Geoffrey Cole of Prism Magazine has posted the first part of a three-part interview we conducted in Vancouver, back when I was touring with Pirate Cinema. In this part, we talk about many subjects, notably Rapture of the Nerds:
The “Rapture” in Rapture of the Nerds has many meanings. Foremost, it is the ascension of most of biological humanity to a purely digital existence. Do you really think that such a huge percentage of humanity would leave their bodies behind if they could?
Yeah, totally. The question of whether such an option will likely be available to us is something I’m not at all certain about, but in the presence of such an option, I’m very confident that large numbers of people would opt for it. We like get-evolved-quick schemes. If you can sell Thighmasters, you can sell mind uploading.
Patrick sez, "Sci Fi writer Ken MacLeod discusses the possibility of gaining a sense of global purpose through technology, framing it against the last attempt to create a unifying ideology, Communism. ALong the way he takes in the Singularity ('the Rapture of the Nerds'), Humanity 2.0 and discovers that like Nietzsche's death of God, the death of Communism has unexpected effects, namely the death of all hoped of global togetherness. Has technology come to save us?"
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Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a friend forwarded me a post from an obscure email list. The writer had calculated that the continued existence of Afghanistan would delay the Rapture by six months. Millions around the world who would have had a chance of eternal bliss would be irretrievably lost to natural deaths in the interim. According to strict utilitarian reckoning, exterminating the Afghans via a nuclear carpet-bombing campaign would be the kinder course.
This heinous calculus didn’t come from the email list of some apocalyptic cult but from the ‘extropians’, advocates of a massive technological upgrade in the human condition. The event in question wasn’t in fact the Rapture but the Singularity: a predicted moment when the speed of technological advance would go off the scale and, in passing, let us abolish ageing, disease, poverty, and death. For extropians and other adherents to the doctrines of transhumanism, the human condition has been, in principle, a solved problem since 1953, when Watson and Crick published the structure of DNA. The rest is engineering.
Here's a thought:
"It takes about the same amount of computing to answer one Google Search query as all the computing done — in flight and on the ground — for the entire Apollo program."
(Quote from Seb Schmoller’s "Learning technology – a backward and forward look," attributed to Peter Norvig and Udi Mepher of Google on hearing of the death of Neil Armstrong)
I remember hearing that the processor in a singing greeting card had more capacity than all the electronic computers on Earth at the time of Sputnik's launch, though I can't find a cite for it at the moment. Exponential processor improvements are pretty wild.
Eric sez, "The Singularity Summit 2012, exploring 'Minds and Machines' and 'Emerging Technologies and Science' will be taking place October 13 - 14 at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco. The Singularity Summit is the premier event on cutting-edge technologies including robotics, regenerative medicine, artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfacing and more.
Join some of the most brilliant minds in the world for discussions on the most revolutionary technological advancements on the horizon. Speakers include inventor, entrepreneur and author Ray Kurzweil, Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman, professor and author Steven Pinker, professor and author Temple Grandin, science fiction author Vernor Vinge, and many more."
The Singularity Summit | October 13-14, San Francisco (Thanks, Eric!) Read the rest
Joly MacFie captured video of Charlie Stross's and my tour-stop at Brooklyn's MakerBot this week. We were there in support of our new novel Rapture of the Nerds, and did a talk, reading and Q&A that touched on the Singularity, its precedents, its discontents, and its inherent comedy -- all while 3D printers chattered in the background. And afterwards everyone got 3D printed miniatures of our heads!
We're making our final stops of tour tomorrow -- Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! -- in Rochester, NY, at RIT. Tell your friends!
Tomorrow morning, Charlie Stross and I kick off our tour for Rapture of the Nerds tour, with stops in Lexington, KY; Brooklyn, NY: Brookline, MA; and Rochester, NY. Be there or be left behind! Read the rest
The always wonderful and thought-provoking Venkatesh Rao has a typically spot-on analysis of the ideology underlying the idea that we are heading for a world of either collapse or abundance. Along the way, he drops all kinds of great thoughts, like the Generalized Godwin’s Law: "Every discussion within an online community converges to a zero-information signal characterized by empty assertions concerning the foundational dichotomy of that community."
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A resource gets cheap enough to waste when it is cheap enough that you can leave it out of the strategic cost calculations for most products and services that it is a part of.
This is a relative definition of cheap. Global shipping is an example of a wasteable resource today, for value-added manufactured goods. Relative to manufacturing and other costs, the costs of shipping something from China to the US (say) are so trivial that as a first approximation, you can ignore them. You can think about business models and strategic positioning issues without thinking about transport (your accountants still have to include it in their book-keeping of course). The design space for your business model shrinks in useful ways.
