netcurmudgeon (netcurmudgeon) wrote,

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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.

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