Marooned in Real Time

This is a science fiction book by an outspoken singularity proponent. This book deals with the singularity in an indirect way. The singularity is one mystery, in a gripping book with many mysteries.

The singularity has many different formulations and definitions. However, one of its more universal features is that it is supposedly incomprehensible to us today. We think that the future will be so radically different from the way it is now that understanding it would be like an earthworm understanding Shakespeare. Because of this problem we aren’t supposed to be able to make predictions about it. While this may be so, it hasn’t stopped many futurists and singularity proponents from trying. Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil both believe that future A.I. will eventually try to turn the entire universe into one big highly efficient computer. Some predict we will extend our lifespans for thousands of years while others believe we’re certainly doomed.

Some are guilty of inconsistency because they believe that there is a point in the future beyond which speculation goes from merely very hard to completely impossible and then they try to look past that point anyway.  Vernor Vinge definitely is not guilty of this sort of inconsistency.  While his book imaginatively deals with future technologies, it sets the singularity clearly apart as a complete mystery. It also spells out clearly the accelerating nature of technological change- which is after all the whole reason believing the singularity is around the corner and the whole reason this is actually an interesting topic. The book accomplishes this by examining characters from different eras. Those from the time just before the singularity are dealt with in a particularly interesting way in the book.

Marooned in Real Time uses an altered timeline to look at the mystery of the singularity from another angle and in doing so makes the mystery of it all the more intriguing. It does so in one of the most enjoyable science fiction books I have ever read. It is hard science fiction and true to the concept of the singularity. I would highly recommend it.

One thought on “Marooned in Real Time

  1. Hi,I noticed that talk also. Peter Norvig diucsssed the singularity in economic terms as well. He states that GDP growth is pretty flat over the last 50 years or so. However GDP growth over the last 100-200 years is very explosive. The problem with Kurzweil’s concept of the singularity is that it is independent of economic and social developments. His main metric are a few important, but selective, measures. His response to Norvig is a good one: GDP doesn’t measure deflationary tendencies well (or rather not at all). This is most relevant concerning computational power. However, scientific knowledge is hardly measurably non-linear’. If one considers the output of scientist per person, it could be argued that there might some degree of saturation, due to the work that is needed of keeping track of other relevant work. Endogenous economic growth theory is hardly of much use, because it rests mostly of linear trends. Also output is most of the time measured in hard assets’, whereas valuations of soft assets’ is extremely hard. Furthermore, due to a globalised market, the growth of companies becomes more rapid. The dot-com bubble can be seen as this outburst of inherent uncertainty. However, the rise of the internet seems to be much a isolated event and there is no way to predict the nature of other such events and(!) that they occur at all. I think Thiel is right in pointing out that the notion of the singularity (events are unpredictable, progress is non-linear), encompassses a committment to the possibility that nothing might happen at all and that progress can lead to either catastrophic or utopian’ outcomes. Certainly good speculators, such as Soros and Thiel himself, have a lot to say about dealing with uncertainty of this kind. The subprime debacle showed that sometimes it is worse to have a bad risk-model than having no risk-model at all. According to Taleb the black swan (an unforeseen event) is unpredictable in a certain way. The black swan is not the event that some model accounts with some probability, but something which fails the assumptions.

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