Bruce Sterling – “The Singularity: Your Future as a Black Hole”

Posted on Monday, June 14th, 02004 by Stewart Brand
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Bruce Sterling

Your future as a black hole

One reason lots of people don’t want to think long term these days is because technology keeps accelerating so rapidly, we assume the world will become unrecognizable in a few years and then move on to unimaginable. Long-term thinking must be either impossible or irrelevant.

The commonest shorthand term for the runaway acceleration of technology is “the Singularity”—a concept introduced by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge in 1984. The term has been enthusiastically embraced by technology historians, futurists, extropians, and various trans-humanists and post-humanists…

Read the rest of Stewart Brand’s Summary

  • Dan

    He tries to validate his argument by applying fundamental limits to networks. Some of them is is perfectly valid like water, this is after all a finite resource that can very easily be reached, and have been reached already.
    We have already reached the fundamental limits of some electronic networking technologies, like copper gigabit networks that only work for a couple of 100 meters, because of fundamental signal theory constraints. So why is the telecoms industry not in the same boat as the water providers? Highly commodoised, publicly owned and very little profitable.
    Well luckily we are not stuck in a copper world but in an electromagnetic one, where the next evolution, modulated lasers is fundamentally limited to about 250 terabits. So the only real constraint that can kick in before the fundamental one is of demand, after all even if water is infinite, your plants is going to start drowning after a while. The difference here is that water is not very usefull, while bandwidth and computer power is “universal” they can compute anything that is computable, which offers an enormous “solution” and “application space”. So when comes to limits you have to examine every instance very carefully, to try and equate water to communications is like saying your modem is not going to get faster because it is imposiible to get billions of gallons of water delivered to your home.
    Some interesting quotes and my observation.

    “They don’t have to work very hard because they are mesmerized by the autocatalyzing cascade effect. ‘Never mind motivating voters, raising funds,or persuading the press; we’ve got a mathematician’s smooth line on a 2D graph! Why bother, since pretty soon we’ll be SUPERHUMAN. It’s bound to happen to us because we are EARLY ADAPTERS.’

    Sterling ignores high organization and specialization, nobody has to work very “hard” anymore, they have to work productively, if it takes no effort or alot it doesn’t matter, that is one of the fruits of science, technology and industry. First if you have to persuade voters to get something done it is not going going to happen! Unless it costs no money. Also it is not going to take “persuading” it is going to take work :-).

    ‘Vernor Vinge wrote: “For me, superhumanity is the essence of the Singularity. Without that we would get a glut of technical riches, never properly absorbed.” Said Sterling, “A glut of technical riches never properly absorbed sounds like a great description of the current historical epoch.”’

    I don’t really see how this is supposed to be a crtiticism, after all Vinge seems to be completely right, technology seems to be better every year, while people remains the same and unable to appreciate it. This is not going to get better in the future without “superhumanity”.

    “Have a few cities leveled by a Singularity technology and you could bounce into world government with intense surveillance and severe repression of suspect technologies and technologists. Most societies are already anti-science; this would fulfill their world view. “You can run but you can’t hide! You will be brought to justice or justice will be brought to you! Into the steel cage, Mr. Singularity. Into Guantanamo till you tell us who your friends are. Then they join you in there.” Or maybe it’s not that fierce, and it’s all done by benevolent non-governmental organizations.””

    No “Singularitarian” want to blow up anything, did the CEO’s of Boeing, AA and crappy highrise design and maintenance go to gitmo? Almost nothing get designed and invented unless it has some overwhelming benefits. Biotech has enormous medical benefits, just because it can be perverted into biological weapons hasn’t slowed it down a bit.

    Secondly there really isn’t a “Singularity” in my opinion only Evolution, and evolution definitely have a “business plan”; increased fitness and survival. And I think it has found a better agent of many order of magnitude than that of complex biology. Technological evolution is going to be to biological evolution as biology was towards geological and cosmological evolution.

  • I don’t know if this’ll get seen, let alone seen by the responder above, but – dude, you’re not getting it. Your points are exactly what Bruce is refering to in some cases: you’re distracted by this technical monstrosity that is the internet, and further, distracted by culture and cultural frame of reference. As Bruce intones, there are all kinds of things (and this goes back through history, though particularly from the 19th century, onward, think Tesla, Tucker, etc) that aren’t used, or are squandered. Why? Because whoever stands to make money makes it that way, and most folk below them are gluttons. (As well as being generally emotionally attached to the world – no blame, though, you’re emotional creatures largely swayed and directed by biological drives.)

    An answer? Transcend culture. Transcend gender.

  • Henry

    “LSD is pretty much gone now.”
    Wow. LSD? Gone? Which world do you live in?

  • Pingback: CyberPotato » Blog Archive » Varieties of Singularity Experience()

  • Bruce Sterling seams to be the only one that gets it.

    Bruce Sterling is a visionary. But what he sees on the horizon is clear skies and boredom and people are interested.

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