HORATIO: O day and night, but this is wondrous strange.
The Singularity – the prophesied moment when artificial intelligence leaps ahead of human intelligence, rendering man both obsolete and immortal – has been jokingly called “the rapture of the geeks.” But to Ray Kurzweil, the most famous of the Singularitarians, it’s no joke. In a profile in the current issue of Rolling Stone (not available online), Kurzweil describes how, in the wake of the Singularity, it will become possible not only to preserve living people for eternity (by uploading their minds into computers) but to resurrect the dead.
Kurzweil looks forward in particular to his reunion with his beloved father, Fredric, who died in 1970. “Kurzweil’s most ambitious plan for after the Singularity,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Kushner, “is also his most personal”:
Using technology, he plans to bring his dead father back to life. Kurzweil reveals this to me near the end of our conversation … In a soft voice, he explains how the resurrection would work. “We can find some of his DNA around his grave site – that’s a lot of information right there,” he says. “The AI will send down some nanobots and get some bone or teeth and extract some DNA and put it all together. Then they’ll get some information from my brain and anyone else who still remembers him.”
When I ask how exactly they’ll extract the knowledge from his brain, Kurzweil bristles, as if the answer should be obvious: “Just send nanobots into my brain and reconstruct my recollections and memories.” The machines will capture everything: the piggyback ride to the grocery store, the bedtime reading of Tom Swift, the moment he and his father rejoiced when the letter of acceptance from MIT arrived. To provide the nanobots with even more information, Kurzweil is safeguarding the boxes of his dad’s mementos, so the artificial intelligence has as much data as possible from which to reconstruct him. Father 2.0 could take many forms, he says, from a virtual-reality avatar to a fully functioning robot … “If you can bring back life that was valuable in the past, it should be valuable in the future.”
There’s a real poignancy to Kurzweil’s dream of bringing his dad back to life by weaving together strands of DNA and strands of memory. I could imagine a novel – by Ray Bradbury, maybe – constructed around his otherworldly yearning. Death makes strange even the most rational of minds.