Storytelling in the Singularity

What can you say about a world where you can't say anything?

Storytelling in the Singularity
Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion," and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligentmachine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.
- I. J. Good, 1963
Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.
- Vernor Vinge, 1993

The trend in tech today is breaking down barriers.

What's the line between living things and inorganic matter when you can reverse-engineer bacteria into molecules?

What's the difference between the genetic code of an aardvark and a simulation of the real live organism that exists nowhere outside of a computer?

The matter is the information. Life's a computer code.

If you believe the hype, we're living through the fusion of life, matter, and mind with mechanical constructs.

This is going to lead us to a weird moment in history, Experts Say.

They call it "The Singularity"

You capitalize it to show it's important and very serious.

In the same way as the stupendous gravitational forces of a black hole bend light around it...

The technological Singularity represents a horizon of meaning.

A point beyond which no intelligible order is possible.

If a black hole is a rip in space, the technological Singularity is a rupture in the field of concepts.

Not even logic is safe here.

A lot of nerds have spent a lot of time thinking hard about this problem. Even while denying that there's any way to make reliable predictions about the other side of this transformation, many still try to speculate about the robot heaven that awaits.

The fact that all these speculations are built around a gaping hole of skepticism never seems to bother anyone.

We can't understand all this stuff that our machines might build... so let me tell you about all this stuff our machines might build.

Singularity speculation is the same kind of speculation that once fascinated the likes of Plato and medieval theologians.

Fine stuff for a philosopher. Even a sci-fi writer. That's exactly why we want to read science fiction.

This is where cyberpunk has brought us 30 years on.

If you are a writer of speculative fiction looking to mine these hills for story ideas, here's a thought to chew on.

The concept of a technological Singularity makes for a total reversal in the intellectual world of ideas.

This whole Science and Reason thing that the trendy intellectuals attach to the European Age of Enlightenment rests on the single core belief that...

Nature is fundamentally comprehensible to the human mind

Through the systematic study of the natural world, it was possible to explain why things happened according to impartial, universal, and unchanging laws.

The concept of a Singularity marks a total break with that belief.

It's no longer possible to believe that nature is fully intelligible to the human mind.

In a strange way then the Singularity throws out the most central beliefs of the Enlightenment's faith in reason and science as the logical conclusion of those beliefs.

You can almost see Nietzsche rubbing his dead hands with a sinister glee.

What a blasphemous inversion of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

Man's ultraintelligent machines represent a living paradox. They have one foot in the world of man, finite and limited... and the other foot stands in unspeakable infinity.

The concrete and the absolute unite in the flesh of the machine god.

And on the other side of that infinity awaits the paradise of posthuman heaven.

Posthuman fantasies aren't really about science and cool new technologies. They are only science fiction in borrowing the aesthetic of Future Cool.

Get past that superficial techno-obsession and the Singularity is a return to the world of myth.

A world haunted by demons and warped Titans... a world where your life is never your own, where your destiny is in the hands of gods and Fate.

You can tell some wild stories there, no doubt.

Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief books make an admirable go. There's interesting stuff in there... though I have to say the books were tough going with all the whizz-bang techno-magic flying around in there. Reading those books at times felt like a mischievious gremlin threw a box of sand into a wind tunnel.

With this kind of story we're much heavier on the speculation than the science.

That futuristic techno-aesthetic carries the weight.

No harm in this. If you use it to tell great stories, run with it and own it.

But once you decide that anything goes... anything goes.

Singularity stories may as well be magical fantasies


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