[ExI] more belated singularity mainstream

Tom Nowell nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk
Mon Oct 13 22:59:20 UTC 2008

The fact that there's more singularity mainstream coverage may reflect Arthur C Clarke's maxim "New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can't be done. 2) It probably can be done, but it's not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!" Also, when talking about space elevators he said "As its most enthusiastic promoter, I am often asked when I think the first space elevator might be built. My answer has always been: about 50 years after everyone has stopped laughing. Maybe I should now revise it to 25 years."

So, somewhere over the past decade the concept of "the singularity", "the spike" and all the variations they entail has gone from an out-there concept to something people have stopped laughing about. There's still a long way to the reality of a technological singularity happening, but the media reports show that it is an idea whose time is genuinely coming. Computing power is coming along, genetics is coming along, mass use of "smart drugs" (OK, so it's currently abuse of Ritalin and Provigil, but it's got to start somewhere right) in higher education, the newest collaborations on the internet - it's all adding up to slow steps up the foothills of the singularity.

Arthur C Clarke also had the doomy quotes of "Our lifetime may be the last that will be lived out in a technological society." and "This is the first age that's ever paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we may not have one." With the current financial crisis drawing metaphors from the Great Depression and the worst days of the 1970s, the crucial question is: which will come first? A self-sustaining singularity that can keep itself going despite problems in human civilisations and any shortages of materials/energy generated by human mismanagement of the earth, or a collape so severe the singularity may be postponed indefinitely?

I try to be optimistic, but as someone who sees global climate change as a real threat and wonders what will happen if oil, food and drinkable water become *really* scarce, you have to wonder sometimes. Still, you never know - if we're in the grip of another 1930s, maybe there'll be a new "Hoover Dam" which boosts human progress, or if we're in another 1970s, for the cost of what Jimmy Carter proposed spending on energy independence the 21st century president could propose spending on Solar Power Satellites. (It's not impossible - the Carter plan cost over $100 billion in today's money, and that's a similar figure given to some plans for building several solar power satellites).



More information about the extropy-chat mailing list