Awaiting the Quantum Rapture

A new sort of American messianic religion has gathered in Silicon Valley under a techno-futurist banner emblazoned with one word: “Singularity.”

Evading the “cult” label is imperative for any minority religion that hopes to avoid a violent and tragic end. In the 21st century, a new messianic religion has so far managed it. Concentrated in Silicon Valley, the latest amalgamation of old American messianic tropes has gathered under a techno-futurist, New Age banner emblazoned with the word “Singularity.” Although the Singularity refers to an event, specifically a moment of technological rapture, it is, like all American messianic religions, more of a mindset than a coherent belief system. Adherents to the movement are growing in number, and their plans for redesigning life as we know it have become increasingly grandiose. Fortunately for these devotees, the Singularity movement has largely evaded perception as a cult-like organization. It has done so by avoiding, for the most part, the dangers of conflating human salvation with the destiny of a single individual, and by reconciling American messianic thought with its old adversary: capitalism.

Adherents to the movement are students of the work of Ray Kurzweil, a septuagenarian futurist and entrepreneur. Kurzweil believes that within his lifetime, a historical achievement known as the Singularity will allow humankind to ascend to the next level of evolutionary existence: its inseparable union with artificial intelligence. In fact, the Singularity will render the distinction between human and artificial intelligence largely irrelevant, as they will become increasingly imbricated and difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish. In Kurzweil’s view, intractable problems like climate change, resource scarcity, sickness, and even death will be eliminated by the Singularity, not least because it will liberate humankind from the organic prison of carbon-based bodies.

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