Been thinking about the Singularity recently. If you aren't familiar with the concept, the idea revolves around a technological advance so profound that it transforms society into something that we, here on this side of the Singularity, would see as completely alien. Politics change. Personal relationships change. Relations between countries change. Our notion of humanity changes. Think of the changes wrought by the rise of farming, language, money etc, and you get an idea of the kind of technology-driven cultural shift we're talking about.
So what kind of changes could bring about the Singularity? There are a few common scenarios.
The AI Scenario - In short, this is Terminator/Matrix land. We create machines that are self-aware and smarter than we are and then they in turn create even smarter machines and even more advanced technologies. In both of the movie scenarios the result is catastrophic, but there's no need to assume that. Even if the machines were benign imagine how much society would change, how much we would change, if we were were no longer the smartest beings on the planet.
The IA Scenario - Short for Intelligence Amplification. We enhance human intelligence to super human levels through direct brain/computer interfaces, turning us all into human/computer hybrids. Ever read MT Anderson's Feed? (If you haven't, then get on it. It's awesome.) This is similar to what he's getting at. All of the stored knowledge and analytical and computational power of the internet hardwired right into everyone's brain. If this happens are we even human anymore?
The Bio Medical Scenario - What if we took a pill that made us immortal? Or removed our need to eat or drink or breathe? Or one that made us superhumanly intelligent without the need for computers? What then?
In a way, the Singularity is alot like the apocalypse we talk about here so often, just without the negative connotation. It's not the literal end of the world but it's definitely the end of the world as we know it and can understand it. Maybe it's good. Maybe it's bad. Maybe it's neither. We don't know.
So how is this idea interesting to us as writers? If we can't conceive of or understand life after the singularity is it possible to depict a post-singularity world? Depict it realistically? Maybe not. After all, if you could realistically depict a world formed by a superhuman intelligence you would need to be super-humanly intelligent yourself, in which case you'd probably have better things to do than write YA novels.
Whether we can write realistic post-Singularity novels or not, I think the idea makes two interesting and useful demands of writers of speculative fiction:
First, it makes us take the consequences of the technological advancements used in Sci-Fi seriously. Think about Star Trek. Now don't get me wrong, I love me some Star Trek, but it doesn't really take its tech very seriously, does it? Here's a culture that has faster than light travel, teleportation, self aware super smart robots, holodecks and, occasionally, time travel, and yet somehow this is still a culture more or less like our own. Wouldn't Star Trek's idea of perfectly realistic physical holograms in the holodeck radically change how people live their lives and interact with others? Wouldn't the way teleportation erases the concept of distance change how we see ourselves and our relation to others in a similar way to how moving from horse-powered transport to jet planes did? Wouldn't engaging these ideas make for a show that is more complex and more interesting?
If we want to create a post-Singularity novel we also have to consider what is irreducible in human nature. After this tidal wave of change what, if anything, will stay the same? I think the Singularity can lead us into thinking and writing about our essential nature and that's something great literature has always done and should do. Ultimately, thinking about the "post human" world may lead us to write work that is more human, more grounded in characters and relationships and how we interact with each other and our society.
I'd love to hear what you guys think of all of this. Is it something you'd like to write about? Could it work for teens? Is the Singularity the next Vampires? Are there other developments that might bring about the Singularity?
Also, I know writers like Cory Doctorow, Vernor Vinge and Neal Stephenson sometimes work in this area but I'm no expert on the current literature of the Singularity so if you guys have book picks I'd love to hear them!