Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Singularity - Yet AGAIN!

Antoni Gaudi's Cactus Geometry

Today is like biting into a York Peppermint Patty.
AND, we've our first sprinklings of snow on the ground, so I expect no echoes of  rejoicing from those of you who are cold-challenged. I, on the other hand, could not be more pleased, Winter is on it's way.
Funny thing about the experience of a good wind chill - say, 20mph wind in an ambient temperature of 30 degrees F, thus putting it around zero - is that there is no one good word for the somatic experience of it. In fact, I would be hard pressed to find a worthwhile description for an intense cold. It's not exactly pain. Although there are moments when exposed parts experience a kind of pain, but they quickly get numbed, or are reinforced by blood pumped from the toasty core of my body. It's a discomfort, for sure, but rarely a suffering. And, at least for me, there's a certain kind of pleasure, or at least an exhilaration, that goes with exposure to intense cold. But no one succinct description for the experience.
I suspect, but cannot verify, that this feeling is not experienced in dreams. Or, at least, in dreams I remember about cold and snow and ice. What little memory I have of the somatic part of the dream seems to be one in a shirt-sleeve environment. I guess that my dreams are climate controlled.
Speaking of dreams, I notice that the strange future dream state known as the Singularity has popped into my attention again. This time around, it comes in the form of a short essay by Cosma Shalizi  (reprinted here in toto):
The Singularity has happened; we call it "the industrial revolution" or "the long nineteenth century". It was over by the close of 1918.

Exponential yet basically unpredictable growth of technology, rendering long-term extrapolation impossible (even when attempted by geniuses)? Check.

Massive, profoundly dis-orienting transformation in the life of humanity, extending to our ecology, mentality and social organization? Check.

Annihilation of the age-old constraints of space and time? Check.

Embrace of the fusion of humanity and machines? Check.

Creation of vast, inhuman distributed systems of information-processing, communication and control, "the coldest of all cold monsters"? Check; we call them "the self-regulating market system" and "modern bureaucracies" (public or private), and they treat men and women, even those whose minds and bodies instantiate them, like straw dogs.

An implacable drive on the part of those networks to expand, to entrain more and more of the world within their own sphere? Check. ("Drive" is the best I can do; words like "agenda" or "purpose" are too anthropomorphic, and fail to acknowledge the radical novely and strangeness of these assemblages, which are not even intelligent, as we experience intelligence, yet ceaselessly calculating.)

Why, then, since the Singularity is so plainly, even intrusively, visible in our past, does science fiction persist in placing a pale mirage of it in our future? Perhaps: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk; and we are in the late afternoon, fitfully dreaming of the half-glimpsed events of the day, waiting for the stars to come out.

I’ve thought along similar lines myself. I found apiece of scratch paper from around 2004 or so with notes on the Singularity - and not the Singularity as popularized by the likes of Ray Kurzweil, a one-fell-swoop life and world changing event of the future, but rather a series of steps that no one notices. Such that, in stages at least, we enter a world never before seen:
"Take 500BC, one brain could recreate all of civilization. Too small? Let’s say a hundred then. A tribe of brains can store enough of the raw tech “vital” information and act as a seed, a catalyst. The rest occurs through cleverness and trial and error. Let’s call this Singularity v1.0 (because Kurzweil don’t own it yet). And things stayed that way up to about, oh, say 1848.
Why 1848? I like that date. A lot of interesting things occured. Social movements in Europe. The US is really starting to get ornery. The first scientific teaching institutions are forming. And it is, in my opinion, the beginning of the Modern Age. With the tech toolkit in a thousand peoples brains, atom bombs are inevitable. Now it takes the stored knowledge in a thousand brains (a corporation? a consortia?) to get us back from the brink. Singularity v2.0
What next? Well, computers helped. Shall we say 1937, with a nod to Johnny von Neumann? Now, how many, a million? Ten million? That’s a nation of necessary brains. Singularity v3.0.
And version 4.0? It probably already happened, we've just been too busy trying to catch up to notice."
Great minds think alike? I'm no Shalizi, but I am rather pleased with myself.
That will change soon enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment