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A plea to singularitarians and their messengers

I like to tell my friends and family about the technological advances, the potential singularity, longevity, the abundance of goods, all the things to possibly come which are common knowledge to the transhumanist/singularity-community.

Who of them knew about the singularity before I bring up the topic?

None of them. “Them” being in the film industry like me, some are retirees/parents or just people I meet by chance. They are pretty much a cross-section of the mainstream population in countries I have friends in: Austria, Poland, Germany, Hongkong, Serbia, Mexico, USA – nobody knew anything about a singularity, a Ray Kurzweil, 3D printers and the tsunami of possibilities that races towards us.

The singularity with all its consequences is unknown to the citizens of Earth. I am not talking about 3rd world people with no access to information. I mean us. Our neighbors, co-workers, friends and families who are online all day. None of them knows.

But they should.

The singularity, in whatever form it may arrive, needs much more awareness. It is a goal worth working and living for and that’s what people want and need. It’s the kind of positive sci-fi Neal Stephenson is asking for: We are not heading towards a dystopian future of miserableness; we are heading towards Utopia. People need to know and understand. But, even now when I am writing these lines, I feel the urge to be very careful about how to deliver the message to the people around us, because of how outlandish some of the more exciting things down the road can appear to people. Immortality? Multiple bodies and/or identities? Brain-uploads? Interstellar mind transfers? Most of the stuff that seems possible is far beyond any science fiction movie and yet we rely on fictional references so much.

It is so easy to turn people into tech-scared luddites, or come across as esoteric prophets, a new wave of scientologist nutcases. Many articles and papers about the singularity contain quite an amount of pop culture quotes: Movies, TV-series, comics, etc. and while I guess, everybody can understand the analogies you guys love to make with The Matrix or The Terminator: I think this takes away the earnestness of the endeavor and makes the argument for the singularity sound like esotericism, because quoting fiction to support actual developments is a) not quite rigorous and b) mostly garnished with negativity, because in all those movies/books/etc technology and machines are usually the bad guys or used by them in the attempt to destroy humanity – technology is the enemy. They completely lack what Stephenson wishes for: A positive outlook.

I might have a cultural bias on this, because I am surrounded by western/US-American media (I live in Austria), but I notice this bias also seems to affect the development of AI/robotics, at least in the way they are fed to us by the media: The impression I get is that western society (most of it originating from the USA) is investing its resources on the development of aggressive AI (weaponry), whereas Asia, especially Japan, seems to seek a more humane usage of machines (maybe because in their pop-culture machines are not the bad guys). This is the impression I get from watching demo-videos of AI-systems on Youtube so many times. Either the media distorts reality or fiction and reality seem to mirror each other quite efficiently in our cultural spaces.

The fiction in our culture paints a dark image of the future and we need to be careful and concentrate on the positives without those fictional references. In its “only bad news is good news”-attitude the mainstream media will do its worst to exaggerate every word uttered by futurists anyways. Let’s not pre-feed them.

I feel, the appearance of the singularity movement is on the borderline of coming across as religious group or prophecy and this needs to be avoided at all costs because it will just slow down and delay everything we are working for. Today, many of the people who propagate the singularity are highly intelligent and educated nerds, freaks, fanboys, drifters far off the mainstream population.

You must not lose them and walk ahead without them, even we are in a hurry because we (the transhumanists, not yet the mainstream) want to live forever and become omniscient gods. It’s not the machines who take our hand today. It is you, the ones who will build them, who have to hold humanity’s hand and lead the rest of us into the future. Don’t leave us behind. And don’t crush our fingers.