The Gentle Seduction by Marc Stiegler – originally published in Analog Magazine in 1989 – is an intriguing story about how the technological singularity might come to pass.
It’s based upon Ray Kurzweil‘s and Vernor Vinge‘s concepts of accelerating technological development and exponential growth (see law of accelerating returns).
While I’m not sure about the singularity myself – there sure is a ‘rapture for the nerds’ aspect to it – the story makes for a compelling read. It deals with issues related to runaway technological progress but in general has a very positive outlook on how humanity might get through a singularity event if it should ever occur. While reading the story I couldn’t help but think that we’re already halfway there. Many of the technological advancements described by the author – such as online satellite images, ubiquitous WiFi, always-online devices that are tightly integrated with human senses (see Google Glass) – are already available or soon will be. Sure, nanotechnology didn’t exactly live up to the promises it had in the 1980s, so the idea of technologically enhancing the human body has still a long way to go.
One particularly interesting aspect of The Gentle Seduction – and the singularity in general – is human immortality. The protagonist of the story in the beginning is averse towards the idea of being immortal but later on not only accepts but embraces it. Though I can somehow understand the desire to prolong life I think death is something that is inherent to life. Without a natural end to invididuals’ lives sooner or later there won’t be any room for change or anything new any more. Now, while the singularity might indeed change the whole equation and living a longer life in good health certainly has huge benefits, I think death ultimately is essential for life since it avoids stagnation (the latest Ayreon album 01011001 for instance deals with this subject quite extensively).
Like I said, the story makes for a good read, even if you’re – like me – no firm believer in the singularity. Besides, it puts real-life technological progress and how far we’ve come already into perspective.