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Singularity schmingularity

For whatever reason, halfway through Accelerando, my internal muse decided that it wanted to got retro. I read the rest of the book to the accompaniment of Walter Wendy Carlos' Switched on Bach, Switched on Bach II, and Well Tempered Synthesizer; all pre-MIDI Moog-to-the-max early electronica. Music from the late '60s and early '70s -- another time when people thought that technology was going to go leaping away from humanity's grasp and turn the world upside down.

The idea that synthesizers and computers would relegate flesh-and-blood musicians to the dust bin of history turned out to be just as overstated as claims that the mainframe is dead and fusion is just around the corner. Things have a way of turning out to be rather not what people expected. Computers have not given us the paperless office; they have enabled us to generate a landslide of new paper. Computers and synthesizers have not been the undoing of live musicians -- they have, in fact, ushered in an era where anybody and their brother (or garage-band friends) can make high-quality (at least in terms of production) music and get it out there for all to year. The mainframe is not dead, just different. And a cheap prop from a sci-fi TV show that debuted forty years ago (and folded in three seasons due to its poor ratings) gave us the template for a communications device that is now almost ubiquitous and has fundamentally altered the way we keep in touch with each other.

While there are holdouts against every wave of technical and social change, humanity has adapted to everything it has created so far. The idea of a singularity may be as attractive to believer-geeks as Armageddon is to believer-Christians, but it's just as unlikely to ever happen. Each wave of technological advancement brings about a period of spastic change and unpredictability, which invariably runs its course. We should not overestimate the ability of Business to hammer even the shiniest spherical new idea into a dull, cylindrical peg which can be inserted into a hole in a marketing structure. The structure morphs over time to accommodate new kinds of pegs (and new laws, new politics, new resource constraints, and new opportunities), but we have yet to create something that causes everything we know to go *spang*, and the course of human history to suddenly go nonlinear.

When the sun comes up tomorrow you will still eat breakfast, the Internet will not have become sentient, and the hypothetical average "you" will continue your slow turn away from a morning paper to a morning troll of RSS feeds and newsblogs. It will not all change tomorrow, even if some folks fervently wish it would.



An aside: I wholeheartedly support the right of the human being now known as Wendy Carlos to be whatever person she thinks and feels it most appropriate for her to be. But, I find the complete erasure of her former identity (Walter) to be just a little creepy. I pulled out my own 1973 LP copy of S-OB II just to make sure that I wasn't imagining things -- indeed, it's Walter Carlos in at least eleven places on the dust jacket. It's not the change that squicks me, its the thoroughness with which Walter has been unpersoned across the entirety of the Internet.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
half_elf_lost
Sep. 3rd, 2006 01:29 am (UTC)
He She may have tried to become someone different, but others' memories of him can't be erased. You're right, the whole thing is Creepy with a Capital C and is reminiscent of Philip K. Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.
netcurmudgeon
Sep. 3rd, 2006 02:38 am (UTC)
She may have tried to become someone different...

Actually, judging from the photos, she makes a pretty good girl.

There's a Suzanne Vega song entitled "as girls go" from her album 99.9°F that just popped on my mental sterio. :-)

half_elf_lost
Sep. 3rd, 2006 03:10 am (UTC)
Remember that song! (I don't deny her the right to become who she wants to be, btw...but the erasure efforts make me uncomfortable.)
netcurmudgeon
Sep. 4th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
...but the erasure efforts make me uncomfortable.

Yeah. Holding my vintage copies of S-OB and S-OB II gives me this creepy feeling that I analogize to viewing KGB files of the 'disappeared'.

How complicated the lives of public people can become ... stepping into the public eye seems to mean giving up a portion of control over who you are.
half_elf_lost
Sep. 4th, 2006 04:27 pm (UTC)
The scary part is that there are folks in the public who seem to think they've got some portion of ownership over those that are famous. Eeek. Every photo snapped of you eating a french fry out in public. Crrrreeeepy.
brianrogers
Sep. 3rd, 2006 10:24 am (UTC)
Now mind you...
my 'Internet Gains Sentience" story only exists in a supers universe as a contrivance to explain why the setting doesn't have one, and therefore why the world outside the window isn't suffering from massive hyper tech proliferation. Plus, it's set in the 1980's. If I were to set the game in the now, the absence of the Internet would be just as glaring as the presence of everyday people having transporters....
netcurmudgeon
Sep. 3rd, 2006 12:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Now mind you...
That comment wasn't aimed at you ... you just reminded me that "the Internet wakes up" stories are pretty common, and that there are people who expect this to happen. I trust you, of all people, to be able to separate fantasy from reality! :-)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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