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Notes from the Singularity

Posted Date: September 18, 2007 – Tuesday – 7:25 AM

“Robbie the Row-Boat’s great crisis of faith came when the coral reef woke up”

“She laughed. ‘No, I meant out there on the net. They must be online by now, right? They just woke up, so they’re probably doing all the noob stuff, flaming and downloading warez and so on.’

‘Perpetual September,’ Robbie said.


‘Back in the net’s prehistory it was mostly universities online, and every September a new cohort of students would come online and   make all those noob mistakes. Then this commercial service full of noobs called AOL interconnected with the net and all its users came online at once, faster than the net could absorb them, and they called it Perpetual September.’

‘You’re some kind of amateur historian, huh?'”

I, Row-Boat” (link to full story), by Cory Doctorow.

The excerpts above are from a short story by Cory Doctorow, my favorite of the new author-bloggers.   For those of you who don’t read science fiction (and that’s probably most of you), you should totally check out the short story.  If you do, let me know what you think!

This story pays homage to classic sci-fi, even the title is a reference to “I, Robot”, a famous collection of Robot stories by Isaac Asimov.  But the coldly scientific and clinical future of Asimov does not exist in Doctorow’s storytelling, or in most modern science fiction.

Minds represented in a flock of pigeons, barrier reefs become sentient and start flame wars on bulletin boards, weird Godelian proofs act as memetic viruses, virtual reality, really really weird virtual reality, spam bots develop into the first AI, sysadmins rule the world.

After all, science fiction is just tomorrow extrapolated from today.  In the US in the Fifties it was easy to believe in the triumph of science and civilization.  In the Sixties through Nineties things have changed quite a bit.  People developed a well placed mistrust against the inherently amoral principles of science, and also against the inherently immoral principles of power.

In the Naughts, science fiction continues to represent “tomorrow”, and it’s a messy, interesting future.  Moore’s Law.  The Hubbert Peak. The Internet.  Insolvency.  Memetics.  Climate Change. Fundamentalism.

Complexity, nonlinearity, uncertainty, computation; singularities, these dominate the science fiction of today.  Good stuff.

“Geoffrey/Grasper is their general. He knows every nook and cranny of the house. He knows better, too, than to play at memes and infinite loops and logic bombs with the pilgrim, who has had a billion years to refine his arsenal of general-purpose algorithmic weapons.

Instead, the Graspers instantiate physically.”
The House Beyond Your Sky” (link to full story), by Benjamin Rosenbaum