computers as people’. In short, we can make the Singularity more likely by stupefying ourselves into becoming machines instead of simply seeing machines for what they are — useful tools.

Religion is — and will always be — a human constant. We know little about the world beyond our immediate perceptions and we console ourselves by filling in the gaps with faith. The awfulness of this new Silicon Valley faith is that, unlike most traditional religions, it does not exalt humanity but instead seeks its destruction. It may succeed if we persist in making ourselves so stupid that even dumb computers will seem intelligent.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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Show comments
  • All religions are ridiculous, but some are older than others.

    • Some are more moral than others.

    • AugustineThomas

      Christianity built your country. Move to North Korea. Stupid ingrate.

  • Izumi Laryukov

    So… what’s your point? We should all just give up our aspirations and go back to herding sheep and crucifying each other..? Well that is EXACTLY what appears to be emerging in the middle east now. Me, I want a world where “GRAINN” is triumphant. “GRAINN” is Genetics, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology and Neuroscience. (I’d like to add Virtual Reality, Fusion energy and Quantum computing to that mix as well…) In my emerging world, people that don’t want that sort of thing have the option of foregoing the proffered technology and dying of old fashioned, old age. The technology that is developing in six months that used to take six years is inevitable and if its a bit slower than Raymond Kurzweil predicted, so what. So he’s off by 5 years instead of one. The march cannot be stopped and it IS going to disrupt human civilization. Best to be forearmed and aware, instead of being stupidly taken by surprise.

    • Weaver

      Good news – The world you want is possible.

      Bad news – You may not be possible in it.

      • AugustineThomas

        Bad news: you’re a secularist idiot and you’ve been brainwashed by a bunch of leftist propagandists.
        Good news: Jesus Christ can save you like he saved humanity when he inspired Christians to build modernity so we could have a bunch of ungrateful geeks lecture us about things they know nothing about. 🙂

        • Weaver

          Sorry, is this…umm…satire?

          I’m pretty sure neither the Catholic nor Protestant Churches did not inspire modernity in any meaningful sense. At best the latter could be said not to have got in the way, much (and to be fair, that’s a much better relationship with modernity than most other religions). I presume, given your nom de plume, that you’d also like to emphasise the essentially greek rationality of christian theology, and I’ll give you that.

          Please note this “secularist idiot” did not feel the need to insult you, Augustine. May Christ forgive you for letting your anger get the better of you.

          • AugustineThomas

            I’m just tired of ignorant secularists pretending to know it all when they’re so ignorant they don’t even realize that their entire civilization as they know it was built by Christianity.

          • Weaver

            “Their entire civilization as they know it was built by Christianity.”

            What, including the early Roman and Greek and Indian and Arab bits? C’mon…

            Your claim is far too grand. A lesser position may be defensible e.g. “Christianity was a very important and necessary factor for western civ”, but overstating it to the point of hyperbole “ENTIRE CIVILISATION!” doesn’t do you any favours.

            Anyhow, the main structural problem with this argument are as follows:

            1) Usefully defining what you mean by a “built by christianity”; the phrase is too vague to be useful. How would I test a civilisation, or thing, to see if it had been “built by christianity”?
            2) Does not consider that western civ might have done even better with more secularism, historically. Variations in developement across Christian denominations –> catholic vs orthodox vs protestantism etc strongly imply that greater secular scope led to faster growth and scientific development.


          • AugustineThomas

            The result of those pagan ideologies was the Dark Ages. It took Christians to build modernity. Why did the rest of the world have thousands and thousands of years to do it, but it only took the Christians a few hundred?

            It’s funny what an ignorant ingrate you are. You truly believe that violent pagans built modernity?

          • Weaver


            Has this “ignorant ingrate” gratuitously insulted you? Have I not tried to be reasonable, and conducted my disagreement in a spirit of charity?

            What would the Scholastics themselves have said about your ad hominem? Would you be happy to stand in front of Jesus and explain your behaviour here?

          • AugustineThomas

            I was making a comment about your lack of gratefulness. I didn’t use that as a point in my argument.
            You and me should both try to follow the Scholastics more closely. They did far more to build modernity than any group of contemporary secularists.
            Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis peccatoribus!

          • Weaver

            Let me share a story with you,

            Once I was quite the combatitive atheist; I really enjoyed pulling the chain of the religious. Then one day an evangelical pentecostalist joined my team.

            This man took my barbs in good humour, and generally exhibited humility and reasonableness. He would try to understand the argument, and would demure that some things were beyond his understanding, but not his faith. In that, he was quietly assured, without the brittle insecurity and pyschological neediness that often manifests in apologetica. He was kind, attempted to love his enemies, and was at peace with modernity; affirming the important part of man and the concern of the church was with our spiritual nature and not our genetic ancestry or temporal power.

            Anyway, this man did far more to soften my attitude to Christianity and make me regard him and it affectionately than all the aggressive, strained, and hollow apologetica I’d encountered in my life. Do you understand? The secret is the difference between Tolkein and the Catholic Encyclopedia.

            Just sayin’.

          • AugustineThomas

            Well I’m glad you met the right man to soften your heart (though I think it was Christ doing it through him).
            I was also quite the bitter atheist and when people played that “I can listen and laugh at you” game it just offended me and made me think they were shallow and hollow. I needed someone like Tolkien who wasn’t afraid to tell the truth. In fact I despise those who sugar coat their real meaning in order to try to trick me into changing my beliefs. I had to hear real defenses of the truth, which I respected, in order for me to change my wicked beliefs.

          • AugustineThomas

            The greatest and most intense scientific advancements came when the West was almost completely orthodox Christian (what we now call Catholic).

            Since the Protestant Heresy has given birth to the Secularist Apostasy our countries get more and more miserable and many are on the verge of being taken over by heathen Muslims who will take them back to the pagan days.

            You’ve been brainwashed by leftists and only look at the facts you want to look at. (I went to a secularist, mostly atheist university–UCSB–so I’ve heard all the counter arguments and that led me to look at the other side. You, on the other hand, have clearly always just accepted what’s been preached to you by your leftist “teachers”/propagandists.)

          • Weaver

            Umm. Can’t really give you that. The Industrial revolution, and second agricultural revolution is almost entirely protestant. A large majority of “modern” science (post 1600, say?) is protestant sourced. I must confess I’m a bit of a loss what you mean by “greatest and most intense scientific acheivements”. What period are you talking about?

            Basically, you have to (obviously) control for capita-years. A large, long running state should produce more advances than a small one in a short period. When you run the regression numbers then Catholicism has clearly not been an odds multiplier….Do I need to raise Galileo? Or the Inquisition and their baleful influence? The general (but not universal) influence of Catholicism was regressive. Favourable mention to the Jesuits of course, but on average…. None of this is controversial in mainstream histories of Spain, Italy, France, Austria, etc.

            I suppose its not much consolation to you that Greek Orthodox and Islamic and Hindu and Buddhist and Taoist states perform even worse in the same analysis, but there you go.

            Regression analysis puts Catholicism (judged by clergy per capita or % of GDP) in the

            I’ve been very gentle with you. You need to talk to your priest about pride and wrath.

          • AugustineThomas

            You’re following secularist myths about the Church. The Protestant Heresy inspired the Secularist Apostasy. Both have spent a lot of vain energy making up black lies about the influence of the Church.
            For one thing, Protestantism picked and chose its beliefs from the Church, so this argument is meaningless. The Church can take credit for the successes of heretics, because heretics would not exist without the Church. (They are separated brothers.)
            Galileo remained a devout Catholic his entire life and was protected by as many Catholics as the number who persecuted him. All of the men who developed the scientific method were staunch Catholics.
            The Inquisitions were justice systems, which were far more humane than our own and far more humane than that of any Protestant nation.
            The industrial revolution and the agricultural revolution most certainly were not majority Protestant. You live in a country that was infected with Protestant lies so you tell yourself they’re true but they’re not. Britain always had a significant Catholic minority, to the point that an Anglo king converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. On top of its culture being completely founded by devout Catholics, the Catholic minority contributed to all the advancements of Protestant Britain and beyond their numbers.
            The same goes for the United States. The religious history of the United States is that of a Protestant majority giving way to a Catholic majority. So again we have the fact that the ideas that inspired the founding of the United States can all be traced back to the Church and the fact that the United States has always been in the act of becoming majority Catholic.
            (And I still haven’t mentioned the fact that Catholics invented the modern university and the modern educational system and Protestants copied it.)
            So it’s beyond absurd for you to suggest that the Church has been regressive when it built your society and gave you your freedom. These Protestant-inspired black lies will make you totally ignorant of your own history if you keep following them.
            God bless you!

          • Weaver

            It usually good faith not to use derogatory or pre-judicial terms. “Protestant heresy” would be one. “protestant lies” would be another. Just saying. )

            Basically, I find it difficult to follow the syllogistic structure of your argument, finding it both invalid and unsound by turns. I would particularly draw your attention to the bold factual claims you advance which seem, prima facie, untrue. You must know this?

