Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Confronting the Social Implications of the Singularity

Imagining the social implications and conundrums that humanity will be faced with in the coming decades with the development of machine consciousness and the uploading of human minds into machine substrates takes a special kind of mind. A mind like the one contained within the brain of Greg Egan.

Greg has both the technical knowledge, writing skills and penetrating imagination that, when combined, allow him to create fiction that examines many of the social dilemmas with which we will be confronted within a few tens of years. In his book of short stories, Axiomatic, Greg conceives some utterly captivating scenarios. Here are the gists of a few:

A ransom demand is made by a group that holds hostage a digital recreation of a man's wife. Does the virtual woman feel pain? Does she suffer? Should the man pay the ransom?

A man who has within his skull a "jewel" which has been matched with his own brain faces the prospect of turning over control of his body to the immortal jewel so that his biological brain can be disposed of. Is his consciousness that of the jewel, or the brain? When his brain is disconnected, will "he" die? Will the jewel be truly conscious, or will it be an imitation of consciousness? Is there a difference?

After an injury to his brain and its subsequent repair by nanobots, a man's perspective shifts to a position outside his body. Although he "knows" only that which his eyes can see, his mind builds a picture of reality as it might appear from a position a few feet above his physical body.

These are just a few of the stories within Axiomatic. If you want to think about what might actually happen when the singularity arrives, this book will certainly set you on the right path.


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