Friday, April 11, 2008

The Singularity --- the Geek Judgment Day

Since Geekdom is on the brain, let me spend a few posts exegeting the culture.

Starting with the Singularity. The term Singularity has many applications in many fields of endeavor, but when Geeks talk about it, they mean a technological singularity that will radically transform human existence. Geekdom looks at the rapid advance of technological change ... for now we can trace a reasonable trajectory as to where that change is going. But the change accellerates, and there comes a point on the horizon when the change accelerates to a point that we can no longer predict or control it. In other words, technology takes on a direction of its own...not guided by us. (see the wikipedia post on the Technological Singularity)

It's a technological Judgment Day. It's a vision that fascinates much of Geek Culture. Understand, this isn't a concept that is equated with Science Fiction. Star Trek, Star Wars...both are science fiction, but neither has anything to do with the singularity (unless you consider the Borg as a manifestation of the Singularity). I did some reading on the Singularity a few years ago .... Ray Kurzweil wrote the definitive text a few years ago The Singularity is Near. You can see some of the interesting topics in this Digg search on "Singularity".

The Singularity appears in many dystopian contexts such as Skynet in the Terminator Saga and
The Matrix in the trilogy by the same name. An early reference to the concept is in Harlan Ellison's horror classic "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" (which gave me terrors for weeks) -- about a computer network that becomes sentient and is so powerful that it controls the very fabric of reality. It also plays into a fringe of Geek culture that actively wants the singularity to happen ... a fringe that advocates transhumanism (the idea that we need to embrace technological enhancement to such a way that we literally evolve into a new species -- a cybernetic species)

All this is very interesting b/c it hints at something ... that there is a technological judgment that will come upon humanity. Indeed, in the Terminator Saga, the term Judgment Day is applied to when the sentient computers begin their war to annihilate humanity. There's an understanding that humanity is dismally flawed (dare we say sinful)....and yet there is something of dignity that ought to remain on the other side of the singularity....something worth preserving. Those who advocate for the singularity might well see it as a kind of redemption of the human race; while those who view it in dystopian terms might well see it as a kind of judgment day. Yet the dignity/depravity conundrum is still there ... mankind brings wrath upon itself, yet it is still worth fighting for. We have theological concepts for these: Bearing the Image of God (to explain our inherent dignity) and Depravity (to explain the corruption of the human heart).

No matter how you slice it... the concept of the Singularity is a powerful force in Geek culture. Even Christian Geeks really enjoy the speculative fiction that the Singularity concept produces... and the concept can quickly lead to discussions about dignity/depravity; judgment; the purpose/meaning of life. However, facile responses won't really help here. Just throwing the Left Behind books at these folks won't cut it. Try A Canticle for Liebowitz as a good Christian sci fi thriller that might appeal.