            (“The religious history of the United States is that of a Protestant majority giving way to a Catholic majority” ).

            Rhubarb, to put it politely.


            (“The industrial revolution and the agricultural revolution most certainly were not majority Protestant”)

            The industrial revolution began in England and Holland, the former leading throughout the 19th century. It spread to Scandanavia, the United States and later Northern Germany and (Catholic) France. Catholic Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Poland were notable laggards. I’m sorry, but I have economic history at graduate level and you may as well claim the moon is made of green cheese than try and get that past me.

            The core of the argument is not that advance is not possible under Catholicism; of course it is! The core of the argument is did Catholics, per capita-year tend to generate the same advances as non-catholics, per capita-year?
            (Do you see the need for a denominator on the metric? Do you understand statistical inference?)

            The statistics clearly show Catholicism is beaten out by protestantism and secularism and Judaism. You beat Eastern Orthodox and Islam. Sorry. But if you want to advance this argument further then you’ll need to provide numbers and referenced data rather than just anecdote, however passionate.

            (incidentally, I would request you be a little more detailed on what period, and what advances, you are discussing. Obviously you can’t use pre-16th century because everyone in the West was catholic and you have no non-catholic grounds for comparison!)

            God bless you too.

          • AugustineThomas

            Catholics invented the educational system. The educational system is what led to the industrial revolution. Protestants have always been obsessed with a vain attempt to use technology to prove that they’re right.. All it led to is the Secularist Apostasy. The fact that they were more obsessed with technology means nothing. I’ll also remind you that the Catholic countries were fighting off the Muslims which gave the Northern European countries a lot more free time to work on technology. But, again, the Protestants would have nothing if their countries hadn’t been civilized by the Church. Furthermore, all of the Protestant churches are just fallen Catholic national churches, so it’s dubious to suggest they’re a distinct entity.
            Christ commanded unity and the real fathers of the Church laid out orthodoxy. Protestants broke away from orthodoxy. This act is, by definition, heresy. All of Protestantism is a diverse collection of different heresies.
            You haven’t provided any data, so it’s funny that you’re asking me for data. It’s an absolute fact that the Church developed the educational system and I don’t trust your education if you managed to make it through without learning that.
            Furthermore, Catholics developed the scientific method which directly led to the Industrial Revolution. You may have read a lot, but you haven’t learned anything if all you’ve done is try to prove your Protestant lies. You haven’t been open to the truth, only searching for justification for your misunderstandings.
            Judaism only exists because the civilization the Church built protects them. Protestantism and secularism are both bastard children of the Church. Both picked and chose all their beliefs from those of the Church.
            I’ll say a rosary for your conversion to orthodoxy! Remember that Christ commands unity, not 40,000 warring heretical churches all accusing each other of following Satan.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Westerners forget that before the British Raj took over India, the collection of kingdoms in India had the largest GDP in the world (about Half the world’s GDP at the time was from the Subcontinent)

          • Weaver

            I’ll have to ask you for a link. I think China was bigger.

            EDIT: China was the same size, give or take. Wikipedia sez India was 25% of GDP in 1700, not 50%, a fairly consistent ratio.


          • Avinash Tyagi

            Ah, you’re correct about the 25%, misread the information

            But still the largest in the world, even bigger than China and all of Western Europe at the time

            Only started to fall behind once the British east India company took over.

          • Weaver

            Remember, Western industrialisation has already started by the time of EIC and its probably more accurate to think about Europe pulling ahead than RoTW falling behind. India’s “fall” was relative; there were modest capital improvements and political stability.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            No, company rule in India by the RIC was by the mid 1700s by that point India and China were still far ahead of the British and western europe.

            As an example, India was not unknown to industrialization. It had its own budding textile industry.

            However the British when their company rule began, flooded the market with textiles and destroyed the Indian industry.

            The British reworked the Indian economy for their own benefit and robbed India of its wealth and resources.

            The claim that the British brought anything of value is garbage.

            Just western imperial revisionism. Trying to claim that india was so backwards that they needed the British. How laughable.

          • Weaver

            Sorry mate, I’ve got the degree the in economics and history, and you haven’t.

            The first thing is to fairly admit the European technological and industrial advantage by 1700. I won’t bore you (pun intended) with 18th century cannon metallurgy and the details of early mechcanical looms, but you must admit it looks daft to claim superiority when India was promptly carved up by the Mughals,
            the French…the Portugese….the British. That’s certainly a run of bad luck for such a populous and advanced nation!

            Look, I’m quite aware of how the EIC and crown successor “exploited”
            the Indian economy. Yes, that was wrong, obviously. It was also lot kinder than what the Mughals and most other Imperialists were
            doing. At least some railroads, education system, civil service and democracy got left behind rather
            than a nice array of Forts and mosques. Try this semi-marxist nonsense on someone else. It does neither Britain nor India any service.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Sorry “mate”,

            But your degree is flawed.

            If you actually were a student of History, you’d know that at the time India was not a unified nation, but a bunch of smaller kingdoms.

            This was the disadvantage that a india had, and what left it open to being conquered by the Europeans.

            As for anything india got from the British, such as the railway system, they were vastly outweighed by the losses in terms of the wealth and resources taken.

          • Weaver

            Well, you have some traction with the “divided India” idea. I won’t contest any of your historical summary, which is fair. But Europe in 1700 was also a mix of smaller nations, and a few medium sized ones. Many Indian nations were as large or larger than England and France and Portugal!

            We could as well ask why didn’t the larger Indian polities conquer an equally “divided” Europe? At which point, we must reject the “divided polity” explanation as useless… or at least insufficient.

            (This is called a proof by contradiction. Post-graduate training in logic and statistics has some benefits… could I ask what your degree is in, by the way?)
            Now industrialisation in Britain and initial capital is a very well researched econometric area. There is data. Your claim for indian resources as critical is..well, let’s be kind and say “not supported by any numerical data or analysis”. The conquest of India gave England (later, Britain) access to cotten, spices, and tea (later) at rather below world market prices. This was certainly valuable, and made fortunes, but in the big scheme of things, it was rather modest. Textile manufacturing was were the real gains in wealth were made in the first industrial revolution. Not in growing the cotten. There were after all, many countries growing cotten. None of them became rich with it.

            But the “resource extraction” meme also betrays a rather basic understanding of the economics here, which I’d like to explore for a little bit. The cotten wasn’t taken for nothing. It was brought, by company agents from Indian sellers. Increased British demand enriched Indians in the supply chain and drove systemic improvements in Indian agriculture and transport. The effect of this trade was to enrich both parties, though the British probably captured most of the gains. (Now, of course the Dalits probably didn’t see any improvements, but hey, they never do regardless of who is in charge?)

            By the way, I see almost identical claims from Africans who are convinced that slavery and west Indies sugar provided critical capital for early industrialisation. It’s tendentious stuff, makes several economic fallacies and most importantly lacks any numbers to back it up. It seems everyone was responsible for industrialisation but the Europeans!


            ~ W

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Wrong on so many things again.

            First off the idea that Brtain was smaller than Indian Kingdoms at the time, false, in 1700 Britain was the center of a vast empire including Canada, the Original 13 US states, and many other holdings around the world.

            So the idea that it was smaller in terms of size or population than many of the divided Kingdoms of India is false.

            Also the Idea that Britain was a bunch of divided kingdoms is false, it was united in empire at the time (Yet it’s combined economic power was less than combined India at the time)

            That is called disproving your argument with facts, something you seem to have not learnt. Your lack of knowledge of history is galling.

            Also you’re incorrect on the idea that India did not provide the resources and capital, the wealth, in gold for example, as well as the resources such as cotton was what provided the raw materials for the textile and other industrial production.

            Clearly your economic knowledge is lacking if you don’t realize the need for raw materials for production.

            Actually few Indians saw gains from the trade, most of the gains went to British who oversaw and controlled the production and the trade, there was a reason for EIC control as opposed to just EIC having a presence in the Indian Market.

          • Weaver

            OK, I’ve tried being civil but you asked for this.

            The population of England, Wales, and Ireland in 1700 (NOT yet Britain, but that’s another of your stupid little historical errors) was about 7 million. The American colonies were 250k, and about the same for English holdings in the Caribbean. Mostly slaves. Canada had less than 20k, for a total of 7.5 Million . I’m not sure what the “many other holdings were”. Of course, there weren’t anything else of significance; you just threw that phrase in to sound clever…you can surely understand why I’m now mocking it.

            India in 1700 had a population of 180 million. More than all of Europe. Both the Mughal Empire and the several successor polities had populations well into the 10’s of millions. That was greater than any European state of the time.



            So, you’re simply wrong, and that’s that. Got any more “facts?”

            Let’s be honest; you had no idea what these numbers were until I pushed them up your nose. From your first post when you ranted about 50% of Global GDP you have got every single number wrong. You just shoot your mouth off – “knowing” the answer in advance or thinking I wouldn’t bother to look it up. All of this data is trivial to find online; you’re either too lazy or conceited to bother.

