You’re in The Singularity already…

World English Dictionary
singularity – n , pl -ties

  1. the state, fact, or quality of being singular
  2. something distinguishing a person or thing from others
  3. something remarkable or unusual
  4. maths
    a. See also pole, a point at which a function is not differentiable although it is differentiable in a neighborhood of that point
    b. another word for discontinuity
  5. astronomy a hypothetical point in space-time at which matter is infinitely compressed to infinitesimal volume

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009

A generalized form of Singularity has become common parlance in Tech circles, especially futurist minded tech folks like me.  A black hole is called a singularity because we can predict everything about the universe up to the surface, the event horizon of the black hole, beyond that event horizon the universe we know ceases to be and we cannot predict what lies beyond.

I sometimes make the mistake of equating this with ‘the futurists dilemma.’  Which In general terms is about extrapolation.  When you extrapolate what we have now into the future you can say that tomorrow is pretty much identical to today, next week not much different, next month, next year even are not going to be in any general sense ‘different’ from today (baring nuclear war, asteroid splashdown, alien invasion etc.)  In fact when thinking about the future five years is generally seen as a reasonable horizon to which you can see and say baring catastrophe things are likely (though not certainly) going to be pretty similar to today, except that things we have today will get better, things we built today will get older, our total store of knowledge will grow deeper but not necessarily much wider or more immediately useful. But if you continue this process you rapidly find that the number of potential outcomes and interactions is so huge that beyond that five year horizon is a universe of maybes.  Now in ten years things will not look vastly different from today, look back ten years, and if you can put yourself back ten years and look ten years back from there, the physical trappings of the world were not much different, but the world of today would be both banal and amazing to someone who time traveled those ten or twenty years.  Twenty year, forty years, in many ways the same thing holds true the physical trappings change only gradually, building don’t rot away in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, roads are still new at ten years.  But the details of those future selves are utterly beyond our ability to predict.

Then, when you take all the ongoing changes and roll them up you quickly reach a point where you’re head (or at least mine) has a very hard time getting around the number of variables and possible inputs and outcomes over even a small number of years.   It looks like the world will have to change very radically under the impact of that oncoming tidal wave of possibilities.

But while I see that as a singularity of a sort, that’s not really what many mean by the singularity.  They have a much more tightly wrapped definition and term.

From Wikipedia:  The Technological Singularity, sometimes snidely refered to as the    “Rapture of the Nerds”

The technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of superintelligence through technological means.  Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the technological singularity is seen as an occurrence beyond which events cannot be predicted.

Proponents of the singularity typically postulate an “intelligence explosion”, where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent’s cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human.

That vision can be pretty disturbing if taken without a large grain of salt and some realization that unless we get Skynet and the Terminator (you know Arnold with a Mingun?) the pure inertia of the real world will prevent the change from appearing as a singularly.

Then of course you have the more constrained but pure dystopian viewpoint.

The Internet is Growing More Dangerous. But Does Anyone Care? Bruce Schneier says “we as a society are heading down a dangerous path.”
From Bruce Schneier: What I’ve Been Thinking About:

I have been thinking about the Internet and power: how the Internet affects power, and how power affects the Internet. Increasingly, those in power are using information technology to increase their power. This has many facets, including the following:
1. Ubiquitous surveillance for both government and corporate purposes – aided by cloud computing, social networking, and Internet-enabled everything – resulting in a world without any real privacy.
2. The rise of nationalism on the Internet and a cyberwar arms race, both of which play on our fears and which are resulting in increased military involvement in our information infrastructure.
3. Ill-conceived laws and regulations on behalf of either government or corporate power, either to prop up their business models (copyright protections), enable more surveillance (increased police access to data), or control our actions in cyberspace.
4. A feudal model of security that leaves users with little control over their data or computing platforms, forcing them to trust the companies that sell the hardware, software, and systems.
On the one hand, we need new regimes of trust in the information age. (I wrote about the extensively in my most recent book, Liars and Outliers.) On the other hand, the risks associated with increasing technology might mean that the fear of catastrophic attack will make us unable to create those new regimes.
It is clear to me that we as a society are headed down a dangerous path, and that we need to make some hard choices about what sort of world we want to live in. It’s not clear if we have the social or political will to address those choices, or even have the conversations necessary to make them. But I believe we need to try.

Well, that doesn’t sound good, but the truth is that most of the time when you peer into the future it’s at best a mixed bag.  Remember the early nuclear age? (I don’t but if you go back and look it was atomic everything as far as the eye could see and who knew there was a down side?)  Then came the Russian Hydrogen bomb, and it was doom and gloom, rather red than dead, or dead than red, and hiding under your desk, flower power, peace will find a way, the commies are among us, etc, etc.


Well it’s all kinda overblow to me.

