karen meisner (_stranger_here) wrote,
karen meisner
_stranger_here

bring on the techno-future

Ours is not a household of many rules, but I try to maintain certain standards: thus, as some of you know, for a few years I've placed a moratorium on any mention of the Singularity within these walls. Why? Because long ago I formed an impression of how discussions about the Singularity tended to run, which was pretty much along these lines.

Well, but my friends are smart people and I ought to give you guys the benefit of the doubt. So I hereby announce, with some trepidation, that I am lifting the ban and deregulating Singularity discussion in our house. If you absolutely must talk about it, you may do so henceforth without fear of incurring my wrath and/or being escorted off the premises.

You can thank/blame Ben Rosenbaum for changing my mind. Ben is, let's be honest, the main reason I had to make the rule in the first place, because given the slightest provocation, he will go on about the goddamn Singularity. (In fact he and Cory Doctorow just co-wrote a novella set in a post-Singularity world, currently available here as a podcast.) However, what with Ben being brilliant and all, he's starting to convince me there are things worth saying on the subject. So okay. Bring on the techno-future.

We've even broached the subject in email, after I mentioned the above-linked webcomic to him, and it has not destroyed my will to live!  A sign of progress:


**

I saw that comic, and it is kinda funny, and in a sense very similar to what I said at the Feminism and the Singularity panel... but on the other hand, it's a bit oversimplifying. I think most of the good Singularity stories by most of those nerdcore boys -- Charlie, Cory, etc., even Vinge -- are actually just as much about the left-behind non-upgraded humans as the divinely enhanced ones, and the disadvantaged often have the story's sympathies. Indeed, the lesson of a lot of those stories (which the comic tries to reserve for itself) is that no matter how hot you think you are, you get left behind sooner or later; Manfred Macx is awfully obsolete and at the mercy of his cat by the end of Accelerando, for instance. The only one I think is really gung-ho booster about it all and sure of "living in the future" is Egan.

Amusingly, the more "omg it will change everything" dewy-eyed you are about the S, the more the exigencies of writing *fiction* (and thus foregrounding risk and suffering) force you to write about those who get excluded from the apparent paradise... or else to make it not so paradisical.

I actually think much of the apparent "woo it'll be so cool to be uploaded" bravado is a thin veneer over the dread of considering what it means that consciousness might be computable.

Ben

**


Your observations on trends in discussion of Singularity stuff are far more informed than my own, and I like the way you talk about it (IN EMAIL, NOT IN PERSON, ROSENBAUM, DON'T TAKE THIS AS ENCOURAGEMENT). The way you describe it, it's actually a really interesting subject.

I got cornered once at a party by a Transhumanist who had arranged to freeze his head when he died, so he could wake up in the glorious future. I tried to get him to talk about his vision of what this would mean to him, why he was doing it, but all he could really articulate was that he wanted to affect the future, he wanted to be a player in the future. I got the strong sense that he pictured himself waking up and, by dint of his special status as an anachronism, becoming an important and specially valued person. Like a magical get-out-of-dying ticket that walks you right through death to the other side, where you emerge in a blaze of innate power and popularity. At the time, I was struck by the thought that he was sublimating a biological urge to procreate (send some of yourself down the line to touch the future, become an important person in your sphere of existence). Simplistic, I know, but he seemed like a lonely guy, and there was clearly a lot of contempt for the flesh at work there; even more clearly, the contempt was covering a desperate social insecurity combined with self-aggrandizement, so it was all hard to take very seriously.

Anyway, I was bitching about it later to Tim Powers and he said he bets all those guys get defrosted in the future and their brains are so primitive and retrograde that they all end up being used to power lawn mowers, or something.

Which is an image that makes me smile every time I think of it. Little defrosted heads poking out of futuristic appliances.

xo
Karen

**

Excellent thought about the sublimation. Haddayr and I were talking about my story with Cory, True Names, and whether you'd want to be a filter in Beebe -- this is a kind of person, in case you haven't read the story, who dies when they reproduce. If a filter stays a spinster, he can live forever, if he has a child, he dies.

We were at first both like "so a clever filter can live forever!" Then it occurred to us to think as parents and we were like "of course, actually personally, I'd prefer to spawn and die..."

I want one of those lawnmowers!

**

Hee. Well, and also there are many ways to leave a legacy and usefully affect the world/future besides spawning. But they usually involve touching other people's lives, either personally, artistically, through innovative creations, etc. Part of why I couldn't hear that guy's Transhumanist ranting except through a psychological filter: he struck me as a very isolated person who hadn't managed to actually make or do much that would be remembered after he was gone, and had focused on this instead.

Let it be a warning: this is what SF does to you! You get to a point of Publish or Perish, and then the inevitable next step is Publish or Perish Except For Your Very Special Frozen Brain Which Will Live On Forever.

**

I think it would be great if his *plan* was to become a lawnmower. That could be kind of ennobling.

Ben

**

It's honest work.

Plus, an optimistic thought that in the future there will still be enough healthy grass left to require mowing!

**

That the grass will ALSO be sentient makes the whole thing rather dark. Though maybe the grass likes it.

Ben

**

Once again, the petty dreams of a mediocre mind result in a fascist grab for domination over the downtrodden masses.

K

**

You know I love it when you talk dirty.

**

You're just excited at the thought of all that sentient grass getting plowed. One hopes consensually; there is a kind of symbiosis in that relationship, though the power dynamic is complicated.

**

It's true, it's a fetish of mine.

The power dynamic hinges crucially on whether the mower is gas, manual, or electric.

You'd be surprised how many sentient post-Singularity mowers are manual!

Ben

**

That's because in the future, gas and electricity are hard to come by (I hope that phrasing didn't get you too worked up). The most abundant post-singularity energy source? Defrosted brainz.

K

**

Tags: benjamin rosenbaum, brainz, sf
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