Friday, June 20, 2014

"Rapture of the Nerds"

Gabriel Rothblatt, Terasem Pastor (Photo: Time.com)
OK, I know that human beings are curious, imaginative, love to explore and have fun, but I wasn't prepared for the article by Jessica Roy in this week's Time magazine, "Rapture of the Nerds." Being something of a nerd myself, I read this article expecting a description or a discussion of what makes nerds swoon, but instead this article talked about a "religion" that puts the spirit into machines.

Immediately, the movie Transcendence came to mind.  In that movie, just before his character dies, Johnny Depp's consciousness is uploaded into a computer and then let loose onto the internet.  Keep that in mind....

Back to nerd rapture: Roy's article explored the activity and beliefs of the followers of Terasem which combines religion with science and technology.  They create and dispatch "mindfiles" of themselves into space.  The mindfiles consist of collected thoughts, feelings, and memories recorded on video or written down.  The idea is to beam these files into space where they can encounter and be collected by other sentient beings.

This presumes, of course, that there are other sentient beings out there, and that they are, like us, listening for messages from other planets and civilizations.  Now I'm thinking of the movie Contact.  We are projecting ourselves already out into space everyday in a big way.  Wouldn't the mindfiles get lost in all the other stuff?  I wonder if other sentient beings are really looking for other civilizations?  Or are we unique in our curiosity and love for exploration?  I don't think there's any way to objectively answer these questions, and I don't have the answers anyway, but they are interesting to mull over.

As for linking religion and technology, as Terasem seems to do, I was relieved that the belief system did not make technology God or omnipotent.  We are fast making technology omnipresent, and we seem to be headed toward making it omniscient, although I question if that's possible.  Technology is only as intelligent as its most intelligent programmer, right?

Of course, there's always Hal in 2001, A Space Odyssey.  He was AI run amok and represents all our fears about the dark side of AI.  But doesn't the dark side need to be initially programmed into the AI?  Hmmmmm.  I don't know.  Does anyone out there know?

HAL 9000 with Dave (Photo: capnaux.com)
It strikes me that making mindfiles is a very time-consuming activity, and certainly very self-absorbed and self-centered.  Ahem.  I think if I were asked what I would like to send into space, I would not send anything about me personally, although I have kept a daily journal since I was 11 years old and could probably upload that.

What would I personally want an extraterrestrial sentient being to know about my life and my time alive?  I think what and whom I love are a reflection of me as a person, so I would send things representing them: photos, recorded classical music as well as music scores, a piano and a cello, a complete symphony orchestra, lots of books and movies, plays,  photos of lakes, the ocean, rivers, trees, beaches, and photos of people in my life, past and present.  No, I would not include my computer.  Maybe I would include a Rosetta-stone key to the English language, though (is there one already out there?).

What do you think?  Would you create mindfiles or not? 

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