Science Fiction Repair Shop: Futurism-ism Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-12-17 15:00:00 No comments

digital interface: Fair play for machines: Chomsky's misreading of Turing, and why it matters.

... science fiction often leads the way in science, but that's surely compatible with keeping clear the distinction between serious theoretical inquiry and fantasy, and recognizing that the singularity theories exemplify the latter and not the former.

...  I believe that the rise in popularity of singularity mysticism is symptomatic of our uncertainty with respect to the nature and future of artificial intelligence, and the fear that it has become increasingly important to our lives and yet beyond our control. Singularity theory has become popular in these conditions partly because there is no real alternative theory in the popular discussion for thinking about our technological condition, and insofar as it helps people understand their circumstances at all it is preferable to treating technological change as wanton and chaotic.

Plainer English: The default mode for thinking about where all our technological progress will take us is the Techno-Rapture, because it seems faintly silly to think of it any other way. Isn't it better to believe we'll just all go to heaven, and (in the words of Steven Spielberg) be handed a laser gun and a hovercar?

Patrick Farley did a great job of skewering both this kind of thinking and the reactions to it in his webcomic The Guy I Almost WasAs a kid, his hapless protagonist kept imagining a future that would be too cool to be real, where people would be paid to not work, where "benevolent corporations" would provide everything, and all he'd have to do would be survive long enough to live in it. Flash-forward to his life after college, and he's slinging muffins and hoarding pennies, with the cyber-revolution turning out to be a complete fraud perpetrated by the cynical on the gullible. I always loved that comic, because it pointed out the folly of both waiting around for the future to show up on schedule, and trying to make it happen by fiat.

My original point, though, is that rapture-futurism is just as deluded as techno-luddism. We can't make ourselves into digital gods any more than we can emulate the Amish. The genie's bottle, once uncorked, is difficult to restopper. And on the whole, I'd rather have the changes given to us by technology than shirk them — better that they be universally known than only in the hands of an unimpeachable, unassailable few. But that doesn't mean I want to be defined entirely by those changes.

What I think is next for us, then, is finding a smart middle way between those two extremes. We can't ascend to cyber-heaven, but maybe only because there are far more important things waiting for us right here on earth. And the only way to find out what that balance is might be to suffer for a while from having a lack of it — to learn about what the balance needs to be by living it out firsthand.

Tags: Patrick Farley Science Fiction Repair Shop futurism science science fiction technology