An Alternative to Technological Singularity
An Alternative to Technological Singularity? George Petelin Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Australia The Technological Singularity, first articulated by Science Fiction writer Vernor Vinge, and predicted by futurist Ray Kurzweil to occur in just fourteen years from now, has provided lurid scenarios for the post-cyberpunk genre. Writers such as Charles Stross and Neal Stephenson have described worlds where (post-)humans are entirely dependent on machines that have developed beyond their comprehension and have achieved an uncanny verisimilitude to sentience. Both Kurzwiel's portrayal of the coming phenomenon and that of the SF fraternity is predicated on a faith in progress. Even though, unlike Kurzweil, the writers invariably find dystopian characteristics in this future, both envisage an unbroken continuity of technological development. And both dream of machines achieving a level of sophistication beyond human comprehension or of humans merging with their creations to the point of being essentially indistinguishable from them. The scepticism that many scientists express regarding this portrayal of robot entities smarter than humans, however, I will argue, impedes attention to a very real and mundane threatening phenomenon: the accelerating complexity of technologies in general and the increasing inability of human institutions to apply these technologies critically, ethically, and advantageously. Technology does not have to be 'smarter' than us to become incomprehensible, only more complex and change at a rate faster than social processes can match. This point, I will argue, we have already reached but refuse to admit. But there may yet be another turning-point at which we decide that the rate of change needs to decelerate, our mechanisms are actually much 'dumber' that we ourselves could be if only we used them judiciously and stopped allowing market-driven hyperbole to persuade us they should be adopted indiscriminately. Unfortunately, such a 'singularity' would need a redefinition of both progress and machine intelligence and will most likely be precipitated by a catastrophe, a cataclysmic failure of the ultimately 'dumb' technologies on which we have been persuaded to be utterly dependent.
9th Global Conference of Visions of Humanity in Cyberculture, Cybersoace and Science Fiction
Studies in the Creative Arts and Writing not elsewhere classified