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Friday, June 23rd, 2006

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Three Visions of the Singularity
In a discussion on dryaunda's lj, I mentioned Marc Steigler's Gentle Seduction as an example of how we may enter the Singularity. That shows the path for someone on the "trailing edge", avoiding new tech until it has obvious practical benefits, and ends with a look at life for "posthumans."

Vernor Vinge coined the term "Singularity" to describe a situation where technology has advanced so much it's no longer possible for us to understand people on the other side of it. Steigler deals with that problem in two ways, sticking with a trailing-edge viewpoint character, and looking at problems that match our present day ones. Vinge is trying something similar in his new novel. It's set in the near future with a viewpoint character (he doesn't qualify as a hero) who missed a few decades of progress because of medical problems. It shows people closer to the Singularity than we are now, but just dealing with scaled up versions of the same problems we have now--finding jobs and thwarting terrorists. But it's clearly on the path to his story True Names, where people can totally immerse themselves in computer networks to reach superhuman intelligence.

One story that does look at how approaching the Singularity would affect day-to-day life is Marshall Brain's online novel Manna. His description of the early stages is fascinatingly plausible (and may be happening in real life). Then he veers into a dystopia which is an interesting cautionary tale, but IMO totally impossible (human-equivalent robots won't be cheap when they first come out, so it'll take a while for them to spread through the economy, and our culture and laws won't accept people getting life imprisonment for losing their jobs). The next leap is to a Singularity-threshold utopia, where wealth and technology make everyone's life a paradise. That also has it's plausibility problems, but it's more fun.

I'd recommend the first link for anyone curious about what the "Singularity" is, and the last because it's free.

Current Mood: thoughtful

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