I’ve been thinking about the singularity, or post-humanism, using any number of historical and personal anecdotes as metaphors to conjecture wildly about a world that many futurists see thirty years in the future.
Of course, this world has been thirty years away for over thirty years, which isn’t to say it isn’t getting closer, but…
In 1965, Good wrote his essay postulating an “intelligence explosion” of recursive self-improvement of a machine intelligence. In 1985, in “The Time Scale of Artificial Intelligence”, artificial intelligence researcher Ray Solomonoff articulated mathematically the related notion of what he called an “infinity point”: if a research community of human-level self-improving AIs take four years to double their own speed, then two years, then one year and so on, their capabilities increase infinitely in finite time.
In 1983, Vinge greatly popularized Good’s intelligence explosion in a number of writings, first addressing the topic in print in the January 1983 issue of Omni magazine. In this op-ed piece, Vinge seems to have been the first to use the term “singularity” in a way that was specifically tied to the creation of intelligent machines: writing
We will soon create intelligences greater than our own. When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity, an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding. This singularity, I believe, already haunts a number of science-fiction writers. It makes realistic extrapolation to an interstellar future impossible. To write a story set more than a century hence, one needs a nuclear war in between … so that the world remains intelligible.
Vinge’s 1993 article “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”, spread widely on the internet and helped to popularize the idea. This article contains the statement, “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” Vinge argues that science-fiction authors cannot write realistic post-singularity characters who surpass the human intellect, as the thoughts of such an intellect would be beyond the ability of humans to express.
Vinge’s essays channelling Good (who I have never heard of until did this cut and paste) hit me hard at the time, and continues to disrupt my ability to write anything but near future SF.
I have loved Asimovian galactic empires, I have loved Niven’s Ringworld and Known Space, but I increasingly struggle with two things. The looming singularity, and the great silence of Fermi’s Paradox.
The looming singularity fractured SF into various sorts of retro-futurisms, cyberpunk being the near future environment leading up to a singularity, giving way to steampunk and various other kinds of punks. Part of punking out is not worrying too much about super intelligence. Humans remain important. Why? Just because.
Making fun of the singularity, and the various failed deadlines for human scale AI since Marvin Minksy’s original optimistic predictions in the sixties, is now a reflex, even among AI researchers as using neural nets and machine learning stand poised to transform the global economy.
Business people generally are incapable of getting it up for any idea that can’t be monetized in the next business quarter or two, and government people think in terms of an election cycle or two, leaving all deep thought on this subject to hobbyists and cranks, (SF writers) and a tiny number of academics and techno-billionaire funded think tanks.
As I struggle to figure out what to do with my fictional voice, and with my general writing and reasoning ability, I find myself drawn to, and repelled by, transhumanism, the way a thoughtful progressive Christian is appalled by the Rapture.
The passage of time is turning me from a SF writer into a futurist and techno-thriller author. My SFnal voice isn’t appropriate for technothriller, so, I will have to learn a new one. My fictive voice isn’t good for business writing either, so, again, more learning.
This is my bifurcated path, my roadmap for the future.
Thanks for listening. I’ll dig into these more as I do my research.