This Singularity Malarkey – By @sammcollinss

By Sam Collins


This Singularity Malarkey


The technological singularity refers to a theoretical time in the future where the growth of technology becomes uncontrollable and irreversible. As a consequence, the theory goes, unfathomable changes to human civilisation will take place.

My instinctive reaction to hearing a piece of information like this is generally one of cynical disbelief. A voice in my head tells me there’s nothing to worry about right now. I can’t quite put my finger on why this is, but it seems as if the more extreme a projection is, the quicker my brain bypasses its regular rational processes in favour of an ignorant, baseless contentment with the status quo.

There are other projected futures that garner this sort of reaction from my subconscious mind. For example, the immediacy of the climate ‘emergency’ or the threat of nuclear war.

Even a surface understanding or cursory attempt to rationally process these issues leave one with very little choice but to be incredibly worried about their grave dangers to humanity. But on a day-to-day basis, they couldn’t bother me less. Though I imagine that if sea levels actually rose in my area or Russia aimed a nuke at my house, I’m pretty confident I’d make a relatively hasty departure.

So, why are we so ambivalent about things just because we can’t see them, or because they haven’t happened yet?

Plenty of people today still believe in Gods they can’t see, so the absence of visuals alone can’t be to blame. Likewise, the abstraction that these issues have in common cannot account for dissonance. If they could, the stories told in the campaigns of Trump and Brexit for example, would never have gained traction.

Perhaps evolutionary history holds the answer; I can’t imagine the threat of an abstract future would have affected prehistoric man very much or played a significant role in his immediate survival. And thus maybe a ‘I’m-worried-about-that-really-scary-thing-that-may-or-may-not-happen-in-the-future’ gene never had the necessity to arise in our DNA. I think it’s this that accounts for our propensity to be so placid in the face of potentially catastrophic horrors.

In this age of technology, we’ve become accustomed to being in control more so now than ever before. Note-taking apps, geotagged photographs and cloud based calendars give us a minute-by-minute play of what we’ve done, and what we’re about to do. For the most part, we control our time and our environment.

So, when we hear of something such as the ‘singularity,’ something that by definition strips us of all the control we’ve accreted over time, our brain retreats in to this state of protective denial. “If it’s not going to hurt me now, I don’t need to worry about it.”

But what the hell happens when robots are inventing robots? Who’s going to sort it out if it all goes wrong? Are we going to be able to wrestle back control of our innovation and development? Will it be wise to?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, nor it seems do people that spend much longer thinking about it than I do.

So, if you’re reading this in a post-singularity world and you robots have taken over, please can you make sure my house isn’t under water?

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