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Before and After the Singularity

kelson.philo's picture

So, what do folks think about the Vinge Singularity?


Does it really signify a stopping point for SF, or will we just have to get through it and see what happens?

Literature and Science

Well, I think that on a literary level, the singularity is definatley an "idea" that extends fiction possibilities ad infinitum(if they are not so extended already;). As for if its a scientific possibility...I think so. Although it does rely heavily on technology not yet created, I think the core idea about the exponential increase in technology (and its related effects) is sound. An example: The early "internet revolution" as some people call it was primarily a technology advancement. Cost, production methods, and demand enabled for a mass adoption of personal computers and communications devices. We all know that. But now, a decade later, we have a "social revolution" occuring, an phenomena directly related to the adoption of "the web". OpenSource ethos, social networking delineated into speciality subgroups (ie scifi writers, physicists, etc), data aggregation, "Web 2.0". These types of things are enabling communication and interaction amongst persons (and machines)at an increaseing pace which, I believe, has a direct effect on the pace of technological advancement. Im a fan of Ray Kurzweil, who says in his book "The Singularity is Near", that we approaching the "knee curve" of exponential growth. Looking around the blogosphere, it sure looks like things are changing much faster then 15 years ago. heck,things are changing faster than last year. And furthermore, there are laws of physics which will hold us back, from our current viewpoint. The speed of light, heat, etc. But one thing I've noticed about the human species is that there is tendency to always find ways around (or at least understand) the seemingly immutable walls of science.


I've always figured the

I've always figured the Singularity suffers from bad terminology. It looks more like being an evolutionary phase shift than an actual singularity, at least in the sense of a mathematical curve asymptotically approaching infinity.

I don't think it really makes the future that much harder to map. I mean, it's not like it was easy before: how many science fiction novels accurately predict the future? For every hit, there's a hundred misses. The world's always been impossible to predict (being a complex system and all); it hasn't become any more impossible with the idea of the singularity. Just stranger.

kelson.philo's picture

I agree with you. I think

I agree with you. I think "singularity" isn't the best name for what vinge was describing. Singularity always implies "Event Horizon" to me, and the closer you get to an event horizon, the more time slows down for the the point where an outside observer would say "Hey, they've gone into the singularity" and we would always be allllllllmooooooooosssssssstttttttttttttttttt thhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee............*


Good point. Though actually,

Good point. Though actually, the singularity does seem to be exhibiting a sort of time-dilation. Re: Ray Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns, more salient events are being packed into less time as the singularity approaches, thus, in a way, stretching time out.


Do you mean, what do we think from a literary perspective, or what do we think about it scientifically?

As for the former, clearly the Singularity is an interesting idea to mine for stories, and of course it's already generated plenty of interesting stuff.

As for the latter, speaking as a physicist and engineer, while the idea appears to have some merit, it also requires a certain type of nearly-religious mindset, insofar as the tecnologies necessary for it are assumed to be possible. In other words, it's got some predestination and millinealism thrown in there that blinds the eyes of its most faithful adherents to the actual physical limitations of reality.

For example, we may be rapidly approaching the physical limitation of what lasers can transmit. To increase throughputs, lasers will requie more energy and give off more heat. This is a quantum mecahnical limitation and, most likely, laser efficiency will not follow Moore's law.

Of course, it MIGHT be possible to find a replacement, but there's no reason to believe that one will become available.

Likewise, consider cars: They're hardly more efficient than when they started. This leads me to believe that in the singularity there will be one hell of a traffic jam!

kelson.philo's picture

hahahaha..yes. I've always

hahahaha..yes. I've always liked ken mcleod's "rapture for nerds" take on the post-singulars...

I think it's the sort of thing that will be confronted by optical computing aficionados in the coming years...i would thing that the eventual pile ups might be solved using different phases so that photons can be real close to one another in the same pathways? Even then, though, there would probably be some upper, ah, let's call it "content limit". Tanstaafl and all that...

My real concern though, is, if you have a post singular entity, what kind of story would that creature consider to be science fiction?


The Zetabyte File System, used by Solaris 10 and the next version of OSX supports files so large that to fill the filesystem you'd need to boil the oceans to do it. This isn't a technological limitation as a quantum one- much the same as your laser.

But, the idea of singularity doesn't require the religious mindset. Big-S Singularity does, but singularities are a common occurrence. A mathematical point at which behavior of a system changes in a fashion that can't be predicted by current knowledge of the system. Looking at "retro-future" resources (historical visions of the future) you can see the singularities that couple with major technological advances- like the Internet.


Not Responsible

kelson.philo's picture

nifty wiki link on that file

nifty wiki link on that file system:

one of those kind of singularities might be in golden age SF, where there is hardly any predictions of using digital computers. Oh, there were computers to be sure, but they're either human (Asimov's Foundation) or they're cogs (Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo) for example. No one, to the best of my knowledge, predicted the transistor, sending computers to the realm of the small instead of filling rooms (although, quantum computers the size of jupiter would suggest a reversal of this trend...).

So, as a side question, will the Singularity happen and if so, will we be able to accurately predict the effects? So far, it seems to be mostly scary stuff...

Singularity traffic

Judging from my journey to work, I think I might already be entering the singularity. (by the way, I posted a response on my blog)

kelson.philo's picture

And what a response it was!

And what a response it was! Everyone go check it out. Fun stuff.

In some ways, i see the blogosphere as sort of a pre-singular kind of simulator. We have alter egos (or we can have if we choose to) running multiple threads of discussion at the same time. Eventually, given enough peeps running around, ol' Oort-Cloud here will become a grand mish-mash of idears bubbling away like some sort of virtual cauldron...

The Dark Ages

...of course, it's possible that we could go the other way. The Singularity (or
series of singularities) is interesting in that it allows for humans to exit the
stage. What would remain could be post-human, greatly transformed, or
completely ignorant of humanity.

We will either become legendary figures as the gods of Olympus or cosmic
punchlines like Chariots of the Gods. In any case, I hope that any post-Singularity
documentaries will be narrated by Leonard Nemoy.

every wall collapses, given enough time.