Reviewing some half-dozen recent books by self-proclaimed futurists who predict a world where artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies will, in one way or another, break down the distinction between man and machine, Joseph Bottum finds little intellectual sophistication but some noteworthy commonalities:
[T]hese books are far more interesting in general than they are in particular, and the bulk of them suggests far more compelling thoughts than any one of them manages on its own.
Although the authors tend toward the happy-happy end of futurism—soon we will live like George Jetson!—they begin in outrage. It’s outrageous that our bones break and our cells fail. It’s outrageous that we have such flimsy bodies. It’s especially outrageous that we die. The indignation here is metaphysical, a fury at the human condition, and it has its root in Francis Bacon’s modernity-defining claim that science is born in rejection of the world as unchangeable.
Unfortunately, . . . instead of plowing ahead on the path that early-modern thinkers [like Bacon] pointed out, seeking to ameliorate the shocks that flesh is heir to, the new generations of computer-enamored writers seem to have taken a detour—and found themselves looping back to recreate, all unknowingly, the old hatred of the material world taught by the Gnostics of late antiquity. If it’s outrageous that our bodies fail us, then we should try to eliminate the body. If it’s outrageous that we die, then we must become immortal. If it’s outrageous that human existence is so sloppy and fragile, then the human parts of us will simply have to go. . . . [These authors share with the Gnostics a longing] to be an animal, a tree, a stone, an angel, a machine—anything but a human being.