After the fag ends of the cricket yesterday afternoon I found myself at the pub discussing the forthcoming technological singularity. This is supposed to be the point where all the creations of humanity reach a point of superabundant intelligence that those creations can create more machines of even greater superabundant intelligence who can in turn repeat the process. The idea was presented to me as the apex of human achievement, where we are all heading, or at least should be heading.
When humankind reaches this point it’ll all be sweet, we won’t have to worry about a thing. The singularity machines will have everything covered, and everything will be covered more efficiently as each generation of singularity machines improve their performance. Everyday will be a day in which the material effort of being is managed by immense systematicity, obviating our need to actually make that effort. Unsurprisingly this led me to fall into a well of despair. Despairing not only the construction of an endless long weekend as the central goal for humankind, but also that this argument was being made at all.
I knew, as I went to get the next round, that this kind of fantasy theology is hardly cutting edge, or flagship. I remembered Von Neumann machines from Arthur C. Clarke; I remembered William Gibson’s great flowering convergence of Neuromancer and Wintermute into some other kind of thinking and being; I remembered Asimov and the concluding part of I, Robot; and most especially I remembered Helo, Athena and Hera walking off across the Great Rift Valley as human and cylon are unified forever. All of this has happened before, and will happen again. Uh huh.
The construction of this apex, this godlike position of greater-than-people appalls me. Not only for the technological determinism (which is, in fact, so mechanical it contradicts its own arguments) but for the alibis it provides. No need to worry about the fallibilities of our existence when in thirty, fifty, seventy years time the machines from The Matrix will solve all our problems. And then even greater machines will solve the problems arising from having our problems solved. And so on. There’s no need to ever mow the lawn again because eventually there will be a machine that will genetically engineer a self cutting grass. No need to worry about anything at all because sooner or a later a super-intelligent ubercomputer will fix it.
I can see the attraction of the singularity because ultimately the point is that human beings are freed from labour: no more commute, no more water cooler talks, no more workers comp, no more email, no more blokes in high visibility clothes. Freed from the drudgery we will all be able to kick back, completely chillin’ because the machines have got it all under control. Plus there’ll be such an explosion of economic growth we’ll be future shocked into a vast collective wealth sustained though inhuman labour. But freedom from labour doesn’t mean liberty, equality, fraternity.
There is no agency in the singularity, there is no choice. And it seems to me that without either labour or choice there is very little of interest in being a person. People become superfluous to being. Not much point in that. I can’t see much joy in the singularity, all we get is closer to god. We get to deny responsibility for ourselves, outsource our creativity and risk, and accept the umpire’s decision when the machine sans fantôme does its thing. Without any options to choose from there’s nothing to work for, nothing to make: all our dreams are rendered subroutines.
I’ll skip it, thanks.