Not all resources are wasteable in all industries. Electricity is something you can waste in many contexts in the developed world, but not in the data center business, where it is a big enough cost component that it pays to locate data centers near cheap power.
This suggests a good measure for development actually. A nation or region is as developed as the resources its economy views as wasteable (in the good+strategic sense).
Charlie Stross and I are hitting the road this September 5-9 for a mini, post-Burning Man, post-WorldCon book-tour for our collaborative comic novel of the Singularity called Rapture of the Nerds. We're coming to Lexington, KY; Brooklyn, NY (a stop at MakerBot's BotCave, where there will be a very special surprise!), Brookline, MA, and Rochester, NY. I've never been to Lexington or Brookline, so this is doubly exciting to me!
And tonight, of course, I'm appearing (solo) at a Long Now talk in San Francisco.
Tor.com's just published an excerpt from Rapture of the Nerds, the comic science fiction novel that Charles Stross and I collaborated on, which comes out in September. Booklist just gave it a starred review, saying "Doctorow and Stross, two of the SF genre’s more exciting voices, team up to produce a story that is mindbendingly entertaining but almost impossible to explain….Peppered with references to pop-culture staples (The Matrix, Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and drawing on concepts from hard SF, cyberpunk, and videogames, the novel is a surefire hit for genre fans, especially those familiar with the works of its coauthors. Fans of Adam Roberts' elegant, intellectually challenging SF will also be on firm ground here."
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Huw awakens, dazed and confused.
This is by no means unusual, but for once Huw’s head hurts more than his bladder. He’s lying head down, on his back, in a bathtub. He scrabbles for a handhold and pulls himself upright. A tub is a terrible place to spend a night. Or a morning, come to think of it—as he blinks, he sees that it’s midafternoon, and the light slanting in through a high window limns the strange bathroom’s treacly Victorian fixtures with a roseate glow.
That was quite a party. He vaguely remembers the gathering dawn, its red light staining the wall outside the kitchen window as he discussed environmental poli- tics with a tall shaven-headed woman with a blue fore- lock and a black leather minidress straight out of the twentieth century.
Bruce Sterling gave a speech at the North American Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (NASSLLI) on the eve of the Alan Turing Centenary, and delivered a provocative, witty and important talk on the Turing Test, gender and machine intelligence, Turing's life and death, and art criticism.
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If you study his biography, the emotional vacuum in the guy’s life was quite frightening. His parents are absent on another continent, he’s in boarding schools, in academia, in the intelligence services, in the closet of the mid-20th-century gay life. Although Turing was a bright, physically strong guy capable of tremendous hard work, he never got much credit for his efforts during his lifetime.
How strange was Alan Turing? Was Alan Turing a weird, scary guy? Let’s try a thought experiment, because I’m a science fiction writer and we’re into those counterfactual approaches.
So let’s just suppose that Alan Turing is just the same personally: he’s a mathematician, an early computer scientist, a metaphysician, a war hero — but he’s German. He’s not British. Instead of being the Bletchley Park code breaker, he’s the German code maker. He’s Alan Turingstein, and he realizes the Enigma Machine has a flaw. So, he imagines, designs and builds a digital communication code system for the Nazis. He defeats the British code breakers. In fact, he’s so brilliant that he breaks some of the British codes instead. Therefore, the second World War lasts until the Americans drop their nuclear bomb on Europe.
I think you’ll agree this counter-history is plausible, because so many of Turing’s science problems were German — the famous “ending problem” of computability was German.
Suicide Girls has published an excerpt from Rapture of the Nerds, the novel Charlie Stross and I wrote, which will come out in September. Charlie and I will be touring the book together briefly after Labor Day. The details are still being settled, but there's going to be some very exciting stops!
Rapture is the novel-length version of the two novellas Charlie and I wrote, Jury Service and Appeals Court. For this volume, we re-wrote those two, and added a long third section, Parole Board, from which the Suicide Girls excerpt is drawn. It's a comic novel of the Singularity, party mash-note to technophilia and part indictment. As the title suggests, we're both a little ambivalent on the idea of machine transcendence.
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Of course, the sim is far too realistic. A virtual champagne bath should somehow manage to keep the champagne drinking-temp cold while still feeling warm to the touch. And it shouldn’t be sticky and hot and flat; it should feel like champagne does when it hits your tongue—icy and bubbly and fizzy. And when Huw’s nonbladder feels uncomfortably full and relaxed in the hot liquid and she lets a surreptitious stream loose, it should be magicked away, not instantly blended in with the vintage Veuve to make an instant tubworth of piss-mimosa.
This is what comes of having too much compute-time at one’s disposal, Huw seethes. In constraint, there is discipline, the need to choose how much reality you’re going to import and model. Sitting on an Io’s worth of computronium has freed the Galactic Authority—and isn’t that an unimaginative corker of a name?