Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Singularity Reporting: Please Stop with All the Coulds!

There is a word that has been bothering me lately. I have seen it used to the point where I fear a backlash against the very subject it aims to promote. When it comes to reporting technological developments in any field, be it anti-aging, robotics, nanotechnology, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, whatever, could we please stop using the word could?

(Please note that my use of the word just now was not within the type of usage that I find irritating and potentially harmful to the cause of singularity.)

Allow me to explain my dislike of the word as it is most commonly used in announcing technological leaps. Shall I give a recent example? That shouldn't be too difficult. Let's see. Ah, here's one: Nanoparticle technique could lead to improved semiconductors. Would you like another? Miniature Implanted Devices Could Treat Epilepsy, Glaucoma.

These developments are wonderful, and I do not doubt that many of them will do what the reporters anticipate, but is this the right time to be breathlessly talking about what could happen? I find myself being underwhelmed by the hype. I don't want to know what could come from these things. I want to know what has come from them. If nothing has yet, then let's shut up for a while and be patient.

But what could be wrong with all the coulds? I am concerned that when there are 100 coulds for every has, the public will understandably become even more skeptical and disillusioned than they already are. I'm reminded of the saying, "He who girds on his armor should not boast like him who lays it down." For my part, I decided recently to forgo blogging about this kind of news. The researchers deserve credit and the knowledge of what they have accomplished should be disseminated. But that can be done in the appropriate journals. Let's leave the mainstream media for when the armor is being laid down. In other words, let's wait till the applications are at least imminent before trumpeting what could be.

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Bob Mottram said...

Maybe those coulds ain't so bad. Describing what some new scientific discovery could lead to is useful in letting the public and prospective investors know what sort of applications they can expect to come out of the research and why it might be worth doing in the first place.

Of course too many speculative coulds just make the thing sound like pure hype, so there is some journalistic responsibility necessary.

bmahfood said...

What gets to me is the high proportion of speculative "could" articles, even when they don't use that specific word. You are right, that they do serve a purpose, though.

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