Four Great Science Fiction Authors Weigh In on the Singularity (video)

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the singularity: an appraisal

Noted Scifi writers Alastair Reynolds, Vernor Vinge, Karl Schroeder, and Charles Stross discuss the Singularity. Who better to ask about the future than the guys who make it up everyday?

Let's face it. Most what we think we know about the Universe may come from science, but most of what we think we know about the future comes from science fiction. So it only makes sense that the New England Science Fiction Association's annual convention, Boskone, featured a great panel of scifi writers discussing our favorite topic: where the exponential growth in technology is leading us, AKA, the Singularity. On hand was Alastair Reynolds, scientist and author of the Revelation Space series , Vernor Vinge mathematician, computer scientist, and author of A Fire Upon the Deep, Charles Stross, author of Accelerando, and Karl Schroeder, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Science Fiction. The panelists sought to not only explain how the concept of accelerating technologies has affected their work, but also to take a stab at what might actually happen in our real future. It's a lot of fun to watch people who spend their lives describe the far flung future scramble to try to understand the next few decades. Hilarity and insight abounds. A video of the panel in its entirety is below courtesy of Michael Johnson, jump past 3:00 if you want to skip much of the preamble.

Considering the impressive credentials of the panel it was no surprise that the discussion touched upon the same themes often espoused by professional futurists like Ray Kurzweil and James Canton. Panelists discuss the nature of intelligence, how to possible define the Singularity, the dangers of catastrophic uses of technology, and how humanity will continue to grow. Those are themes that are as much rooted in hard science as they are creative fiction. Events like this one always make me wonder how accurate our predictions about the future are, and what difference do those predictions actually make? The very concept of the Singularity is based on the belief that at some point we can't even conceive of what the future will be like. If technologies continue to accelerate in the years ahead then science fiction is likely to seem tame by comparison.

Many thanks to M. Johnson for the video, but the sound quality is a little poor. You'll need to turn up your volume to hear everyone. Questions start at 33:55. Enjoy!

[screen capture and video credits: Michael Johnson]
[sources: NESFA, BOSKONE 47]

Discussion — 7 Responses

  • Hjalmar March 12, 2010 on 8:36 pm

    Sorry, but the sound quality is really too bad. I cranked up the volume to hear the conversation, and I almost got deaf when somebody laughed into the mic on the camera.

  • petergkinnon March 13, 2010 on 9:33 am

    Science fact generally turns out to be more fascinating and bizarre than dreamed of by the anthropocentric meanderings of fiction writers.

    The realization of the exponential growth of technology has now become widespread and it is now generally accepted by the cognoscenti that an event comparable to a phase transition (a better metaphor than the rather silly “singularity” buzz-word) will be shortly upon us.

    What is still to be recognized is the evidential basis that the vector of the evolutionary life process, represented most commonly by genetic evolution and its more recent extension, the evolution of technology, points strongly to the present Internet as the basis for the next manifestation of this process.

    Canton and others are at last becoming less dismissive of such a model. That they have remained so for so long stems from the fact that they work in the disciplines of IT and AI whereas the evidence on which this projection is based is derived rather from chemistry and biology.

    It is presented in Chapter 11 of my recent book “Unusual Perspectives”, the latest edition of which is available in electronic format for free download from the eponymous website.

  • Nn March 19, 2010 on 4:05 am

    Thanks for the video, please try to fix the audio

  • Quinn March 27, 2010 on 3:29 am

    Nothing like those old-fashioned transcripts!

    • DanV Quinn December 15, 2010 on 6:06 pm

      Totally agreeing!!!
      Old-fashioned transcript are even better for not-so-well-speaking/understanding-English people. You can take the dictionary for words you are not sure about their meaning, and so on…

  • Quinn March 27, 2010 on 3:29 am

    Nothing like those old-fashioned transcripts!

  • Quinn March 26, 2010 on 11:29 pm

    Nothing like those old-fashioned transcripts!