            The rest of your post is casually abusive and doesn’t deserve a response. As a piece of advice, insults don’t really work on an a numerate and educated opponent who knows he is smarter than you, and now also knows that you know he is smarter than you. They are a bit of psychologically immature defensive reaction in types with low self-control and self-awareness. You might want to work on that.



          • Avinash Tyagi

            Yeah as a combined they had that many, but again they were not a united nation, each kingdom was far smaller than the 180 million total.

            Nice try though, you’re still trying to avoid the fact that one was an empire and the other was a collection of kingdoms

            Also you’re wrong about other holdings, as you yourself agreed, they had territory in Carribean, Africa and South America as well as in Canada and the 13 colonies by 1700.

            Thanks for proving again your ignorance of history.

            Nice try though, but it’s clear you still don’t get much about history, you’ve been wrong about everything expect for the very initial comment about it being 25%, and each comment you make clearly shows your ignorance of economics and history, in spite of your claims of higher education in those fields.

          • Weaver

            Please provide real numbers and linked data for your claims, or shut up. Population statistics for the top 10 Indian polities circa 1700-1720, please.

            I don’t think you can. I think you’re innumerate.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            I have yet to see you provide any real numbers or evidence to counter my claims, but here you go:

            Since the first phase of the Brits industrialization was due to textiles, it was India’s Cotton that provided the key to British modernity following the EIC Conquest of India in 1757:

            “In the early days of the conquest, the East India Company was eager to make money quickly and in the process ruthlessly exploited Indian Manufacturers”


            And as pointed out by James M. Cypher in “The Process of Economic Development”:

            Heavy Tariffs were placed on Indian Textiles, while Indian Cotton was not tariffed, and the Indian Market was forced to accept British Manufactured goods without Tariffs. Forcing the Indian producers and their industry out of business. This turned India into a producer of raw cotton, rather than into an industrial producer of finished textiles.

            The raw cotton went to England to fuel the production of the British Textile industry.

            “In 1750, India produced about 23% of world manufacturing output. China probably produced around 33% of global manufacturing, and Europe about 23%”


            Confirming that even as late as 1750, India was still Equal to Europe in Industrial capacity, EIC control began in 1757, and from there it went downhill for India

            And then we get to the issue of the capital financing of Britain’s Industries from the mid 1700’s through the 1900’s

            From “Industrial Revolution: How India financed Britain’s growth story”

            “British earning tonnes of silver and gold by exporting Indian products through bullion trading, the capital investment for Industrial Revolution never faced any shortage”

            “With the British getting the revenue collection rights (diwani) from the hitherto Mughal emperors, they started getting enough local currency to run their operations in the country and finance their wars against the French (who were trying to capture South India) and other Indian kings in different parts of the country.”


            An Extract from “Churchill’s Secret War”:

            “The tribute from India, which amounted to almost a third of Britain’s national savings for the last 3 decades of the 18th century, financed trading networks, serving as lubricant for the new economic engine. ”

            “The pace of advancement in the United States & Germany ultimately left the UK behind, but Indian revenues would allow the imperial nation to retain its financial primacy well into the 20th century.”

            From “Foreign capital flows in the century
            of Britain’s industrial revolution”:

            ‘It is altogether more probable that Indian wealth supplied the funds that bought national debt back from the Dutch and others leaving
            Britain nearly free from overseas indebtedness when it came to face the great French wars from 1793″

            These excerpts confirm my point about the capital and wealth that provided the British Industrial Revolution with it’s base.

            As I said, the facts are on my side and not on yours.

            I’m afraid you have utterly lost this argument.

          • Weaver

            I see you have abandoned your position on relative populations and polity sizes…good.

            And you are actually using numbers now. Better.

            The rest of the economics in your post is fairly mainstream and I have no real objection to the raw data or the “early protectionism” argument.

            But…you don’t put the numbers in context for your argument. Just the usual vague handwaving about how-important-it-all-was. When we put the numbers in context, your position falls apart.

            Firstly cotton textile growth in the UK was about 2% from 1700 through 1780; certainly respectable, but hardly blistering. The take-off was from 1780 onwards. Unfortunately for you, this growth was driven mostly by US cheap cotton and UK manufacturing advances rather than vast amounts of Indian cotten. Through the 19th century Britain would draw the majority of its raw cotton from over the Atlantic, not from India.

            Secondly, Indian bullion was proportionally more valuable (couldn’t you at least find the number? Neither of your links had it; it wasn’t difficult) ; at least in the early years. But that didn’t really start until about 1790, by which point industrialisation is well underway. Much less than £1M or so a year flowed to the exchequer….against a GDP of £130M. That proportion would grow more slight through the middle of the next century. Industrialisation was not dependent on bullion inflows of <1% of GDP.

            In short, your timings are all far too late and the economic rents extracted far too small to support your argument.

            Conquering India was certainly good for England, but ultimately just not required for industrialisation.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            I notice you have no links to your claims, but no matter

            However I must contradict your assertion again

            I have found information contradicting many of your claims, for example placing the Bullion shipments as having really taken effect in 1780

            That would have placed it right at the early stages of the Textile Manufacture industrialization

            Contradicting your claim that India’s bullion did not finance the Revolution.

            Your other claim that 18th Century Industrialization did not depend on Indian Cotton is also false

            I have found information that points out that prior to 1840 it was Indian Cotton that British were dependent on, however by 1840 India could not supply the necessary cotton needed, and that was when the American south took over (until the 1880’s when Indian Production surged due to growth in cultivation)

            This invalidates your other claim that Indian cotton did not provide the necessary raw materials.

            So that would invalidate your assertion that India was not required for industrialization

          • Weaver

            Well, I noticed your last post had no numbers OR links. I really don’t think 1780 or 1790 will make much difference, do you? Seriously? That’s your argument? 10 years earlier makes a difference?

            I stand by my numbers, Average EIC £700k net profit from taxation in India in the period 1790 to 1840. Not all of that goes to treasury, or capital investment.


            1780 GDP is £138M. Its a tiny proportion of GDP.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            EIC wealth wasn’t just made from taxation of India. A huge amount was due to its trade policy by opening India’s market without any tariff or protectionism, it was able to flood the market with british goods at a lower price than the domestic indian producers. So their wealth flow was two fold.

          • Weaver

            Good; we’re making progress here. We can now rule out EIC tax revenues as being significant to the UK economy. Nice to have, of course, but certainly not huge.

            Let’s then turn to the 2nd factor you identify for rents; the captive Indian market. This actually takes 2 parts; cheap imports and a captive export market. Let’s see what the numbers have to say, shall we?

            Part 1: Cheap imports of raw cotton?

            Now, my sources say that American cotton from 1790-ish, , being cleaner and stronger, was the majority import from the early years of the 19th century and utterly dominant by the middle. Liverpool is the principal cotton port from 1795, after all.


            Here’s an excellent source for data in the rest of this post.


            See table 1: The vast majority of UK raw cotton imports are US cotton in the post 1820, with US cotton dominating from 1800 onwards period. In peak year of Indian share: around 1790, Indian cotton imports (benefitting from high prices) are about £1M, of which an absolute maximum of £750K is rents based on differential Indian and UK pricing (Table 12). In practise, only a small fraction of this would be rents, perhaps a few hundred k at best.

            Perhape Indian piece work or semi finished cotten? Well, now see Table 3(b). Note the huge discrepancy between the value of piece imports from India and export values from UK. Nearly all the value added is higher in the value chain of UK manufacture, not Indian raw material, which is a point I alluded to earlier. This is a very common economic phenomena, and you should not be surprised by it. Rents here? Perhaps a few £100K/year in the import / re-export gap, for a decade or two.

            Hence the EIC monopsony rents from cheap Indian cotton imports (raw and piece) were modest compared to the emerging UK textile industry, let alone wider industry. Certainly less than £1M per year for the best period of around 1790, and declining thereafter. Nice to have, but insignificant compared to UK GDP of > £140M.

            We can discount these rents as a major factor in industrialisation.

            Part 2. Captive Indian market rents?

            See table 4 in the above source. UK penetration of the Indian market is tiny until the mid-part of the 19th century (<5%). Indian domestic manufacture loses its export market from 1790, but continues to satiate local Indian demand until UK productivity advantage and transport costs defeat them from 1850 onwards.

            Vast majority of UK textile exports go to Europe and the US in the early years of the 19th century. The captive Indian market is not exploited until 1850 onwards, at which point, of course, its value is eclipsed by the second industrial revolution and a massive UK GDP.

            We can discount these rents as a major factor in industrialisation.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            No I would argue that both combined, the tax as well as the market monopoly were significant together, enough to provide the necessary capital.

            The fact that it was not dominant is not critical (also your link is for the 1800s, not late 1700s), the critical issue is the profits that EIC could make off of the market.

            As my earlier sources pointed out, the benefit to British with pouring their textiles into India was the lack of barriers. EIC prevented any tariff on british goods.

