Utah resident Justin Corwin, graciously granted ImmInst an interview to explore his thoughts on being a transhumanist singularitarian. Corwin also shares his current and future plans and what the Singularity means to him.
ImmInst: As a member of ImmInst and a regular participant in online discussion groups concerning the prospect of physical immortality and the Singularity, it's obvious you've acquired great interest in the future prospects of the world. Could you share with us the processes involved, the circumstances, and then the eventual realization within your thinking that brought you to this nascent realm?
Corwin: The possibility of radical change hit me fairly recently. I'm now 21, and for nearly 19 of those years I was sure I'd be a psychologist, specializing in education, slowly grinding away at the evils of the world, and seeing perhaps twice as much change as my parents had. Then, at twenty, I encountered two things; the Extropian mailing-list, and the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence website. It took two months of reading to properly understand what was being proposed, two more months to investigate these claims, and perhaps six months to go from newbie to opinionated. And then, mercifully, these last few months, I've been opening up a little bit.
My interest in radical change centers around what I see as the most significant areas of development for me, which is change in the human condition and the development of greater intelligence. One hundred and fifty thousand people die every day, and any tiny improvement in our medical science, our attitudes, and our total capability statistically becomes very significant. And of course Intelligence changes everything.
The final realization for me came when I tried to take a Devil's Advocate position to argue against radical change, and was unable to.
ImmInst: So it seems your flight toward this new world view took swift wings. During this time did you try to consulting with others, such as your family or friends, about your new thoughts? And, if so, what sort of feedback did you experience? Also, have you engaged with other like-minded immortalists, singularitarians or transhumanists outside of online internet interaction?
Corwin: Very swift. Fortunately, even before I knew about transhumanism, I was a rationalist, so I didn't run and take a poll, but I did talk about these new ideas with lots of people. Unfortunately, transhumanism is still rare enough that the Internet is the only social environment large enough to gather any appreciable amount of people together. In Salt Lake City, there are two Extropians, that I know of, and perhaps three immortalists in my social circle. So there is a certain amount of isolation that these kinds of views bring.
I have spent some time talking, debating, and speaking on subjects touching on radical change, but this was more in the spirit of apologetics, rather than personal support or self investigation. New thoughts of this kind tend to draw some fierce opposition because of their polarizing effect, so public debate is more useful for exposition, than for extending your
ImmInst: Talking about your personal station in life and your residence in Salt Lake City, could you share with us your current activities as student/worker/etc. Do you happen to see yourself doing anything more in the future related to transhumanistic pursuits? Also, when you mentioned your speaking engagements, what were the speeches about and in what forum? Incidentally, in the off chance that another intrepid reader from Utah happens to digest this interview, do you happen to know the two other transhumanists from Salt Lake City?
Corwin: Well, unfortunately, the US being a capitalist environment, I've had to spend a lot of my time recently maintaining my economic position, specifically running a contract computer company. Ideally, I would love to be bought out for megabucks, so I could abscond to the Singularity Institute to work as a full-time volunteer. As it is, I see myself working in the computer industry until I can solidify my position enough to work full time for the Singularity Institute(barring any attitude changes or flashes of genius). But I've learned my lesson, and try to refrain from too many declarative statements, because my plans change as new information comes in.
I suppose my next 'transhumanist activity' is a document I'm trying to write now, a Threats file detailing the dynamics, personalities, and developments that will affect social activists like ourselves. It's rapidly spiraling up in complexity, and I no longer have a hard date on it's completion. For this, and in general, the most up to date information can usually be found by talking to me on IRC, or checking my blog at http://outlawpoet.blogspot.com .
As far as local activities, I've kind of stepped back on verbal fisticuffs, but I can be found arguing on a personal basis in area stores, restaurants, and cafes. I know of a few other Extropians in the area, but I wouldn't want to expose them against their will. There aren't many of us, that's for sure.
ImmInt: Could you explain the importance of the Singularity to our readers? What is it and when do expect to see its arrival? Also, what prompted you to become a Singularitarian?
Corwin: The Singularity is the moment when a greater than human intelligence touches the world, because at that moment, the structures and dynamics that we create and maintain are disrupted, strengthened, or replaced. It's the presence of an unknowable factor that removes the future beyond that point from our understanding. No one knows when it will happen. I personally believe that it is inevitable. I would like it to occur safely, and predictably, but such an event may not conform.
I am a Singularitarian because this event, it's timing, and it's velocity is the most important event in all of human history, save it's beginning. The Singularity is a transition, where the past falls away, and the future is created by a single dynamic. I can't think of any other transition whose initial starting conditions were so uniquely important. The first living cell, perhaps. What if DNA had 8 base pairs? or 16? or none? Any change at all in that first cell would have led to a completely different world, with millenia for every tiny difference in genetic potential and structural difference to express itself in myriads of ways. The Singularity has that kind of sensitivity, and that kind of irresistable strength.
But the Singularity occurs in our world. So we have a chance to choose to affect what it may be. And I would like it to be wonderful. In a very real sense, the singularity will be the first child of humanity. The end result of our striving and knowledge and poetry and science. It is in the nature of a good parent to wish well of his child. To want a better world. There is also the matter of ourselves. A parent doesn't have to die giving birth. And, if the singularity is positive, people walking around right now, could live in a unimaginable world. Forever.
There are people right now, with the strength, love, and intention to live forever. To watch the universe change and grow, and explore. These people deserve a chance. Everyone deserves a change to do what they will, and a good child is an ally of it's parents. The singularity could a friend for a species that has needed one for a long time.
But this is all very general and very nice-sounding. Specifically, as a singularitarian I want to help create an artificial intelligence that will incorporate the best elements of mankind, and none of it's faults. This intelligence will grow, until it is bigger than us, and that will be our singularity; a friendly one, in fact. I expect that this will be done by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and that it must occur in the next ten years, or other factors will come into play that make things very difficult. I would like this to occur here in the united states, using mostly standard computer technology. But as I said, I shy from too many declarative statements, and I'll soften all of these by saying that I don't really know what will happen. These are hopes and best guesses.
I didn't grasp all this at first, and I'm almost certainly wrong in some respect. But I trust that I'm close enough to right to make certain kinds of decisions. Decisions that depend on the shape of the future, rather than specifics. There are parts of this that I can't prove, not even to myself, and parts that I'm very sure of. But this is the best picture I have, and my hatred of uncertainty leads me to update it as much as I can. So I am as sure of the Singularity as I can be. More sure than I am about a lot of other things. I am slowly twisting my life towards it, because it is that important. I think which future we live in depends on it. And I want to see the future. I want to live.
The most inspiring thing I've ever read was a snippet of fiction, and I can't even remember it wholly.
"And the older ones began to tell the children about the Afterglow, a brief moment after the birth of the universe when matter was still gathered so close that it pressed with it's own weight, and burned with the heat of nuclear fire." Imagine a time so far from now that the stars are legends. Imagine a single being living so long that it could tell children of a time so close to the birth of the universe that the shock of it still reverberated in the sky as microwaves. That's immortality. That's what we are meant to be. Poetry that outlives the stars.