Trends in Current Science Fiction part 3

Another trend in modern science fiction is the concept of Singularity, but also the opposite which I will cover in a later post. The thing is, that we might have seen the Singularity trend peak and that it in fact has started to fade now at least according to some posts on the Blogosphere (see links at the end of this post). Personally I think it will be here in one form or another for a long time. Technology and Science are changing the world around us and it is only natural that science fiction writers explore those changes to the limits of imagination. There is many ‘modern’ science fiction written which involve the singularity concept which we don’t see in ‘classic’ SF.

Singularity refers to a theory that technological and scientific progress will continue to speed up and that we will develop more intelligent beings that will speed up the progress even more while they invent even more intelligent beings and you see where this is going. Until we reach a point where not even our imagination can follow.

Singularity science fiction follows a Moore’s Law of the future, where science improves our lives exponentially over time. Eventually human life is so radically transformed that it’s unrecognizable to those of us living in the relatively crappy present. – io9

This is usually done by a combination of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Sometimes the beings are ourself evolved and transformed to a post-human or transhuman race with little in common with the meat monkeys we are today.

History of singularity:

In 1965, I. J. Good first wrote of an “intelligence explosion”, suggesting that if machines could even slightly surpass human intellect, they could improve their own designs in ways unforeseen by their designers, and thus recursively augment themselves into far greater intelligences. The first such improvements might be small, but as the machine became more intelligent it would become better at becoming more intelligent, which could lead to a cascade of self-improvements and a sudden surge to superintelligence (or a singularity).

Vernon Vinge minted The Singularity expression in 1982.

In 1982, Vernor Vinge proposed that the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence represented a breakdown in humans’ ability to model their future. The argument was that authors cannot write realistic characters who are smarter than humans: if humans could visualize smarter-than-human intelligence, we would be that smart ourselves. Vinge named this event “the Singularity”. He compared it to the breakdown of the then-current model of physics when it was used to model the gravitational singularity beyond the event horizon of a black hole. In 1993, Vernor Vinge associated the Singularity more explicitly with I. J. Good’s intelligence explosion, and tried to project the arrival time of artificial intelligence (AI) using Moore’s law, which thereafter came to be associated with the “Singularity” concept.

Proof and examples:

A good example on Artificial Intelligences is William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, in which AIs are strictly regulated by the Turing Police so that they can’t become self aware, but one wants to anyway. A more recent example is the WWW series by Robert J. Sawyer.

The singularity is sometimes addressed in fictional works to explain the event’s absence. Neal Asher’s Gridlinked series features a future where humans living in the Polity are governed by AIs and while some are resentful, most believe that they are far better governors than any human. In the fourth novel, Polity Agent, it is mentioned that the singularity is far overdue yet most AIs have decided not to partake in it for reasons that only they know.

A flashback character in Ken MacLeod’s 1998 novel The Cassini Division dismissively refers to the Singularity as the Rapture for nerds, though the singularity goes on to happen anyway.

Accelerating progress features in some science fiction works, and is a central theme in Charles Stross’s Accelerando (free download). Singularity Sky also touches on singularity.

Ken MacLeod’s Newton’s Wake is a post-singularity work as well as the Evergence Trilogy by Sean Williams & Shane Dix both which I like.

Other authors that address singularity-related issues include Karl Schroeder, Alastair Reynold, Greg Egan, Ken MacLeod, Paul Melko(Singularity’s Ring), Rudy Rucker, David Brin, Iain M. Banks, Ian Douglas, Neal Stephenson, Tony Ballantyne, Bruce Sterling, Dan Simmons, Damien Broderick, Fredric Brown, Jacek Dukaj, Nagaru Tanigawa, John Dickinson (WE), Douglas Adams and Ian McDonald etc

Popular movies in which computers become intelligent and violently overpower the human race include the Terminator series, the parody of a film adaptation of I, Robot, and The Matrix series.

On television series Battlestar Galactica and Caprica also explores artificial intelligence.

Another form of Singularity of a more spiritual kind is explored in the differentStargate installments. Ascended beings beyond human comprehension play a significant part in the Stargate universe (not SGU so far). Although most of them ascends through spiritual means, there are also cases of a more technological form of ascension now and then. The most significant ascended being in the series where Daniel Jackson here seen during the process.

Please watch this video where some of the aforementioned authors discuss Singularity.

The Singularity: An Appraisal from Michael Johnson on Vimeo.

This panel was held at Boskone 47 in Boston, MA on February 12th, 2010. Moderating was the Guest of Honor, Alastair Reynolds. Other panel participants included several time Hugo Award winner Vernor Vinge, Locus Award winner Charles Stross, and Karl Schroeder.

What’s your take on Singularity?
Got any good books to recommend?
Please write a comment.

Trends in Current Science Fiction Post Index:

  1. Nanotechnology
  2. Enviromental disaster
  3. Singularity
  4. Reality TV