            The ability to export textiles to India without any barriers allowed them to net an excellent profit margin, and coupled with its taxes, they were able to generate great wealth.

            As I linked in am earlier comment that wealth was something that Britain became heavily reliant on.

            By the time the American cotton surpassed the Indian cotton Production, the industrial revolution was already well under way. India’s cotton had already provided the necessary input to get the revolution off the ground.

            Your linked content doesn’t really contradict my points, but they are good reads, after my review for the Auditing and Attestation exam is done I’ll enjoy really delving into them, thanks.

          • Weaver

            Firstly, thank you for the civility of your reply. I’m sure we can find areas of mutual interest and enlightenment.

            “No I would argue that both combined, the tax as well as the market
            monopoly were significant together, enough to provide the necessary capital.”

            Good. OK, let’s do more maths; we’ve got most of the figures we need already. Circa 1790. The year of peak Indian significance, give or take, and the only one “early” enough to make a difference to UK industrialisation, OK?

            Tax Take

            ~700k MAX

            (certainly lower than this average yield, as in early period before all rights acquired, tax farmers active, and only a minority of tax goes back to investment anyway)

            Cotton imports monopsony rents

            ~120K raw cotten + 155K piece, MAX

            (See table 12. of Broadbury-Gupta previously. Indian prices barely change from pre EIC to post EIC dominance, in fact rising slowly due to endogenous pressures; the prices seem decoupled from US and UK time series. If there are rents here, they are slight; perhaps 1 or 2 d per lb. Let’s say half of the 28 M lb of cotton in the mid-1790’s is Indian, and the rest Egyptian, Brazil US, Portugal, and importantly West Indies. This is again, very generous (13M is from West Indies alone – Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism By Sven Beckert) That puts total rents at 2d x 14M ~= 120K.

            See table 3B for peice work. Note that EIC preferred to send out finished piece and yarn rather than cotton: with transport costs significant, it made sense to send the more expensive cloth. As previously, there’s £2,800K of UK import and re-exports from India, already dwarfed by £3,800K of domestic UK manufacture added-value. How much is captured as rents? Here is the excellent Gupta again, in another paper.


            The paper argues strongly against significant monopsony rents. See table 4. Typical asking price gap was ~25% in 1790 pf around 12s, and monopsony rents insofar as they existed would be a fraction of this (shall we say half?). But in turn piece prices in India were only a fraction of their value when imported into the UK; about 1/3rd, in fact. So generously, 50% x 25% x 12s x 2,200K pieces ~=3,300k S or £155K.

            Most of the gain in value was trade not extortion/monopsony (though a lot of EIC nastiness to the weavers certainly happened, it doesn’t account for much of the total value of trade).

            Cotton export monopoly rents
            ~ Negligible !


            See table 4, above. The UK has less than 0.1% of Indian market in 1810. We can entirely discount its presence 2 decades earlier. UK textile exports go almost entirely to Europe, Africa, US. The Indian domestic market is only captured from the mid 19th century, as British industrialisation finally lowers TPF sufficiently to defeat Indian weavers on their home turf. The Indian export market in 1790s is irrelevant for UK industrialisation.

            In sum total 1790’s EIC rents come to approx 700 (max) + 120 + 155 ~= £1M per annum against a GDP of £140M. .

            This is their relative peak. EIC rents decline rapidly as a share of GDP from the early years of the 19th century. I have made very generous assumptions and I really think these numbers are pretty decisive. Its a tidy sum that will build individual fortunes, but its slight at best in the story of industrialisation.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Your last point is key

            It was a tidy sum that could make fortunes and provide the necessary capital to get industrialization off the ground.

            The two things are not mutually exclusive ideas. It need not be a massive part of British GDP at that moment in time in order to provide the necessary amount to mean the difference between industrialization vs non industrialization.

          • Weaver

            By the way, as you probably don’t know the difference between a smoothbore musket and a cuirass, it may help you to understand just how badly India was outclassed in its military-industrial
            organisation, as much as its inferior technology. Despite their vast ppopulation and interior line advantages, the Maratha’s were ultimately as hapless as the Aztecs before Cortes.

            Indian science and technology in 1700 was far inferior to
            European in metallurgy, shipbuilding, chemistry, astronomy, optics,
            agriculture, civil administration, power engineering, timekeeping, finance, physics, mathematics, and crucially military technology and tactics. Hopelessly eclipsed by the scientific revolution sweeping Europe, what did the Mughal’s or Marathan confederacy know about the properties of the vacuum or the steam engine? What could they put in the water that couldn’t be vapourised by any European ship of the line?

            Against all this I suppose you can set a mostly manual-power textile industry….

          • Avinash Tyagi

            You think India would have lagged for long if it had not been conquered?

            It would have eventually unified and pushed ahead. Growth in its indigenous economy would have provided the necessary capital for its own advances.

            The Brits aborted that and through their actions left India an economic husk from which it is still recovering.

          • Weaver

            Well, it had been falling behind Europe since at least 1450….

            But I see you like the romance of the counter-factual to the actual history. India was conquered because it was comparatively primitive compared to Europe. And it had been for a long time.

            Get over it. It happened Maybe not all of our ancestors are quite as illustrious as we would like them to be. So what? You’re here, now, stand on your own merits and acheivements, not what your fathers did.

            And deal with history as it is rather than as you would like it to be. I don’t spend my time whining about how the Roman or Norman conquests snuffed out a brilliant Celtic and later Anglo Saxon civilisation who were, in some unquantified way, morally or economically superior to the invaders but who lost for some strange reason….

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Really, we’ve already established that even as late as 1750, it was at least equal to all of Europe combined.

            That’s not behind, nor is that primitive.

            You don’t get to be the biggest or second biggest economy by being primitive or behind.

            Nice try though

          • Weaver

            We’ve establised approximate equality in size of polity, factionalism, and overall economy, your preferred explanation for Indian defeat. Not in technology and science and social organisation, my preferred explation for Indian defeat.

            In all honesty, I suspect you know how inferior Indian science and tech and social organisation was to Europe by 1750. Perhaps you don’t have the history of science, or warfare, but you’re not an idiot, and I think you know this. I also think you’re smart enough to appreciate the difference between absolute GDP and GDP/capita as a measure of economic sophistication (and not too bad for India, actually).

          • Avinash Tyagi

            You make some good points, but there are still flaws in your argument, first I’ll discuss the one point I contradict, then the second point where I agree, with a caveat.

            First is the argument that on a per capita basis India was worse off, I have to contradict you.

            On a per Capita Basis, India and Europe were not that far apart

            India’s population was about 125 Million in 1750

            “The population of the Indian subcontinent, which was about 125 million in 1750”


            Europe was 163 million in 1750


            we’ve already established that world GDP in 1750 had India and Europe at around the same level of world GDP.

            That means on a per capita Basis India was on par or perhaps even better than Europe.

            Now that I’ve contradicted one of your points, I actually agree with another one, with a caveat.

            On the issue of Science and Tech, I actually agree with you that Europe was ahead in 1750. That much is true, but there is a caveat, it alone cannot account for the conquering of India.

            Because had India been a unified nation, as opposed to a bunch of disunified kingdoms, the edge that europe had in technology would have been negated, due to India’s population and the fact that Europe’s population would not have been able to be brought to bear against India, India as a unified nation would have been able to defeat the EIC armies, albeit with high causalities.

            Europe’s technology was not so far ahead that it would have been able to negate the population disparity.

            The key factor that made India ripe for the plucking was that it was divided, so the more advanced military of the UK was able to defeat the smaller kingdoms separately.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Wrong, without India you wouldn’t have mathematics, Algebra, the concept of zero and other mathematical concepts came from India originally, and traveled to the Arabs and eventually Europe.

            Modernity would not have been possible without Indian Mathematics.

            And that’s only one small piece of Indian contribution to modernity.

          • Weaver

            Calm down; no-one is ignoring the very large Indian contribution to modernity….we recognise you’re one of the great civilisations too.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            I’m not claiming you are, I’m claiming some like Augustine are

          • AugustineThomas

            Many great heathen civilizations made incredible contributions, but because they lacked Christ’s wisdom their societies remained mired in brutality and thus stagnant. No one is denying that India was a great civilization; much greater than the pagan wasteland that was Europe before Christianity empowered it to build modernity and lead the rest of the world, including India, out of heathenism to a degree.
            Look at contemporary India. It is absolutely plagued by poverty. The happiest residents in India are Christian and Christianity has a long history in India.
            There’s a reason that the untouchables risk being murdered or tortured by heathen Hindus to become Christian. Christianity is superior because it is the True Religion.
            All who become Christian, whether Indian or European, are far better off than remaining a part of a heathen religion, whether European forms of paganism, Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. or the contemporary, heathen religion that secularists have recently established.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Wrong on all counts.

            The wealthiest and best off in India are mostly Hindu. The most powerful are Hindu. Christianity doesn’t make people happier or better off, so that is wrong.

