Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Thu 27 Sep 12 04:21
Yeah, I think that the book reflects a kind of measured ambivalence, rather than raw contempt. I'm generally both optimistic about, and pleased by, technology (though not universally, cf Little Brother), and parts of the Singularity narrative are as exciting to me as they are to its most ardent promoters.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 27 Sep 12 05:10
A label like "technological singularity" can suggest a range of meanings, there's a range of variations in the ways it could play out, some more benign than others. The common fear is that an evolving super-intelligence would recognize the fraily of the human species and stomp us like bugs. I thought your vision of "the cloud" as an inherently human system was more positive than some of the most dystopian possibilities, though your protagonist's distaste for "virtualization" suggested a critique of this version of the transhuman possibility. I actually don't think it's a possibility at all. Artificial or machine intelligence isn't the same as machine intelligence, and I can't imagine a way that human consciousness can be "uploaded" - even if you could make faithful copies, there's no persistence of the original (and you address that question at some point). Nobody's every quite explained to me how the singularity can occur. It's like saying, if you throw more and more switches in increasingly complex patterns, eventually the switches will become sentient, and switch themselves. I'm don't have Kurzweilian depth with computer science, though; wonder what I'm missing?
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Thu 27 Sep 12 05:15
Do you both write to a particular audience or just explore ideas of interest to you? Cory, I notice the marketing departments tag a lot of your work as YA (Young Adult). That's an odd market all by itself, as it turns out its mostly not YA's reading books in that category and I don't think of you as a YA writer at all. Comments on what happens to both your works after they are written, and the future of distribution? Without being gushy, when I see a new book or piece by either of you, my response is more like, "oh, oh, what have they got to say!".
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 27 Sep 12 07:21
Following up Cory #76 -- if the Rapture of the Nerds happened tomorrow and we all went uploading up to AI heaven, I think it'd be kind of cool. I'm a skeptic, not a hater. But I wouldn't call myself an optimist, either.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 27 Sep 12 07:22
JonL #77: I think the best discussion of this is, ironically, obscure and hard to find in print: "Mind Children" by Hans Moravec. (Which also discussed a plausible thought experiment for how mind uploading might work.)
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 27 Sep 12 07:32
Ted #78: I would submit that Cory and I share overlapping audiences with Neal Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, and the other smallish group of SF writers whose primary audience is not the traditional *things go faster* SF readership but the IT-literate/internet geek audience who are interested in *things get smarter*. (I'd like to add William Gibson to that list but I don't think I'm in his ball park.) I've written [a lot] more about this topic here: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2012/05/sf-big-ideas-ideology-what -is-.html and here: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2006/10/lets_put_the_future_behind _us.html
R.U. Sirius (rusirius) Thu 27 Sep 12 12:35
I have a dumb question... because I sometimes like to hear what I'm reading in my mind. How do you pronounce Huw?
The user once known as Princehal (danwest) Thu 27 Sep 12 12:43
Ok, a silly question. I have read most of Charlie and Cory's books. I swear I read the term "The Rapture of the Nerds" in a book recently. It was in a throw-away line, but I remember thinking at the time that it would be a great title for a play... Was it in one of the Eschaton books? Or maybe Accelerando?
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Thu 27 Sep 12 14:01
Ken MacLeod used it, approximately, in The Cassini Division - Ellen Ngwethu mocking the Outwarders. Could that have been where you saw it?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Thu 27 Sep 12 14:32
#82: Welsh variant spelling for Hugh.
From Gareth Jones via E-Mail (captward) Thu 27 Sep 12 15:02
You mention that science fiction has a core set of traditions. After reading science fiction for more years than I care to mention I tend to agree with the statement. I would be interested though in what you think those traditions are as I am not sure I could articulate them.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 28 Sep 12 05:28
Gareth: let's see ... * Generally optimistic outlook on the Enlightenment-era vision of Progress, especially Progress through Science: if we apply Science to our problems, things will Always Get Better * Colonialist/imperialist attitude to unexplored or uninhabited territory ("space: the final frontier", "the Earth is vulnerable: we can't keep all our eggs in one basket!") * Apollonian rather than Dionysian (the life of the mind are of greater value than the pleasures of the flesh) * Speed is good. Increases in speed are better. We're going places! * The human species is the apex of creation (yes, I said "creation"; in this vision, evolution is a teleological process, directed towards the goal of producing humanity). Non-humans are less important or valuable and are there for us to use as we will (see also: Genesis 1:28). That seems to me to cover most of the unspoken ideology of traditional SF. Once we move past 1960 things get a little blurrier, but this is still the kernel embedded at the heart of the enterprise. It is, needless to say, deeply conservative (if not reactionary): a belief system for the likes of Dick Cheney!
