Future Blogger | The Singularity backlash

June 3, 2009

Source: Future Blogger — June 3, 2009 | Alvis Brigis

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With a pair of feature films due for release in 2009, Ray Kurzweil is poised to shotgun the Singularity mega-meme to the mainstream.

But how will the message and messenger be received? And what effect will Kurzweil’s rising star have on associated memes such as accelerating change, transhumanism, extropianism, futurism, AGI and other less extreme Singularity definitions?

If recent Newsweek (“Is this the next great leap in human evolution, or just one man’s midlife crisis writ large?”) and slanted io9 (“The famous futurist’s meat brain has made some ludicrously inaccurate predictions…”) coverage is any indicator, the seeds of a Kurzweil backlash are beginning to sprout — a social dynamic that probably also extends to technology in general.

Though I’m no proponent of Kurzweil’s Strong Singularity school of thought, relegating it to a low-probability event, I do think the man has contributed a great deal to the study of accelerating change and the human condition.  I find the aforementioned criticism, and especially the voluminous associated comment threads, superficial and incendiary, not productive.  And though I’m not all that surprised about the reaction, I’m a bit worried now that I’m actually witnessing the number of Singularity haters rise, especially because the mentality is likely to extend to the notion of the clearly palpable and verifiable accelerating change occuring in many human-related domains.

Now, if you’re going to criticize Kurzweil — and I think more people should do just that — it makes more sense to carefully take a go at the definition of the Singularity itself rather than his, frankly, rather safe hardware and computing predictions.  But that takes time, commitment to simulating multiple futures, and careful consideration, which means there will be many millions of emotionally anti-tech eager to pan Kurzweil’s brand of techno-utopianism and accelerating change rather than engage in rigorous debate.

Like I said, it’s not surprising, just scary.

Hopefully the story will end more positively than, say, the tale of Giordano Bruno, advocate of heliocentrism, one of my all-time faves.  But alas, if things do turn nasty and all apocalyptic, neo-luddite versus transhuman, then perhaps we’ll need Skynet to save us from ourselves after all, thus making Kurzweil’s Singularity a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy.

Say it won’t be so Ray.  Some of us will believe you! [...]