            As for strongest, even after Europe became Christian, India was still wealthier.

            India was still the largest economy in 1700. Larger than all of Western Europe combined. This was long after Europe became Christian.

            So the Idea that Christianity made Europe stronger is wrong. It was weaker than India.

            It was only after the British took over india that india became poor. Going from the world’s largest economy to a small economy.

            It was Christianity that made india poor. That stole from India.

            The British took over and were able to rob India of resources and wealth because India was divided into many small kingdoms.

            You Christians were thieves. The Christian Britt took advantage of the fact that India was divided into many small Kingdoms and stole it’s wealth.

            So I’m afraid you’re wrong, on all the issues.

            The best off in India are not Christian.

            Christianity did not make Europe wealthier than India.

            And it was Christianity, not Hinduism that made India poor, Christians that robbed and stole from India.

          • AugustineThomas

            India was so strong. That is why it was conquered by a tiny Christian island?
            You’re living in a fantasy world. India has the highest number of people living in poverty of any nation in the world except China and actually has the highest rate of poverty of any nation in the world. It is helped immensely by Christians from other countries and from India doing charity.
            The wealthiest few, who live off the backs of poor, abused Indians, might be Hindu, but, again, there’s a reason that the poor people in India want to become Christian and are much better off living as Christians than as Hindus. Hindus have heathenish beliefs that make some men into subhumans. Christianity teaches that all men are children of God and infinitely valuable.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            India is in poverty because of the British.

            India was one of the wealthiest regions before the British conquered.

            Christians made it worse not better. Went from wealthy to impoverished.

            India was strong but divided, that’s why they were conquered.

        • Avinash Tyagi

          The technological singularity will eventually allow us to transcend flesh and the cage of the material universe

          • AugustineThomas

            I’m sorry I just passed out and have only recently awoken after reading that absurd comment.
            You should convert from your Singularity Cult to the True Religion of Christianity.
            Secularists cherish their fantasies, but no consciousness will ever be downloaded and all humans will continue to die.
            God bless you!

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Only once you realize that Vishnu is God will you understand the truth.

            Remember Jesus is only a son of god, Vishnu IS God.

          • AugustineThomas

            Jesus is God the Son. Vishnu is one of many false gods created by heathens. There’s a reason that Christians, inspired by Christ’s wisdom, created modernity and added thirty years to the lives of all people including heathens who follow false religions while cultures that have embraced false religions have remained heathenish.
            You should thank Christ that he inspired humanity to improve the world. Otherwise the countries that follow heathenish, false religions would be even more backward, as they were before they were led toward modernity by Christians.

          • Avinash Tyagi

            Nope, India was actually better off before the Christians came, after the British conquered India became impoverished. Before they had per capita wealth at a similar level to Europe at the time.

    • BlueBoomPony

      Typical geek reaction. Someone trods on your faith, so they must be a complete Luddite advocating a return to some horrible pre-tech existence.

      I think the Singularity is the Rapture for geeks, and about as likely, and I design communication satellites for a living.

      • Chris Bordeman

        What a dumb comparison. The Rapture is pure religion, a product of faith, not evidence.

        The Singularity is an technological inevitability, a simple, extrapolation of history and current events. Barring an Islamic takeover of the world, AI will continue to improve. One day it will be advanced enough to improve on its own design, and that creates a feedback loop called the technological singularity.

        Our only hope to control it is that we can embed into this intelligence heavy guiding weights, the same sorts of pro-social behaviors that evolved in the human genome as a crucial part of our survival. Stuff like valuing life, free will, the concept of fairness, empathy, and generally avoiding conflict when possible. Only someone is going to create their own AI that won’t have those weights. But as little we are able to understand how even current, primitive AIs come to their answers, I don’t expect we’ll be successful in creating a ‘moral’ AI.

        Anyway, back to the subject, the only assumption here is that the economic, military, and social incentives to let AI improve itself will be overwhelming and uncontrollable by any entity. And it’s a safe one, based once again, on evidence.

        • AugustineThomas

          You’re a lunatic who believes he’s a self-creating man-god or else one of his ancestors POOF appeared from thin air. Shut up or move to North Korea so you can live in an atheist utopia!

      • Chris Bordeman

        Evolutionary biologists understand evolution than the average young earth Creationist.

        Climate scientists understand climate change far better than any Muslim Imam.

        AI researchers, programmers, and technical professionals understand technology on a much deeper level than the average Candy Crushing, Apple loving luddite.

        • AugustineThomas

          Most secularists are complete idiots in all but one subject, but too stupid to realize it.
          You’re not the first morons who thought they were gods (Nazis, Communists, Rosie O’Donnell, Nancy Pelosi, etc.)

          • Chris Bordeman

            You’re not crazy. Don’t listen to the voices.

          • AugustineThomas

            You’re right. I’m not crazy. The people who are crazy are the ones who justify baby murder and population suicide with “science”.

      • AugustineThomas

        Yet another engineer. Good at staring at computer screens all day and doing the grunt work so the rest of us can enjoy technology, while being such an idiot you’re too stupid to realize how little you know about everything else.
        For instance your precious technology, which you worship, wouldn’t exist if not for Christians. Ignorant ingrate.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Plenty of software that can write articles like this. Plenty of software that can write bad novels. The next one we can call Bryan Appleyard.

    • Dryermartinithanyours

      I think, Terrence Patrick Hewett, you’ve hit on the point of the article. The essence of experience is a strange combination of self-awareness, intelligent objectivity, intelligent subjectivity and compassion, love of life, and love of one another. Forever separated from nature yet never entirely separate, closer to intellectual and also emotional enlightenment. While machines might be able to mimic novels or articles or play the violin “better” than the best performers, we write and read novels and articles and play the violin for a reason. Einstein famously said that we might be able to describe everything scientifically, including a Beethoven symphony as a series of variations in wave pressure, but the description would have no meaning. It seems the modern Geek is no Einstein. As for the ability to use IT for research and all manner of good things, no argument. But just as in the 19th and early 20th centuries when the machine was idolized as setting us free from work and want, including the want of work, to relish being set free of mental work, yet also something deeper, a separation from feeling, is a strange sentiment. That being Bryan’s point, and we hope you can see it. That we can simultaneously rise above all the idiotic and obtuse people and leave them in their contemptible pig sty with their brutality and superstition is a lovely thought, but they and their idiocies are not really at issue in this particular debate.

      • terence patrick hewett

        I’m sure you are right: but when we automation engineers were busy putting millions of oiks out of work, not a peep from the chatterati did we hear. But now we are targeting those further up the pecking order we get all the hand-wringing. To us it’s just the proto-machines of the third industrial revolution and we will adapt to them as we adapted before. What actually makes me laugh out loud is that they think that their fear and pain is of a higher order than a factory worker replaced by a machine. I suppose it is some compensation for after having spent thousands in gold and years slaving in university we get to put you all out of work. The revenge of the “geeks” “nerds” and “boffins” and “techies”?

        • Dryermartinithanyours

          Terence, I think that’s real grist for the mill. The chatterati did have quite a lot to say, and not just folks on the negative side like Kurt Vonnegut (read ‘Cat’s Cradle’, but then, that’s all quackery and fiction. The rest of the chatterati were talking up the virtues of automation. In 2002 through 2006 we drafted a book proposal called ‘Liberal Fascism: The Politics on Meaning’ which articulated how from the 1920s fascism and communism were as pro-tech as you are today. It was forwarded to Goldberg et al in DC in 2005. Look it up. This from someone who spent much of their career working in IT central for the largest IT companies. The communists and fascists made technology as much of a virtue as you do today. They were very much central to the chatterati. Read more widely, speak with people,

          • terence patrick hewett

            I am a professional engineer: I don’t make a virtue of the historical progress of science: I observe as a particular phenomenon. We can no more stop the Third Industrial Revolution as we could stop the Second or the First: and this involves a whole spectrum of technologies not just IT.

            How right C P Snow was when he proclaimed in his lecture The Two Cultures:

            “If the scientists have the future in their bones, then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.”

            Similar reactions were observed after the first and second industrial revolutions: and just as ineffective.

            It is this smallness of vision, the narrowness of intellect, the simple lack of courage and curiosity that is of interest.

      • AugustineThomas

        You’re going to live a pretty meaningless life if you’re always too stupid to realize that you’re just as broken as the people you look down on. (That tip is free. I’m going to charge you for the next one.)

        • Dryermartinithanyours

          Hi, are you replying to me, Terence, or both?

  • Matthew Middleton

    You had me until that last statement. Not everyone feels the need to “fill in the gap with faith.” Personally, I accept that there are parts of the universe I have no clue about, and likely never will. I don’t need to believe in some deity/deities to deal with that.

    In fact, I’m not convinced that all people who are religious/spiritual even feel that their faith fills in a gap per se; after all, isn’t “God’s plan” mysterious and unknowable to us? Doesn’t that leave gaps too?

