Thursday, June 2, 2011

Charlie Stross on "Singularity 1 on 1"

Science fiction author Charlie Stross was a guest on “Singularity 1 on 1” at the Singularity Weblog.  I’ve only recently become aware of
Stross’ work, namely Saturn’s Children, and he now languishes on my
exponentially growing “to-read” list.  I want to read faster but
Cryptonomicon is proving to be quite the challenging, yet satisfying,
mountain to climb.  But I digress.

In the interview conducted by Socrates, Stross confesses to being a
“Singularity skeptic.”  Normally I find it difficult to be sympathetic
with particular point of view, but Stross’ case is so well thought out
that it demands consideration.  He comes at it from the perspective of
a writer, something I can certainly appreciate.  Stross contends that
you can write stories about the time period before the Singularity,
you can write about what might happen after the Singularity, but you
cannot write through it.  In other words, it is difficult to write
about the Singularity actually taking place.  Be that as it may,
Stross did in fact tackle that very challenge “after an attack of
hubris.”  In the interview he describes said series of short stories
on that theme.  The final one in the trilogy deals with characters
arguing and discussing just when it was that the Singularity took
place.  The offered dates are so widely varied as to range from
12,000BCE to “it hasn’t happened yet.”  What makes this story is that
the characters are living in an uploaded environment.  I believe many
of us would call that symptomatic of the Singularity, but the point
is, there will always be someone who is still waiting…almost viewing
the Singularity as a messianic arrival.
In fact, Stross makes a sobering comparison between
the predictions of transhumanists and religious fanatics who foretell of the coming of the apocalypse.  Is the Singularity a transhumanist version of this?
As Stross said:
“I’m inclined to ask to what extent is a posthumanist anticipation of
a Singularity a dangerous psychological blind spot where we are
recycling the apocalyptic imagery that is embedded at a very low level
in the firmware of the civilization that we live in.”
All in all, this is an excellent interview for anyone interested in
cybernetics, posthumanism, or even the craft of writing.  You might
not agree with his point of view, but it is important to cultivate and
foster discussions of this nature.
After all, as Stross argues, who can predict the future?

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  1. Nice write up on this. I too enjoyed the interview. I enjoy Singularity skepticism. Jaron Lanier is one of my favorites, and, depending upon what kind of Singularity you believe in, you could regard Eliezer Yudkowsky as a kind of Singularity skeptic insomuch as he does not embrace the predictions of Kurzweil. A lot of Singularity discourse gets carried away.

  2. Glad you liked it, n.l. and thanks for stopping by. I'm very excited about the possibilities of Singularity technology, but like you, I'm beginning to think it needs to be tempered with cooler thinking.


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