Friday, 6 June 2008

Warren Ellis: Singularity 'Rapture for Nerds'

Science Fiction Author Warren Ellis has written a short blog attacking supporters of the Singularity idea which has caused some ripples in Transhumanist circles. The blog "The NerdGod Delusion" is misinformed and full of non-sequiturs (comparison to scientology illustrates a distinct lack of understanding of both the Singularity and Scientology), but, I believe it is important to take note of his comments.

The fact is, there are similarities between believing in the Singularity and believing in religious faith, and opponents are always going to pick up on this. This blog has shown just how easy it is for the general population to jump to irrational conclusions and generalize ideas.

So how is supporting the Singularity similar to religious faith? Obviously nowadays it has developed into a community, bringing with it the sense of belonging that goes with faith, bringing together people with similar ideals and morals. Also, it gives hope of a utopian future – just like some prophecy.

However, what is making “Singularitarianism” worryingly comparable to religion in recent years is the growing dogmatic sense that surrounds it, and the fact that it is, for many believers, a closed belief system. There are no alternatives. Many followers believe that it is inevitable and what it brings is definitely going to happen. Many followers believe the projections of visionaries like Kurzweil and DeGrey without question, which, regardless of their integrity, is irresponsible.

The Singularity, taking into account the Law of Accelerating Returns, seems logical, even within the timeframe – but it is a prediction that is fundamentally flawed. It may not be possible. Real Artificial General Intelligence may never be possible due to the nature of how intelligence evolved, nanotechnology may never be possible due to the unpredictable behaviour of particles in the atomic world, and immortality may never be possible if there are underlying complications to the way the brain stores consciousness that we are yet to discover. That said, if any of them are possible, then they really are reasonable predictions and there is no need to attach religious connotations to them. We just have to show caution in our commitment to them until their feasibility is confirmed.

I commend George Dvorsky’s suggestions for normalizing the Singularity debate. However one thing this reaction has taught us is that we must be careful how we expose people to Future shock if we want the Singularity idea to keep its credibility. Alternatively, we could play off the shock value and the idea of it being a religion. The shock value itself is a great selling point and the majority of people still want to belong to something, still want to have a faith. Promoting the Singularity in this way could have its merits.

Personally, I am against this principal because it goes against the very essence of my beliefs – the essence of this blog. We should not endorse closed belief systems and should be evolving into more open, innovative mindsets. Expect, expecting humanity to take this step is the battle I find myself in on a daily basis.

Ellis’s comments, misinformed as they are, are a wake up call to Singularity supporters. More effort must be made to question and debate the Singularity, to ensure its supporters are not being represented as a single group, and to improve its credibility through provable results.

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