    • AugustineThomas

      Right. You believe in the most ridiculous nonsense humanity has ever produced: atheism!

      • Matthew Middleton

        Interesting – your god has granted you psychic abilities, allowing you to read the contents of my mind? Wow, guess I should convert ASAP!

        Seriously though, most of the atheists I know don’t think of themselves as “self-creating man-gods”. Pretty sure most of them recognize that we are all physical, mortal beings, initially created through understandable biological processes.

  • WS Warthog

    Extremely lazy criticism. You spend not much more than a single sentence on whether Kurzweil or AGI-researchers in general have good reasons for expecting the AGI problem to be tractable, but have thought-stopping condemnatory psychological analysis in spades. One could just as easily suggest that you have your own “religious” impulses of fallacious naturalism and reflexive luddism.

  • Liberty

    But you have not made an argument against the projected exponential development of technology. Do you not think that technology develops exponentially when the evidence is eveywhere? What about just IT from writing around 10,000bc, the alphabet about 5000bc, printing 1450ad, electronic IT in 1947 and the internet around 1980? Is this not exponential? Why should this not continue?

    I believe it will continue because:

    Technology develops exponentially because we use the best technology to develop the next, and the next again – and so on. The driver now is IT.

    All technology is becoming IT. Anything could be done with powerful enough IT; R&D is key. It used to take decades [sometimes centuries] for ideas to be copied or R&D to be applied but now it can be the same day or hour anywhere in the world. Over the next ten years we can expect researchers and practitioner to upload data from R&D to the cloud for analysis by AI systems millions of times more powerful than now with results and guidance available in real time. The productivity gain from almost simultaneous feedback, design and advice on whole populations is trillions fold greater than now. IT now permeates everything we do and its potential power is unlimited.

    The power of IT is relative to the number of calculations per cm cubed/ sec. Conventional IT will double in power per £ pa [when considering Moore’s law AND software] due to 3d, photonic, algorithmic and other innovations until quantum IT that at least doubles the number of values per bit instead of adding one per bit [a 1000 bits currently would have 1000 values but 1000 quantum bits would have around 2 to the power of 1000 values – more values than there are atoms in the universe] emerges after about 2025 which will enable technological development to accelerate dramatically faster.

    Doubling in power pa is a thousand fold increase in ten years, a million in twenty and a billion in thirty not counting the effects of mass production. An ordinary phone is a billion times as powerful per £ than the most powerful computer in the world circa 1965 but there was only one of them but billions of phones. A phone is now a multifunction tool, connected to the internet with 100s of 1000s of apps available. The same has happened with millions of other technologies.

    This process is unstoppable.

    • Weaver

      Information density and processor speeds appears to be near-exponential. Other basic technologies are not advancing at the same speed. Energy storage density, material tensile and sheer strengths, thermal insulation, magnetic field density, antibiotic effectiveness, etc, etc. Your engineering colleagues in other fields are not quite so sanguine.

      • Liberty

        True, there are bottlenecks. But they then get more investment because the returns on removing bottlenecks increase as the other technologies develop; there have been many in the past but all overcome.

        • Weaver

          Let us be optimistic. The question is still not “if” but “how long”….

          Also, technologies can have exponential growth periods and then flatten again. Projection is treacherous.

        • BlueBoomPony

          Sometimes the bottlenecks are the physical laws of nature. What then?

          • Liberty

            Such as?

          • BlueBoomPony

            The thermal issues are a big one. You can google lots of info on it. Start with general processor versus FPGA trade spaces.

          • Liberty

            Such as?

          • Chris Bordeman

            Physical laws are bottlenecks? More like an opportunity to do something new.

            They were saying that about thermal issues and transistors a few years ago, now they’ve figured out how to make them out of single atoms, reducing power consumption by orders of magnitude. And there are several other new computing designs coming to fruition that no one in the mainstream was thinking about a few years ago.

    • Vehmgericht

      Moore’s Law is about to hit the wall. Nice try but no cigar.

      • Liberty

        Not true. Moore was referring to flat integrated curcuits which is just one phase of development. There will be others. In development are 3d curcuits, photonic and quantum based systems. We don’t know what will follow on after them.

        • Chris Bordeman

          And self assembling chips. There are so many awesome next-gen chip technologies coming in the next few years.

          Memory speed is the biggest bottleneck to computing power these days. When DDR4 RAM becomes mainstream in another two years, that will nearly double performance on its own. Unfortunately, memory is designed by committee these days…

        • shaurz

          What if none of these hypothetical technologies pan out? The laws of physics will eventually put a hard limit on how much computation is possible per mm^2 and per joule.

    • Alan Carr

      Yeah, but you forgot one thing….


      The more powerful our computers the more bloated and inefficient the software running them. Soon we will need at least 100 gigabytes of RAM to look at a 1 MB image file….

      We’re going backwards!

      • Liberty

        Untrue. Software develops just as fast as existing software is used to develop their successors. SW at least doubles the power of the hardware.

        • AugustineThomas

          I’m not sure how really fast computers with a lot of memory leads you to believe that computers are going to become godlike. They’re only as smart as the programmers who program them. You’re assuming we’re soon going to invent computer programs capable of coding at light speed. I find that highly dubious. Please explain to me how you code a computer to understand what to do in the future. It takes so long to even code basic programs that work decently, but we’re going to build these godly computer programs in a few decades?
          You’re going to be disappointed the rest of your life to find that computer programs are still essentially dumb and are more useful for grunt work than thinking creatively for us. (The best they’re going to do is brilliantly perform a task some human has programmed them to do. The brilliance will still come from the human programmer, not the machine.)

      • Chris Bordeman

        Yes, but the computer will understand it instantly and more thoroughly than any human, and that 100GB RAM will cost 50 cents. 😀

  • PandorasBrain

    Once again Appleyard confuses with venom with logic. Weak article.

    • Quixotically@outlook.com

      I should have just said this. Bang on the money.

  • teledyn

    I think you could delete that last paragraph and have a much better article. As Izumi alludes below, the fundamental purpose of any religion is not to actually *be* right, but to inspire, to create a cohesive group of believers who will submit themselves to a “higher cause” and so allow themselves to coordinate in creating something beyond what they might ever hope to create alone. Religions *are* a technology, a social technology, and while you single out the Singularitarians, before them the geeks aligned with the Church of the Sub-Genius to worship ‘slack’ (aka “doing things so efficiently, you needn’t do nearly anything at all) and it’s pipe-smoking clip-art figure-head. There’s the Pastafarians too, very prominent among the geeks although not nearly the religious fever of, say, Trekkies or the self-styled Jedi.

    Of COURSE what Kurtzweil spouts is absurd, he probably knows it, but he knows also that we get to the stars by steering the ship, and you have to at least *think* you know where you’re going, and sell that same myth to your crew. Singularity believers have done great things in their quest, and as with any quest, they don’t really expect to hold the Grail but they do rightfully expect to elevate themselves *and* humanity in their trying.

  • Brad Arnold

    What a distortion of Transhumanism and the Singularity. Nice to see Mr Appleyard wears his opinions on his sleeves for everyone to see.

    Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international cultural and intellectual movement with an eventual goal of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance humanintellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethics of developing and using such technologies. They speculate that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman”. – Wikipedia

    The technological singularity, or simply the singularity, is a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature. Because the capabilities of such an intelligence may be difficult for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is often seen as an occurrence (akin to a gravitational singularity) beyond which the future course of human history is unpredictable or even unfathomable. -Wikipedia

    • Chris Bordeman

      “The technological singularity, or simply the singularity, is a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence.”

      In predicting World Cup matches, Microsoft’s Cortana has already exceed the human intelligence in one area by correctly guessing every single match this year. As nearly all computer scientists will tell you (and we are the ones who know AI), the “Singularity” is virtually an inevitability.

  • George Allegro

    Your steady beacon in the ever-shifting fog of illusions conjured up by today’s liberals and progressives: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878

  • coffeeHouse1982

    Without centralized control, it is impossible to force people to chase illusions such as “fair” income distribution and “social justice”.

    • Chris Bordeman

      These things aren’t illusions, they are positive concepts built directly into our genetic makeup. Even monkeys have been shown in experiments to as a group favor ‘fair’ behavior and eschew members who don’t reciprocate generosity. As for “Income redistribution” and “social justice,” they’re just extensions of basic fairness, though sometimes quite misguided.

      • hyphenatedamerican

        In other words, liberal “social justice” is purely animalistic, basic instinct. Correct?

        • Chris Bordeman

          No. A great deal lot more intellectual thought has gone into it than that.

          • hyphenatedamerican

            It’s not the effort that matters, it’s the result. And the result of all that “intellectual thought” is still basic envy of someone who achieved more than others.

          • Chris Bordeman

            Well, that’s one interpretation. Another is your resentment of having to be nice to others as part of society. There are a great many benefits to keeping income inequality down, though I would agree the way liberals go about it causes so many problems and their emotionality sometimes overwhelms their judgment. But that goes both ways on this subject.

