Serious Science Fiction


An Old Friend

[FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]William Gibson’s Neuromancer – Technological Change and the Prospect of Progress[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]In recent times fantasy and science fiction genres have risen to great visual prominence. Yet despite their shared popular appeal, the two genres are different in several respects. To Arthur C. Clarke, such distinctions may be unhelpful, since ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ Nonetheless, the defining feature of science fiction is that it does take place within the realm of the possible and, on occasion, the plausible...

[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]The Possibility of Parallel Worlds[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]The scene is sublime. Standing on the plateau which carries Machu Piccu, the ancient Inca city, you are surrounded by lush vegetation and a stunning vista. The place is eerily quiet as you pick your way among the ruins, deciphering their signs and symbols, eying an eagle floating mid-air a kilometre to the east. ‘To travel is to live’, is a dictum that carries great resonance, although Hans Christian Andersen might not have envisioned such advanced and alternative modes of travel as those offered by cyberspace.

[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Virtual Reality Now[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]When knowledge gets accumulated, it is accumulated sluggishly: it is a process involving years of research, endless journals, heated (and repeated) conferences, the establishment of laboratories, research centers, and the exhaustion of entire careers. Yet technological innovation is neither gradual nor linear. When change comes, it comes suddenly, unexpectedly. Could virtual reality ever make such a breakthrough?

[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Neuromancer - Science Fiction or Science Prediction?[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]The representational apparatus of Science Fiction’, declares America’s esteemed critic Fredric Jameson in a recent review of Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, ‘is sending back more reliable information about the contemporary world than an exhausted realism'. While there was never a science-fiction book that perfectly described the future, he has a point. Gibson’s 1984 cult classic Neuromancer made predictions that few sociologists of the time would have dared to voice...

[/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Information management and the cybernetic society: the coming AI revolution [/FONT][FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]We are only in the first phase of the information revolution. Thanks to technologies of information transmission and replication, and in particular the internet, we have achieved a situation of almost panoptic informative overflow. Yet human beings are interpretive animals: we do not perceive the world in its Hera****ean flux but form simplified representations of it using concepts, allowing us to take meaningful action. The challenge is to gather that mass of raw data swirling around in the virtual aether and transform it into data structures that make sense for human initiative and interaction, and this, arguably, is where genuine artificial intelligence could have a role.[/FONT]
Vernor Vinge on the Singularity

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can events be guided so that we may survive? These questions are investigated. Some possible answers (and some further dangers) are presented.

Vernor Vinge
Department of Mathematical Sciences
San Diego State University

(c) 1993 by Vernor Vinge

The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means by which science may achieve this breakthrough (and this is another reason for having confidence that the event will occur):
There may be developed computers that are "awake" and superhumanly intelligent. (To date, there has been much controversy as to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is "yes, we can", then there is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed shortly thereafter.)
Large computer networks (and their associated users) may "wake up" as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
Biological science may provide means to improve natural human intellect.