Image Source: Business2Community.
Singularity experts regard ageing as a complex set of biological mechanisms which can be decoded, rebooted with stem cells, rejigged genetically, medicated, contained, redirected and even reversed. This is a literal-minded over-rationalization. Gurus like Ray Kurzweil set a date for the onset of the Singularity (the year 2045!), the way wild-eyed prophets used to arrive out of the desert to predict the end of the world. The end of the world was often a year that was almost, but not quite, over the horizon.
Perhaps ageing can be conquered by downloading human consciousness into a computer, or eased by engaging with the arts and material culture. However you choose to attack the problem, once you are out of the goldilocks zone of ages 18 to 35 - the period when the world weighs your juvenile potential and considers you to be naturally synchronized with material dynamics - the ageing process asks you one simple question about psychological agility: how much change can you take? Can you bear the emotional burden of the Singularity? What is your saturation point?
In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, the scientific unlocking of ageing biology and related diseases is fairly easily accomplished. The real challenge comes when the ultra-aged face prolonged mental distress as their brains are expected to survive beyond a normal human lifespan. After the Singularity, Robinson predicted, the eternally young will go mad. Only the most resilient will learn how to survive, and the results will not be pretty.
"A ConVairCar, Model 118 flying car during a test flight in California, November 1947. The hybrid vehicle was designed by Theodore P. Hall for the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Company of San Diego, California, but never went into production." Image Source: FPG/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY via Newsweek.
I think of this problem when I see my elderly father and his contemporaries coping with e-mail, the Web, and the banalities of a computer anti-virus scan or a Microsoft update. They are 20th century people, and while they are adapting to 21st century novelties, it is difficult for them to negotiate the landscape, to cope with the pace of change, and follow the shifts in Millennial mentality. They move slowly, and make halting decisions online. They write overly long, well-considered and grammatically correct e-mails which read like old-fashioned paper letters. For them, fifteen years ago is recent history and twenty years ago feels sort of like two years ago. For much of the younger world, that timespan encapsulates most of the birth of the modern Web.
Recent news articles pose or discuss this psychological challenge. Stay light on your feet as you navigate these waters:
- Artificial intelligence more dangerous than nukes (4 August 2014)
- Lockheed Martin's claims on fusion energy met with skepticism (21 October 2014)
- Surgeons transplant heart that had stopped beating (24 October 2014)
- Elon Musk: Demon Skynet is almost self-aware (27 October 2014)
- University of Washington study shows direct brain interface between humans (5 November 2014)
- Scientists recreate what may be life's first spark (8 December 2014)
- Quantum teleportation reaches farthest distance yet (8 December 2014)
- China to become large predator for interconnectivity businesses up to 2020 (23 December 2014)
- Politician's fingerprint cloned from photos by hacker (29 December 2014)
- Could a new proposed particle help detect Dark Matter? (29 January 2015)
- 13 horror video games not to turn your back on in 2015 (30 January 2015)
- Mummified monk in Mongolia 'not dead' say Buddhists (4 February 2015)
- Dark matter dwarf galaxy orbiting the Milky Way found (8 February 2015)
- Prosthetic limbs made by 3-D printers (8 February 2015)
- Samsung is warning customers about discussing personal information in front of their smart television sets (9 February 2015)
- Driverless car review launched by UK government (11 February 2015)
- Vint Cerf warns of digital Dark Age (13 February 2015)
- DARPA announces development of a cortical modem that taps into visual cortex to display images (15 February 2015; another report here, paving way for telepathy, telekinesis)
- The Equation Group: The crown creator of Cyber-espionage (16 February 2015)
- How the Islamic State became a branding behemoth (18 February 2015)
- Treatments to stop Alzheimer's disease one step closer (18 February 2015)
- DNA editor invented, called CRISPR: The biggest biotech discovery of the century is about to change medicine forever (18 February 2015)
- Canada wows world with new high-tech assault rifle (19 February 2015)
- Automated learning: What happens when computers, not teachers, pick what students learn? (19 February 2015)
- Fallout from Japan's nuclear disaster continues (20 February 2015)
- The case against killer robots (27 February 2015)
- Double agent: The spy who came in from al-Qaeda (3 March 2015)
- Fighter jet prosthetic: Woman controls fighter jet sim using only her mind (5 March 2015)
- Terminator-inspired 3D printer grows objects from carbon, light, oxygen and resin (17 March 2015)
- Double agent: Reports link Islamic State recruiter to Canadian embassy in Jordan (23 March 2015)
- Big Bang Theory could be debunked by Large Hadron Collider (23 March 2015)
- Ongoingness: anxiety stems from the inability to accept life as ongoing (31 March 2015)
- Flying cars are coming! But do you really want one? (5 April 2015)
- Pentagon moves more communications gear into Cheyenne Mountain (7 April 2015)
- Adjunct professors on food stamps (13 April 2015)
- First map of dark matter (13 April 2015)
- Average UK worker spends 288 hours per year writing E-mails (14 April 2015)
- These are America's most intense electronic weapons (15 April 2015)
- Stanford blockchain workshop cryptocurrency, COALA announcement (15 April 2015)
- Japanese robot welcomes shoppers (20 April 2015)
"It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits - like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits - involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding - inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention."