Singularity school with Vernor Vinge

Puzzled by posthumanism? Looking for an entry-level introduction to this thing that people call the Singularity? Well, sometimes it’s best to go straight to the source – sf novelist and computer scientist Vernor Vinge coined the concept of the Technological Singularity in 1993, so who better to explain the basics, as in this brisk interview at H+ Magazine:

Some folks will say there have been singularities before — for instance, the printing press. but before Gutenberg, you could have explained to somebody what a printing press would be and you could have explained the consequences. Even though those consequences might not have been believed, the listener would have understood what you were saying. But you could not explain a printing press to a goldfish or a flat worm. And having the post-Singularity explained to us now is qualitatively different from explaining past breakthroughs in the same way. So all these extreme events like the invention of fire, the invention of the printing press, and the evolution of cities and agriculture are not the right analogy. The technological Singularity is more akin to the rise of humankind within the animal kingdom, or perhaps to the rise of multi-cellular life.

It’s tricky trying to explain something which, by definition, is inexplicable – which is probably why the Technological Singularity is as hard to pitch at the average layman as at an industry expert. I’m still not sure I “believe” in it as anything more than a convenient metaphor for a world that changes fast enough to alienate people within their natural lifespans, but on that level alone it’s hard for me to think about the passing of the next thirty years – which would see my lifespan little less than doubled – without realising I’m going to feel like a stranger in a strange land on an hourly basis. Hell, it already happens at least once a day.

So, what do you lot make of the Singularity – inevitable geek rapture? Metaphor for an accelerating culture? Or just the sound of comp-sci lips flapping in the breeze at sf conventions?

4 thoughts on “Singularity school with Vernor Vinge”

  1. Put me down for inevitable geek rapture. Seriously, though, whatever form it may come in, and however long it may take, and however inflated kurzweil’s opinion of himself might be becoming, I do think that there are very clear signs in our development that point to this eventuality. What that eventuality is, though, is pretty hard to say.
    On a side note, I for one enjoy the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land every day. There has never been a time in human history where there was more rapid innovation and cultural and social shift than there is now. It’s a fascinating time to be alive.

  2. oh, it’s all right there in that “rise of multicellular life” line. superorganisms are hot shit these days and I’d rather read a summary of subtle superorganism references in the press lately than another comment/pageview driving “what do you think” post.

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