            For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit, while deceptively named, at least incentivizes work pretty effectively. It’s the right, relatively cheap way to reduce inequality. But people like Rush and Hannity have gotten people so worked up against it because of the inane name that upping the EITC is off the table, instead favoring things like food stamps, never ending ‘unemployment insurance,’ SSI, and many other forms of social welfare that discourage work and encourage criminality.

            Of course, the liberals have many more stupid positions on economic issues than do economic conservatives, but the point is that knee jerk reactions like yours are often incredibly counterproductive to your own goal.

          • hyphenatedamerican

            “Well, that’s one interpretation. Another is your resentment of having to be nice to others as part of society.”
            But we are not debating whether I should be nice to other people or not. The fundamental issue we are discussing is how much of the money I earned you can take a gun point and give to the people who did nothing to earn it. There is a clear “knee jerk reaction like yours” to ignore the actual facts, and pretend that reality is optional.
            And the claim that taking from the people who earned, and give to people who did not is somehow noble, and nice, and concoct stupid theories that that would decrease ill-defined “inequality” is silly.
            BTw, if you want to incentivize work, lets get rid of Medicaid and welfare/foodstamps/subsidized housing. This is much better and more effective than bribing people for working with other people’s money.

          • Chris Bordeman

            I used to be like you. Looking back, I was so close minded.

          • hyphenatedamerican

            Ad hominem is not a logical argument. But I guess the liberals don’t get it.

  • The Singularity has nothing religious about it. Computer power is both good and evil. It’s a tool. Tech that can help extend the quality of life is good (in my opinion). More weapons of mass destruction is bad (in my opinion) and the enhanced capacity of the government to track your every move is a mixed blessing depending upon the nature of the government.

    The singularity has nothing in common with a religion. It’s a study of technology and human beings interaction with it. Pacemakers and penicillin are human inventions that help prolong and enhance life. I think that’s a good thing. Cybernetics is just the next stage: if you have a failing heart and it’s replaced by a mechanical pump are you less human? No. Now lets replace you kidney, spleen, lungs, knees: are you any less human? No (In my opinion.)

    There is nothing religious about it.

    • BlueBoomPony

      Except you aren’t describing the Singularity as it is perceived by many geeks. It’s not about basic, useful tech for medical purposes.

      It’s the idea that we will create machine intelligence (using AI and/or interconnected biological brains) and that the Intelligence will then create better Machines to the point where the tech becomes godlike and we are either destroyed or absorbed or… something. There’s different sects on what exactly happens.

      It is absolutely religious type faith in something that the laws
      of physics, basic neurology and other scientific fields stand in
      opposition to.

      Just Google it. This crap is all over the place. It’s part of the personality disorder cesspit that geek culture has become over the years.

      • I’ve been reading Kurzweil since the 90s. I’m in the tech world. I comment on the Singularity website and other tech site. Just about everyone I work with knows about Kurzweil. Are there wackos out there that you could quote? Yes. Of course.But there are wackos in politics (both left and right) and in organized religion as well.

        For the most part tech is not godlike – what people are interested in, fascinated by, and a little fearful of is what happens when AI is developed and it too expands at an exponential rate?

        Computers, if we continue at this pace will be 1000x faster (more powerful) in about 20 yrs and 1,000,000 more powerful in about 40.

        In 1990 you would spend about $200 for a 20 MG external harddrive now you can 3 TB for about $150. That’s a million fold increase in about 25 years.

        So. Imagine true AI in 20 years – what about 20 years later when it’s a one thousand times more advanced?

        Thinking about this – the advantages (medical, exploration, life expentancy) and the disadvantages (increased destructive and surveillance power) does not mean that you consider yourself or the cybernetic implants to be “godlike”. For some people though, the only way to describe (or to conceive) or living for 1000s of years in good physical conditional is magical or god-like.

        • AugustineThomas

          You’re living in a fantasy and you’re going to put your soul in danger with that nonsense.

      • Chris Bordeman

        That’s ridiculous. A point where AI exists and can begin to improve on its own design is NOT against any “laws of physics, neurology, or any other scientific field” whatsoever (if you think so, you should be specific). It is, in fact, the only conceivable end to our ever increasingly rapid technological improvements.

        People are allowed to have theories on how this will play out without having their opinions reduced to silly straw men “sect” talk. No one pretends to know for certain what all this will lead to or how it will look (good/evil, part of us/wholly separate), but we can and should make predictions in hope of guiding it to a favorable outcome. AI is too dangerous not to be thinking about this stuff.

    • AugustineThomas

      You’re right: the singularity is garbage and pure nonsense. The Christian religion built modernity and gave you your freedom and technology. (You’re an ignorant ingrate.)

      • Not sure what you’re referring to.

        I was saying that the Singularity is not a moral/ethical/religious anything. A hammer, penicillin, and computers are tools which can be used for good or evil but in and of themselves they are neither good nor bad.

        The singularity refers to a point when computers, bio-tech (pacemakers, gene therepy solving diseases) and AI create a point when humans have eradicated most diseases, are no longer tied to this planet … and other technology related futures.

        Technology (whether a hammer or a computer) is neither good nor bad and is not a replacement of ethics or morality or God.

        • AugustineThomas

          It still sounds like nonsense the way most proponents describe it.

          • Yes it is and part of the problem is our vocabulary. When you talk about the human potential of living hundreds, if not thousands of years (as we continually replace parts that break down); uploading our memories into a “computer hard drive”, etc… It sounds more and more “god-like” to people.

            This technology can be both fantastically good (the eradication of debilitating diseases) and horribly evil (an “omnipotent” state able to monitor the every move of their subjects).

            Notice my use of omnipotent – that is a term that is, for the most part reserved to use to describe the Almighty. But … it would also be appropriate to use in describing a police state where everyone and everything is monitored.

            A lot of people, especially those coming to the idea for the first time, can only describe things with words previously used for describing the Eternal.

            Now. Can you find examples of people who believe they will become gods and other such idiocies? Yes. Of course. But they do not invalidate the concept of
            Singularity anymore than religious fanatics who blow themselves up invalidate the concept “God.”

  • BlueBoomPony

    I’ve been calling out geeks on this claptrap for a while now. Geek culture is really just mind numbingly awful. And this is from a recovering ex-geek.

    • Chris Bordeman

      What, *specifically*, is “claptrap,” you say?

  • Josey Wales

    If the geeks can make progress into this field while keeping the tech biological then I say go for it. If we are destined to become machines in the “metal” sense, then I have my reservations. If only those turds would let the “black project” tech out for the masses. Imagine how we as a species could run with it.

    • AugustineThomas

      The last time we trusted people who claimed to be smarter than the religious Christians they were usurping, they called themselves Communists, and just before that, Nazis.

  • Chris Bordeman

    What a dumb comparison. The Rapture is pure religion, a product of faith, not evidence.

    The Singularity is an technological inevitability, a simple, extrapolation of history and current events. Barring an Islamic takeover of the world, AI will continue to improve. One day it will be advanced enough to improve on its own design. This doesn’t even require human level intelligence; just as Microsoft’s AI was able to predict every single World Cup match outcome, computer design is also a very specific that does not require understandin the concept of puppy cuteness.

    And that creates a feedback loop called the technological singularity. Very simple. And incontrovertible.

    Our only hope to control it is that we can embed into this intelligence heavy guiding weights, the same sorts of pro-social behaviors that evolved in the human genome as a crucial part of our survival. Stuff like valuing life, free will, the concept of fairness, empathy, and generally avoiding conflict when possible. But as little we are able to understand how even current, primitive AIs come to their answers, I don’t expect we’ll be successful in creating a ‘moral’ AI.

    In any case, even if someone is able to create a ‘nice’ AI, someone else will create a bad one. Perhaps the one who comes first will have the general intelligence necessary to wipe out all comers, but that’s unlikely I think.

    But I digress. 🙂 The only real assumption here is that the economic, military, and social incentives to let AI improve itself will be overwhelming and uncontrollable by any entity.

    Then again, it might not happen at all. In 50 years maybe we’ll all be praising Allah in caves, or maybe most of us will be radioactive ash. How many religions can allow for the possibility that they’re wrong?

    • AugustineThomas

      You are such a fool. Christians built modern science. You’re a culturally Christian atheist who’s too dumb to realize it. You’re also too dumb to realize that your own atheistic faith is far more ridiculous than the Truth, which is the Logos, Jesus Christ. God have mercy on all us moronic modern heathens.

  • Chris Bordeman

    Why do literary professionals purport to know better the future of technology than the computer scientists and AI researchers who are up to their eyeballs in it every day? Do reporters behave this way toward climate researchers? Of course not.

    • AugustineThomas

      The fundamentalist nut job “climate researchers” who constantly try to threaten people into giving them and their other leftist friends money?
      How long do those guys have to be wrong for idiots to stop trusting them?

