Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Will You Be Able to Navigate the Future?

Much fun has been poked at people's unwillingness or inability to learn the ins and outs of new technology. Consider the notorious VCR clock of yesteryear, plaintively flashing its 12:00 over and over because its owner would not learn how to set the correct time. Computers have provided another barrel full of laughs. But as we accelerate the introduction of new technology, many people may stop laughing.

The fact is, new technologies, particularly entirely new technological paradigms, require a high degree of adaptation and learning in order to operate operate them successfully. Granted, the competitive marketplace puts pressure on designers to make new technology as simple to use as the etch-a-sketch, but there are limits to how far this simplification can go. Computer technology is now its own branch of learning for school-age children, but as the pace of advances increases exponentially, many may be left behind.

Vernor Vinge's novel Rainbows End tells the story of a man who fell victim to Alzheimer's being rejuvenated, only to find that he has missed several years of advancing technology, to the point where he must attend school to learn how to use it. Either that or be effectively crippled by his lack of knowledge. Little has been said about the massive challenge that lies ahead for the bulk of society as these new technologies begin to come online.

Take a look at this exchange between Robert, the rejuvenated man in Vinge's story, and Miri, his granddaughter.
She patted his arm. "Don't worry Robert. Once you learn to wear, you can learn anything. Right now, you're in a trap; it's like you're seeing the world through a little hole; just whatever your naked eye sees—and what you can get from that." She pointed at the magic foolscap that was tucked into his shirt pocket. "With some practice you should be able to see and hear as good as anyone."
So how can you or I avoid falling into the "trap" of technological ignorance? It seems to me that it's a matter of my mindset more than anything else. My mindset is that I will do my best to learn about and understand where technology is going, and attempt to be involved in it, not necessarily every jot and tittle, but certainly its major themes. What are they? Nanotechnology; virtual reality, strong AI, radical life-extension; robotics; singularity; transhumanism.

As one example of my determination to keep up, I created a Second Life identity named Midd Munro. In the world of Second Life, I have discovered, there is a lot to learn. The learning curve is steep. But I will do my best to climb it. If alternate virtual personalities are a probable outgrowth of singularity, I'd better get on board, right?

Stay tuned.

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