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Is There a Singularity Backlash?

Over at my favorite SF blog io9, my old pal Annalee Newitz writes of a "singularity backlash":

"But now we’re starting to see the bleeding edges of a backlash against this kind of ‘everybody disappears’ singularity where the human future is unimaginably awesome. Partly this backlash is coming from history-obsessed authors like Jo Walton and Robert Charles Wilson. Wilson’s novel Julian Comstock imagines a 22nd century United States sapped of its energy resources and returned to 19th Century levels of technology."  She goes on to mention the Steampunk trend, Firefly, and Stephenson’s Anathem ("about a society that has rejected the singularity, and how this choice has not only saved their civilization but put them in a position to advance far more than they would have otherwise.")

I’m dubious (and suspect that Annalee was just finding an excuse/context for writing about some cool and interesting stuff…  come on, we all do it…)  I’m pretty sure you could make this point about people advocating some transcendent vision in SF (Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End for instance) while other people showed different futures, some of them bleak and some of them preservationist (we save mankind by not leaping into the unknowable next thing), including ones that land people back in those wonderful days of the 19th century when white men were…  oh never mind…)  

There may be a sort of singularity backlash though within transhuman or radical technology circles, in the sense that the Singularity is outpopularizing other memes…  and everybody assumes that if you advocate radically self-directed evolution, you must buy into the Singularity model… (and probably Ray Kurzweil’s model at that) when in fact, those who don’t may be a majority. 

Michael Anissimov gets into this a bit in commenting on a biting satire of Singularity University that appeared in Wired magazine.

Personally, as a meta-agnostic, I can go either way on the Singularity but on the whole, I’m glad Ray Kurzweil is out there giving his version of it, because it’s ever so intriguing and gets people talking (plus the mass spread of the concept gave us an idea for a funny in house ad that you see every time you come to our front page if you look just to your right.  We were also happy to have Lisa Rein at Singularity University liveblogging — more or less — from their first week of activity.  SU is a case in point, in the sense that the school is about accelerating technology and not specifically about the Singularity, as SU Chairman Peter Diamandas made clear in our Summer Edition interview. In other words, "Singularity" is a pretty hot marketing term for radical tech media, which bothers people who have nothing better to do than to get reactive about such things.)

Is there a singularity backlash?  It’s almost a meaningless question in the sense that it’s tautological that —  If some idea (or rock band or brand of socks) starts getting a lot of notice, it will bring out critics and opposition.  And it will bring out satire — hopefully really excellent satire.  Hell, I think Charlie Stross’ singularitarian stuff is already pretty funny and satirical.

I’m looking forward to the h+ magazine backlash. It’s a sign of success.




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