  • Chris Bordeman

    It should be pointed out that AI doesn’t have to be more intelligent than humans to improve on its own design. Not *at* *all*. It only has to be capable of improving computer design (not even exactly ‘better than’ humans at that task, just capable of insights and improvements at a quicker pace than easily-tired, easily distracted humans). That’s not remotely as difficult as generalized intelligence.

    And this is why non-professionals should stay out of our field.

  • Bob Stauskas

    Since liberty enables the freedom to fail, it is rather common that the results from our own use of liberty leave us unsatisfied.

  • Jeff

    As someone who is not very familiar with, but is curious about the Singularity, I find this to be a very flimsy and unconvincing critique.

    • AugustineThomas

      As someone who thinks the idea is completely idiotic, I hope you find a deeper philosophy which leads you to the truth about Jesus Christ.
      Anything is better than believing you’re a self-creating man-god who forgot his own self-creation and came to earth with all the theists or else one of your ancestors, at some point, for no reason, POOF appeared from thin air and started creating things (but was uncreated, even though we have so much proof of creation and no proof whatsoever of uncreation or spontaneous random creation).

  • Quixotically@outlook.com

    An article based on fear – fear of the unknown. Firstly, there are inherent dangers to the continuous acceleration of computing power. Far more than he has mentioned. I refer you to Bostrom’s ‘Paperclip maximiser’. It gives you a firm understanding of just one of the dangers.
    This universe is 13.8 billion years old. From the moment of the Big Bang, the laws which govern this universe have allowed for ever increasing complexity. From single atoms, to complex compounds, etc. From amino acids, to single cell organisms – to ourselves. Let us pray (sic) that our universe is designed (perhaps a poor choice of word) to allow this to continue because if, for some reason, we hit a ceiling, well then God help us, because we won’t be able to. We, as a species, will wither away into the annals of this universe swallowing up the last remaining resources then, eventually, ourselves. Our way forward is to reach a point in the future where we have the ability to transform the matter of the universe into substrates and beautiful forms of intelligence.
    This is my own opinion here: the only way forward is to merge with technology, creating a bridge between humans and the potential destructive powers of tech. Imagine a chip which makes you smarter. We’re not that far away. Now imagine that smarter individual designing another chip, etc. Self improvement on an almost exponential scale (as long as the laws allow it ;-)). We will Utilise its computational powers with our own ability for rational thinking, for love, for empathy. Vinge coined the the term ‘ the singularity’ because at the end of the day, no one knows what will happen the moment an intelligence reaches the point where it becomes as smart as the smartest man ever, but without the constraints of biological evolution (a computer chip can double in computational power in 18 months, a human would take millions of years – a guesstimate based on brain size). This should be a global endeavour, all countries joined together. Unfortunately it won’t be. It will be and is a race.
    The author hasn’t pointed out the real dangers of ever increasing complexity and how this also amplifies our destructive powers as well as amplifying our powers for good, empathy and love. Read people like Bostrom. Their arguments are not based on fear, but on logic.

    I’m an optimist however and really, there is no going back to the Spinning Jenny so I will leave you with this; 100 billion stars in our galaxy, 100 billion galaxies in our observable universe; our journey has just begun. I hope to see you all there. Time for a pint I think.

    • AugustineThomas

      Satan is scary.

  • Jay

    The Singularity is not ‘indeed’ a faith. It’s a type of awareness. Like global warming. You don’t *believe* in it, you are *aware* of it and its consequences, should the event occur.

    • AugustineThomas

      Hahaha! Good one!!

  • AugustineThomas

    This is what happens when you let your whole society become secularist idiots.

  • Mr_Boy

    Appleyard – go and cower in the back of your cave while the lightening strikes and
    let the rest of us make progress. I’ve seldom read such drivel, and
    completely wrong drivel at that. You cannot be as stupid as this article
    suggests, but your fear based rambling inanity is breathtaking. PZ should
    dedicate a column to the bollocks you write, it might shame you into silence.

  • Przemek Nowakowski

    I’m not sure it would happen so soon, but it is certain that technology is advancing rapidly. Some believe that machines will be smarter and more intelligent than humans. The human race is definitely unstable – produce devastating machines, lead wars, moral values ​​have been lost long time ago. Louis A. Del Monte may be right when he says that machines will perceive us in the same way as we now perceive harmful insects and animals. Just like in this comic link

  • Guest

    I’m not sure it would happen so soon, but it is certain that
    technology is advancing rapidly. Some believe that machines will be smarter and
    more intelligent than humans. The human race is definitely unstable – produce
    devastating machines, lead wars, moral values ​​have been lost long time ago.
    Louis A. Del Monte may be right when he says that machines will perceive us in
    the same way as we now perceive harmful insects and animals. Just like in this comic

  • Przemek Nowakowski

    I’m not sure it would happen so soon, but it is certain that
    technology is advancing rapidly. Some believe that machines will be smarter and
    more intelligent than humans. The human race is definitely unstable – produce
    devastating machines, lead wars, moral values ​​have been lost long time ago.
    Louis A. Del Monte may be right when he says that machines will perceive us in
    the same way as we now perceive harmful insects and animals. Just like in this comic http://www.artificial-intelligence.com/comic/14

  • Przemek Nowakowski

    Machines will view us as an unpredictable and dangerous species.
    We are unpredictable and dangerous species!
    Man created machines and now he is afraid of them. I think that people are the
    problem, not the machines. So, when machines become smarter than humans I think
    it’s going to destroy us. If this is our future, then it’s better to make the
    best of it. This story reminds me of a comic I
    read a few days ago.

  • AugustineThomas

    If not for the Church, which teaches the only True Religion, we’d all be pagans living barbaric lives or atheists and agnostics who have managed to create even more barbaric lifestyles and, in the process, become the most evil murderers in history.

    This man is a fool to try to look down on Christianity, as he represents the ideology that has led to more murder, of the born and unborn, than any other in history.

  • YellowYam

    Why don’t we just make ourselves as smart as the machine by becoming cyborgs? Perhaps smart enough not to harm each other.

    That’s what the machine will be doing anyway if we build it.

  • Tony Binca

    All of these arguments will be moot after the next great cataclysm which will be cyclic and unavoidable (and have nothing to do with religion) and will knock all the techies and superstitious types back into the stone age… or simply obliterate all of us. Then it won’t matter who’s out of work. Why don’t we all try to just enjoy life and accept each other’s differences and forget about always trying to get the last word? I have worked daily with voice recognition for years now and it never learns, even though its creators claim it does. It makes the same mistakes over and over and over because it’s not human and cannot think like a human.

  • Avinash Tyagi

    This article illustrates the problem with the Abrahamics

    Only Abrahamic religions think that by transcending flesh and bone do you do away with the spiritual, with god

    Eastern Religions realize that the body is a cage for our true selves and that transcending flesh is a requirement to advance ourselves

  • herp derperson

    You shouldn’t write an article about something you don’t know the definition of, it’s called fact checking.

  • Jason

    Why should we exalt humanity? Kurzweil’s prediction is that the distinction between living things and machines will blur. He claims that the reason people find the idea of humans becoming more machine like as dehumanizing is that we are use to the kinds of machines that we have today. If machines can heal, reproduce or even love is it still demeaning to aspire to be one? Ultimately we are machines that are biological rather than metal and plastic and have evolved naturally rather than being the products of design. I think the author of this article is mystifying biology the way he claims Singularians are mystifying technology. Maintaining our humanity is unimportant. Maintaining our compassion, sense of ethics, happiness is what is truly important. If our children are computer programs it is conceivable that they may have lives every bit as worthwhile as current human life, maybe even more so. As for the idea that trans-humanism is a religion I would say it differs in a very important way. Religions are based on faith where as trans-humanism is based on an interpretation of data a rational way. I’m not saying that Kurzweil is right or that his reasoning is perfect I just object to dismissing an idea out of hand because it bears some of the trappings of a religion. I am personally highly sceptical, at least when it comes to the timeline that Kurzweil gives. I can also see a future where this goes horribly wrong and rather than be transformed we just go extinct. Our technology could save us or kill us all. I’m not sure which will be the case.

    • TheMechanicalAdv

      What is “machine” supposed to mean? You can make up a new definition of course, but for practical purposes, calling something a “machine” implies that it has been built. The author is correct; this is a religious issue. Specifically, it’s yet another repackaging of Creationism.

      Christians are going head-over-heels denying the Singularity. I suspect they “protest too much”. This whole Strong AI thing is just part of a Christian shadow-boxing game, which it isn’t worth deigning to take seriously.

    • Edward J Baker

      A machine can not and never can make value judgments. A creature that can make value judgments can not be a machine.

  • Edward J Baker

    At the risk of sounding like a metaphysical materialist, it takes an airhead to believe in artificial intelligence. Electrical circuits in a computer are purely either/or contingent devices. They have no more capacity for value judgments, or any other type of judgment, than a light bulb has for contemplating beauty, or a television set has for comprehending the spoken word.

    There is no limit to the stupidity of a mind trying to prove its superior intelligence.