Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Down with the The Singularity

The tyrannosaur stumbled down the beach, his scaled feet sinking in the fine dayglo pink sand. This was heavier going than he had expected. Plus, his back was itching. He needed a cliff-face or stand of coconut trees for a good scratch. No sooner had he thought it than a large bowed palm tree appeared in front of him in a cloud of nanodes.

Tony sighed with relief as he scratched. These little t-rex arms were definitely not built for administering a good scratching, that was for sure. Just then, the force-field surrounding the beach shimmered, stretching and bending the starlight beyond.

A smile hung in the air, then Kurzweil the cat wafted in on his intellicarpet...

You might recognise the name Kurzweil. He's the guy who predicted a technological singularity in around 30 years, when the exponential increase in the power of computing will result in machines with the transcendant intelligence to herald a new era for man and machine. No problem there.

There are those who feel that there will be a biological singularity too. This one is even further in the future, and postulizes 'post-humans' with the power to transcend the limitations of flesh. These post humans might no longer require bodies, or may have the power to download into fantastic, fabricated bodies - to be a dinosaur, survive a vacuum or finally become immortal, trying out different bodies with each incarnation. I suppose, given time, anything is possible.

My problem with the whole singularity thing isn't with the theory. It is all exciting stuff! My problem is with the fiction that goes with it. Of course, writers should be free to let their imaginations go as nuts as they want, and little allows that better than the singularity theory. But when characters can do whatever takes their fancy - and writers can indulge themselves unreservedly, we run into difficulties. The whole thing becomes too metaphysical. It becomes a cartoon. Where is the dramatic tension when characters have complete control of their environment? How can we relate to these characters or the settings? I do admit that some writers can pull it off. Check out Greg Egan's Diaspora, for example. However, having just thrown WJ Williams Implied Spaces in the bin on top of A Fire on the Deep and Dan Simmon's Ilium, I'd have to say Egan is an exception to the rule.

If you want to read more of Tony the T-Rex's story, maybe you should check those authors out. You'll be on your own though. I'll be in the corner reading some John Scalzi or Cory Doctorow.

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