A fundamental difference between the singularity and the Methuselarity that I wish to highlight is its impact on “the human condition” – on humanity’s experience of the world and its view of itself. I make at this point perhaps my most controversial claim in this essay: that in this regard, the Methuselarity will probably be far more momentous than the singularity.
How can this be? Surely I have just shown that the Methuselarity will be the consequence of only quite modest (and, thereafter, actually decreasing) rates of progress in postponing aging, whereas the singularity will result from what for practical purposes can be regarded as infinite rates of progress in the prowess of computers? Indeed I have. But when we focus on humanity’s experience of the world and its view of itself, what matters is not how rapidly things are changing but how rapidly those changes affect us. In the case of the singularity, I have noted earlier in this essay that if we survive it at all (by virtue of having succeeded in making these ultra-powerful computers permanently friendly to us) then we will move from a shortly-pre-singularity situation in which computers already make our lives rather easy to a situation in which they fade into the background and stay there. I contend that, from our point of view, this is really not much of a difference, psychologically or socially: computers are already far easier to use than the first PCs were, and are getting easier all the time, and the main theme of that progression is that we are increasingly able to treat them as if they were not computers at all. It seems to me that the singularity may well, in this regard, merely be the icing on a cake that will already have been baked.
Compare this to the effect of the Methuselarity on the human condition. In this case we will progressively and smoothly improve our remaining life expectancy as calculated from the rate of accumulation of those types of damage that we cannot yet fix. So far, so boring. But wait – is that the whole story? No, because what will matter is the bottom line, how long people think they’re actually going to live.
the singularity will take us from a point of considerable computing power
that is mostly hidden from our concern to one of astronomical computing power that is just slightly more hidden. The Methuselarity, by contrast, will take us from a point of considerable medical prowess that only modestly benefits how long we can reasonably expect to live, to one of just slightly greater medical prowess that allows us confidence that we can live indefinitely.