Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Storming Olympus

I mentioned before that Tom has been engaged in genealogical research, as well as digitizing a century's worth of family photographs and home movies. He's not the only one. Out there in Wellesley Hills, west of Boston, Ray Kurzweil is doing the same thing. Kurzweil's motive is rather more ambitious than Tom's; he has in mind resurrecting his beloved father, a conductor and concert pianist who passed away in 1970.

No kidding.

You may know of Kurzweil as the 62-year-old multimillionaire inventor who believes "the singularity is near," the tipping point when silicon-based machines become more intelligent than carbon-based people. He also famously hopes to "live forever"; that is, he wants to live long enough naturally so that science can discover a remedy for senescence and death, which he believes will happen sometime within the next few decades. And his father? Kurzweil plans to retrieve paternal DNA from the grave and -- with forever to do it -- reconstruct a clone or "facsimile" from the biological blueprint and all that digitized information -- photos, home movies, recordings, sheet music, books and documents -- his father left behind. This I learn from an issue of the Boston Phoenix which I picked it up in the college library, attracted by the headline: "IS GENIUS IMMORTAL? Tech god Ray Kurzweil is a modern-day Edison. Now he's battling to stay alive -- forever."

I'd bet Kurzweil a hundred bucks it won't happen in his lifetime, except that I won't be around to receive or pay the bet. If I was him, I'd stash away some of his own DNA, and start backing up his own brain. Is he a genius or a loony? I don't doubt that the singularity is coming; I'm less confident it's "near" -- and still less confident that it will be to humankind the greatest thing since sliced bread.

It takes a pretty big ego to want to live forever. Immortality traditionally belonged to the gods on Mount Olympus; is it now to be extended to the tech gods of Wellesley Hills? Me, I prefer to spend whatever years I have left roaming the woods and fields of Arcadia, at he base of the immortals' summit. Tom and his modest digitizing project are immortality enough for me.