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Friday, June 21, 2013

Dumb Dvorsky Uses Science Fiction Cliches As Illustrations of the "Totally Unexpected"

I haven't picked on poor Dumb Dvorsky recently (scroll down to his personal entry in the Superlative Summary for hours of fun), but a reader nudged a recent bit of his futurological fluff to my attention that was worth a chuckle.

"By definition," writes George Dvorsky, "the Technological Singularity is a blind spot in our predictive thinking." Of course, Dvorsky is quite wrong in saying this, since usually "the technological singularity" is defined by its adherents more substantially (in an insubstantial kinda sorta way) as what happens when the arrival twenty-years-from-now of greater-than-human artificial intelligence or greater-than-human machine-augmented intelligence presumably ends history by solving all of our problems for us (or possibly creates a Robot God that ends history by treating the planet and everybody living on it as computronium feedstock).

This futurological "end of history" thesis tends to provoke a lot of anxious and/or ecstatic handwaving about the unknowability of the future, but of course the future, being the future, was already plenty unknowable on its own without bringing all this futurological nonsense about smart machines and accelerating acceleration of accelerating acceleration into the picture. Otherwise unemployable pseudo-intellectual hucksters saying blandly obvious things about the contingency of history but, you know, to the Ex-TREME! via such singularitarian accelerationalizing neologizing seems to help skim and scam artists who run tech companies or dream of running tech companies feel that they are the true protagonists of history, and it would seem that some are willing to pay pretty good money or at any rate pay pretty good attention to keep the whole tired futurological farce running.

Of course, none of this utterly undergraduate whoa, dood speculation over unknowable futurity keeps any of these same futurologists from treating the singularitarian Black Hole of Unknowing at one and the same time as the singularitarian Black Box of Wish Fulfillment they can stuff all of their most fervent fantasies and technicolor nightmares in -- to wit, is reality really just a virtual cyber-dream, man? is capitalist nano-digi-robo-sexi-gizmo paradise just around the corner if we just keep buying the latest iMe? will evil geniuses unleash Robot Satan before sooper-geniuses from the USA unleash Robot Santa? will I finally be so sooper-smart in the sooper-future that everybody will recognize on their hands and knees how sooper-smart I am? will all the sexy big-boobied sexy multicolor sexy techno-diversity of The Future destroy the scary uppity negro strong women and uncloseted homo human-diversity I hate and fear in the present? will I have a bigger digi-willie techno-boner and be a Real Man at last irresistible to dreamy digi-babes in Holodeck Heaven after the Singularity?

Even setting all the endless inevitable reactionary misogynist corporatist imperialist idiocies aside, I should add that I for one have never found any of this patent foolishness compelling, of course, since I know that the people who confidently declare even common or garden variety artificial intelligence to be on the way any moment now -- let alone artificial intelligence of the history shattering Robot Kind kind -- have always been wrong, and show no signs of being right any time soon, indeed show few signs of being able to account for human intelligence even in its actually everyday bodily-incarnated historically-situated richness. (Read that again, cultist, before you smugly pretend this is all ad hominem luddite envy hate speech against your angelic eugenic transhumanoid sooper-race, and then read this:) As Lanier's Law firmly rebuffs Moore's Moonshine: "As processors become faster and memory becomes cheaper, software becomes correspondingly slower and more bloated, using up all available resources."

Be all that as it may, as a primary discursive site in which mostly privileged North Atlantic white guys indulge in hilariously senseless and symptomatic techno-fetishism, "The Technological Singularity" is indeed something of a futurological "blind spot," but not quite in the way Dumb Dvorsky seems to mean.

Dvorsky trudges intrepidly on: "Futurists have a hard time imagining what life will be like after we create greater-than-human artificial intelligences. Here are seven outcomes of the Singularity that nobody thinks about."

You may think that the joke here is that Dvorsky has obviously disproved the claim that nobody has thought about these outcomes by listed them himself, you may think that the joke here is that it can't really be that hard for futurists to think about such outcomes when somebody like him is thinking of them, but the real joke is not only that somebody has thought about what nobody is thinking about, not only that what Dvorsky is thinking is hardly hard to think about at all, but that each of the seven outcomes "which could leave us completely blindsided" in Dvorsk's phrase, is actually a completely hackneyed science fiction plot convention that has been repeated to death and for each one of which Dvorsky is able to provide an immediately recognizable illustration -- I mean here, quite literally, an illustrative stock photographic image from some blockbuster or bestselling beach-read -- from the archive of popular science fiction (among them many I have enormously enjoyed myself, by the way -- as a science fiction fan).

I leave to the side the usual utterly embarrassing futurological ineptitute of mischaracterizing a literary genre as prophetic utterances or a kind of instruction manual rather than critical commentary on or symptomatic engagement with present perplexities, we all know by now that Very Serious futurologists are incapable of distinguishing science fiction from science practice and poetry from policy.

But I must say it is hard not to laugh at a futurologist crowing about what a superior guide he is along the "Totally Unexpected" trail blazed decades before by Hollywood mogul imagineers.


Dale Carrico said...

The transhumanoid Robot Cultists at IEET re-published Dvorsky's piece, of course. This comment is possibly funnier than the piece itself: "Nice list! It’s refreshing to see some true creative thinking at work!"

jimf said...

> Will I have a bigger digi-willie techno-boner and
> be a Real Man at last irresistible to dreamy digi-babes
> after the Singularity?

Well, **you** won't, but Giulio Prisco will. ;->

Dale Carrico said...