Watching the Singularity

Previously posted by invitation at Transalchemy.

When it comes to the Singularity, I’m a tourist. Neither a believer nor atheist, proponent nor naysayer, I find the phenomenon too good to pass by without commenting. Like nuclear power, it’s fascinating in a science fictiony kind of way. You can’t help but stand back and admire its audacity. You wonder how we figured all that out. You get the feeling that back in the early days, the developers must have scratched their heads and said, “nice idea, but I don’t know.”

I for one definitely don’t know. Right now I’m not planning on living forever, but let me tell you, as I grow older and age pain starts to set up in the bones, the idea of eternal youth via high tech body parts or virtual existence starts to look more and more inviting. As the brash confidence of youth fades, I start to understand how one could embrace a wholly unnatural existence.

The laws of thermodynamics haunt me. I wonder what terrible toll must be paid to support our futuristic plans. The June 2009 issue of National Geographic ran a story on our planet’s heavily-taxed food supply. Apparently the green revolution of the 60s and 70s that vastly improved crop yields via irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers is now backfiring. The green revolution provided incredible famine relief, but the population growth that resulted from that relief is currently threatening the carrying capacity of our planet. The aquifers are drying up and the soils are becoming salinized. In addition we are experiencing record high cancer rates, especially in areas where the green revolution had the greatest impact. We’re back to where we started with not enough food to go around, only now there’s exponentially more of us.

We never seem to be able to live within our means. We solve one problem and then instead of being thankful for that we go hogwild and create a new one. The Singularity promises an answer to all of our ills and I believe it might just give us one, if only people can understand its implications. Whatever they turn out to be.

Technology is developed to solve problems, enrich our lives (especially those of the patent holders), and release us from the drudgery that self-sufficiency often entails. But does it also make us a slave to resources that will one day dwindle or just plain disappear?

The Singularity also promises infinite knowledge. Will we know what to do with it? Or will we continue to go hogwild like children in a candy store with no chaperone. Maybe the Singularity will allow us to be those spoiled children. Maybe there will be no more dire consequences of our actions. If something untoward happens due to ill-conceived action, maybe we’ll be able to hit the back button, or delete, and restore sanity from a saved copy on a hard disk somewhere.

One begins to see the possibilities for infinite experimentation with the Singularity. If we never have to worry about consequences, we can try anything, do anything. Maybe Brother Ray* is right, our creativity will flourish like never before.

It’s the creativity, the new ideas that I find so fascinating. I’d like to see what all we come up with. That’s what makes the Singularity worth watching for me. That’s why I’m a tourist. My camera is clicking away even as I’m falling into the gorge.

Sue Lange
Visit Sue Lange’s Bookshelf at BVC

*In Singularity terms, “Brother Ray” always refers to Ray Kurzweill, not the real Brother Ray Charles.

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Watching the Singularity — 4 Comments

  1. I might be simply stupid, but could you give your own definition of the Singularity ?
    Neither of the two definitions below don’t seem to match the subject of this piece… 🙂

    sin?gu?lar?i?ty plural singularities
    1 [countable] technical an extremely small point in space that contains an extremely large amount of material and which does not obey the usual laws of nature, for example a black hole or the point at the beginning of the universe
    2 [uncountable] old-fashioned the quality of something that makes it unusual or strange:
    He had an attractive singularity of viewpoint.

  2. Eddie, the answer to your quandary is at the end of the Ray Kurzweill link. The Singularity refers to his conception of the Force/God/Intelligent Universe.