If the technological singularity has an event horizon, as I suggested yesterday, there exists a second interesting corollary:
Because it’s impossible to see the future at even a short distance, speculative fiction becomes ever more difficult to produce. As William Gibson noted in multiple interviews for Spook Country, his novels used to be science fiction, but are now contemporary. As he says,
[ . . . ] writing about the world today as I perceive it would probably be more challenging, in the real sense of science fiction, than continuing just to make things up. And I found that to absolutely be the case. If I’m going to write fiction set in an imaginary future now, I’m going to need a yardstick that gives me some accurate sense of how weird things are now. ‘Cause I’m going to have to go beyond that. And I think over the course of these last two books–I don’t think I’m done yet–I’ve been getting a yardstick together. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it again. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make up an imaginary future in the same way.
Have we already entered the singularity? Is William Gibson our canary in the future’s coal mine?
Perhaps the future will see the end of the historical novel, as it’s impossible to see behind you once you’ve passed the event horizon. Or perhaps that’s stretching the metaphor until it’s good and torn, and in the future all novels will be historical novels, because the present will be as incomprehensible to us as the future is rapidly becoming.
Perhaps I’m stretching a metaphor too far, but most critics of Vinge’s technological singularity seem to treat it as a naked singularity. Proponents of the singularity suggest that as the rate of technological change approaches infinity, it becomes impossible to speculate about what lies in the future. Perhaps the rapture for nerds operates more like a black hole, with an event horizon affecting the predictability of the future.
This conjecture prompts at least one worthwhile corollary:
As Gregory Benford notes, the technological singularity would encounter “resistive terms” or “stay-behinds” (the latter term is Vinge’s), who for whatever reason don’t participate. So there would be observers of the event, outside whatever event horizon would exist.
Just as an external observer can never see another object pass the event horizon, the stay-behinds would see the enraptured approach their teleological apotheosis without ever seeing the latter ever reach their destination. Perhaps those outside the post-human preserve will see quite clearly where the enraptured are headed, even if the post-humans themselves do not.
Vinge says that as the singularity “involves an intellectual runaway, it will probably occur faster than any technical revolution seen so far.” Does time slow down for people falling into a black hole? Discussion on the Internet doesn’t reach consensus as to whether this is so. Perhaps even from the inside, the rapture will always seem to be just slightly in the future. A decade ago, I imagined that a terabyte of disk and a gigabyte of RAM would be enough for anything; today my guesses are a thousand times larger.