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Wednesday, December 12, 2007


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I hope I make it to 2045......I want to see it happen, even if I can't make the jump.


Nicely done, Dan. I just LOVE this stuff.


We'll be in our 80s, which might not be very old in 2045. Gives me a great image: Us spectating at The Singularity, complaining and bitching the whole time.

"Back when I was a kid there was only ONE reality, and it was physical and we LIKED IT."


Hmmmmmmm . . . I think about these issues a lot. I talk about them a lot to the degree that I teach several courses about the interface between technologies and bodies. My guess is that you'll see far less fear and loathing than you're estimating. Sure, there will be some, and it will be expressed in all the usual culturally symptomatic ways. In our current climate, we could look at a variety of films--from Terminator to the Matrix series--that express some anxiety about the ongoing interface. At the same time, it is still happening, and what seems outrageous to all of us one minute becomes quickly "normal."

Here's an example: I started teaching my course on these issues 17 years ago. At that time, we were at best using Usenet groups for discussion; we were only beginning to see the idea of "picturs" online coming to fruition. Many of the students never communicated that way; none of them had cell phones. When I talked about a future where people would routinely talk to others globally whom they never physically met (We're not talking big advances here gang but something that was just about to occur) the students protested that it would never work, that no one would take part in a "fake reality." What was fake reality quickly became real reality, only different. And the changes from then on were only faster and people quickly assimilate every change.

Yes, people may say they don't believe in evolution, and they may say they "want the real," but they simultaneously evolve, they simultaneously use GPS, cell phones, etc. We are all already cyborg; we always already evolve; we just don't call it that because it quickly becomes the real, the natural.

To your point about people becoming so much surplus labor: much of the world already is, but they don't think of themselves that way. Their ideology and sense of purpose remains intact; it has to in order to survive.

Yes, there are changes afoot; yes, these changes are massive. My guess, however, is 1. we won't make it as a species anyway, 2. even if we do, everyone will adjust far far more seamlessly than you imagine.

We don't fear the rise of the other; we simply become the other without realizing it.

Resistance is indeed futile; and you wouldn't want to anyway.


Honestly, that's why The Singularity intrigues me: I think that if you take the concept on its own terms, it is LITERALLY saying that the rules change utterly. And one of those "rules" deals with prognostication, which is to say that human beings aren't really so much in the business of predicting futures as running probabilities on everything they remember from the past. When we think about the future, we're really just making analogies.

I love what you wrote, John: "We don't fear the rise of the other; we simply become the other without realizing it." I suspect that is true: It's what my experience tells me to believe.

But I think The Singularity encourages us to imagine outcomes that cannot be extrapolated from human experience. Toffler made a lot of money in the 1970s talking about future shock, but that's nothing compared to the concept of techno hyper-development. A lot has changed in the 17 years you've been teaching, but how would that change have been different if, instead of 17 years, all of that advancement had taken place in one year?

Same stuff, different time scale. Not disruptive enough? Then what if it all took place in six months, three months? At what point does the scale of a thing or the rate of a thing change the nature of a thing?

I can't think of an analogy to that, except for this, and it's kind of the wrong case: when advanced societies discover neolithic societies, as happened in the 20th century in remote areas of the globe, one of two things transpire. Either the less-advanced culture is obliterated within a generation, or the culture is cordoned off and preserved, separate from the larger civilization.

Agreed that we are already cyborg. Stipulated that Google and Wikipedia and the various wonders of teh Interwebs already serve as an almost instantaneous replacement for the memorization of voluminous facts. But there are still physical interfaces. The next species in our genus will be indistinguishable from its technologies, with different life cycles, different genetics, different ideas about physical maturation and education.

When we talk about "the digital divide" today, there is still the sense that individuals in a techno-adept culture, even if they start from a disadvantage, may overcome that penalty of birth within their lifetimes if they act decisively while they are young. But as the final acceleration begins, and as the real separation becomes observable, the choice becomes real, immediate and irreversible.

I remember that it took people years to accept that a microwave oven wouldn't make you sterile. My kids had cell phones before I did. We feel our way toward new technologies. Think about the iPhone: As excited as we were, we didn't rush out and buy one, because it's just a gadget. Lasik surgery is here and it could fix my eyesight right now. It will be years before I'll consider it.

But in about a decade, we'll probably have to start deciding whether to schedule medical/techno enhancements that will make us measurably smarter. And those of us who haven't had them will make the steroids argument: It's not fair. What about the children? And while we're arguing over that, the cyborg enhancement train is going to leave the station and quickly accelerate to warp speed.

The explosion of bandwidth is violently remaking the news industry. But the rise of a new class of cyborg humanity is going to do the same thing to academia.

I think we're mostly in agreement, but I have so much less to lose in taking the wilder course of thought. Maybe that's my role.


Yes, we're probably more in agreement than not. Honestly, my reaction was simply a result of having heard years of people fearing a future "human being" by imaging the person they are today meeting someone from the future. Of course, meeting a "normal" person from 50 years ahead would scare the "me" of today. However, if I were to live 50 years, that "normal" person wouldn't seem so odd to me, as I would be a very different type of human by then.

When I first started teaching Gibson's "Neuromancer" years ago, the students could hardly get their minds around the concepts. However, they all agreed that they didn't like Molly and didn't think of her as human (There was little debate the first two years I taught the course; the students thought her eye-inserts, finger blades and jacked-up nervous system disqualified her as human). Now, if I teach the book, there is no debate in my class; Molly IS human. "Of course, she is . . . . "

It's not just that the simulacrum becomes the real, then, but that the real becomes even better than the real thing, baby.


Oh, and I skipped the one thing I meant to add: You're right about it being the RATE of change that is significant. And, yes, it will cause some problems, just not the problems we can imagine from here.


Hmm... interesting bit about how we move away from the Garden.

Have you read "On the Marionette Theatre" by von Kleist?


Great post, Dan, and great comments Sloop.

I thought you might enjoy this blog, especially this post: On Becoming a Neuron.

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