Rick Brown (danwest) Fri 28 Sep 12 06:53
The phrase "Rapture Of The Nerds" has been around awhile, from one article in NYT; The science fiction author Ken MacLeod described the idea of the singularity as the Rapture of the nerds. Kevin Kelly, an editor at Wired magazine, notes, People who predict a very utopian future always predict that it is going to happen before they die. so <jef> got that right. Must have been where I read it. There is also this from '08, which I am sure I did not read; <http://thinkchristian.net/the-rapture-of-the-nerds> So is an older (but great) meme. Bought the book, but have not started it yet.
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 28 Sep 12 06:58
I can't remember the original source, but Ken says he acquired "the Rapture of the nerds" elsewhere. (I'll ask him again next time I see him. Which is usually in a pub, which implies beer, which doesn't do good things to my short term memory the next day.)
Rick Brown (danwest) Fri 28 Sep 12 07:15
Sorry for the digression, it is a great title!
Dave Waite (dwaite) Fri 28 Sep 12 08:40
I'd like to pipe in briefly to note that I am really enjoying this conversation. The questions and resulting responses are a wonderful read.
Type A: The only type that counts! (doctorow) Fri 28 Sep 12 08:53
@tcn: I think that YA fiction is just fiction that can be ordered by school librarians without too much trepedation, apart from that, it's just fiction, though often with a young adult protagonist.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 28 Sep 12 09:00
One thing I don't see explicitly mentioned in <87> is "alien encounter," or at least an assumption that interplanetary species exist, and that they do "thinking" pretty much the way we do, so that communication is possible, if not likely. The usual assumption is that they have advanced technology and are more intelligent (though George Alec Effinger once wrote of alien visitors who wore bad leisure suits and spent their time on earth shopping for cheesy black velvet paintings). Aliens do appear in ROTN, but we don't learn much about 'em. Do you think aliens are interesting and/or useful in hard science fiction? (Related question: "Star Trek: threat, or menace?")
From Gareth Jones via E-Mail (captward) Fri 28 Sep 12 09:50
#87 I was a little surprised by your 1st tenet. It feels to me as if much science fiction is about people being shaped by, or surviving the consequences of science. Overall the belief system seemed closer to Tony Blairs rather than Dick Cheneys?
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 28 Sep 12 11:42
jon #93: I'm not generally interested in aliens of the space-going variety. They're often placeholders for the author's fear of the culturally different. Or you end up with Star Trek syndrome -- aliens are just humans in latex face-paint with horribly over-simplified background stories (one planet, one culture, one language, that sort of thing). Not to mention that the sheer implausibility of running into something that looks vaguely like us and can coexist in our biospheres is still vastly less implausible that the prospect of us running into talkative tool-users with a similar type of cognitive model! (We don't even share *that* with all the great apes; in my view, human-like intelligence is even less likely than human-like morphology.) Having said that, speculations about extraterrestrial biota are another matter entirely. (But they tend to be rather drier and harder to generate emotionally engaging drama from.)
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Fri 28 Sep 12 11:44
Gareth #94: it's worth noting that there are only a handful of core plots in fiction -- human versus human, human versus nature, human versus self -- and we can recapitulate these in any genre. (Human being shaped by science is just human versus nature in science drag.) As for the belief system being more Tony Blair than Dick Cheney, I don't see a hell of a lot of blue water between them.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 28 Sep 12 14:06
I thought your sentient lobsters in Accelerando were some of the coolest things going:)
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 28 Sep 12 14:08
Speaking of which, Charlie, where did you get your sense of humor and how did you develop it so well in your writing style? I laugh more during your books than just about any others. It's a great gift.
for dixie southern iraq (stet) Fri 28 Sep 12 16:28
Just catching up with this wonderful conversation. One historical-documentary note: the Souls in Silicon, the November 1993 story in Omni by Frederick Pohl and Hans Moravec has some claim to being Singularity's official kickoff. <http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~hpm/project.archive/general.articles/1993/Silicon/S ouls.html>
Charlie Stross (charlie-stross) Sat 29 Sep 12 02:40
Ted #98: I found it living feral in a back alleyway and lured it into my flat with offers of cat food and chopped liver. Stet #99: Vinge published first (March '93 -- http://mindstalk.net/vinge/vinge-sing.html ) and he described the idea informally in his 1986 novel "Marooned in Realtime". But if you really want to trace the taproots of singularity-fic in SF, why are you ignoring Olaf Stapledon?
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