I think that if you look carefully, we’ve been in the technological singularity now for something like two hundred years!  Nothing we have today would have been predicted two centuries ago, whereas most of what they had then was little different from what it had been two hundred, even two thousand (counting Rome, China etc. as the basis) years before. Yes the details were different across that span of time but if you had the base knowledge you could make a good stab at what it would be like in ten, fifty, even a hundred years.

Our now is like being that lone spaceperson who’s gone beyond the event horizon of a black hole?  Because, from what I understand if the passage does not tear you apart you probably don’t have a clue that you’re inside.  You will be patiently waiting (or impatiently) for the end of times, which never comes, for you, whereas to all your loved ones (or despised ones) back in the ‘old universe’ who have seen you cross over and pass beyond their perception, you are in the singularity.   In Nerd Nirvana as it were.


Pardon me for being a bit skeptical, most of what I hear is the inability to figure out all the potential puts and takes that will result in the real future we will all experience.  I think the limitations of the human mind, the human will, human society, human law, human economics, human emotions, and the fact that we are all living it together, will create a world that is…..just…..well…..a lot more banal than many would really like to think.

Do I think the future will be better or worse than today?

  • Better, that’s the lesson of the long view, things have been getting better and better across the decades and centuries, despite disasters real and predicted, that have come and gone, again and again.  (not to say your or my life will be better, we’re all getting older and baring a rapture of one kind or another we are all destined to die like the biological machines we are…we can hope for an afterlife of some sort to make the travails of those last years, months, weeks, days, hours, moments, worth it but I have no profound knowledge and unfortunately not a lot of faith other than in my friends and loved ones to carry on making the world a better place.)

Do I think the future will be like today?

  • Well, yeah, at least it won’t feel much different when it comes, partly because its unlikely that change will come everywhere all at once.   It will arrive piecemeal, drip, drip, drip, drip, day, week, month, quarter, half, year, year in, year out.  It will creep up on you and you’ll never really understand the change till you get a chance to look back.  Just like it has changed all around you in the last, week, month, year, decade, etc.

So, get out and look around, you are in the singularity already.

Autonomous Quadrotor Video, cool to be creepy

This video of swarming Autonomous Quadrotors has made the rounds, I guess I’m just adding my bit to the noise, this isn’t that surprising but it seems to me just one more indication that the world is the cusp of great change.  The article at Wired is short but has some other interesting links.

Be Here Now

How did we get here? Why is this happening now?

The Here and Now is a phonograph needle tracking the wobbles in the groove that all our yesterdays laid down.

 Is there a way out?

There is only foreward there is no going back.

 There is a Destiny which has the control of our actions, not to be resisted by the strongest efforts of Human Nature.   (From)

GEORGE WASHINGTON, letter to Mrs. George William Fairfax, Sep. 12, 1758


Not sure I agree at an individual level all the time, but on the aggregate in the immediate time frame I would.   Perhaps its like this: Science tells me that most of my actions are planned a significant fraction of a second ahead of my consciousness recognizing what is going on.  It is impossible to change what you do not know is coming but if you plan ahead you can control what happens at a future point in time and space.

And what we do individually and locally does matter nationally and globally, at least a little and if not now then sometime in the future. 

Does that mean I demand “Word Gov’t Now!” how stupid do you think I am? 

We need more self-control, personal control, local control and less regional control, national control and global control.  We do need norms and some way of enforcing them for such things as : life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and such easily debased things as contract enforcement, property rights, ecological cost accounting, financial cost accounting…a few others…maybe

But….the old bureaucratic model, relying on a plethora of relatively well paid trustworthy functionaries to enforce norms is becoming unaffordable.

Laissez-Faire – let it be – management doesn’t work, it doesn’t work in regulation either.

Why has the US Constitution remained important for more than 200 years?  Because its simple, basic, lays out fundamentals and leaves the rest for interpretation but by being fairly simple, constrained and pragmatic it is actually possible to interpret it to cover very large sets of cases. 

We have to get over the belief that you can make life perfect if you can just tune your laws/regulations/rules just right and get the humans out-of-the-way.  We used to know better, I think that most scholars know better.  But somehow many folks have come to believe that if not all, then the one specific law they care about can be perfected, and since they care about it passionately they push it forward, usually through a system that has no time to really understand the consequences of this law when combined with that law and this social reality, etc.  And with each law becoming more complex because of fiddling to tune it to perfection, the way they interact becomes utterly unknowable. And the law becomes harder to obey and easier for smart lawyers to subvert.


So where do we go from here? 

Start to build down the complexity we have built up at every level, what about:

  • For every new rule, two old ones have to be eliminated and no double dipping?
  • Limit the length of any law/rule/regulation to two double-sided 8 1/2 by 11 sheets one inch margins typed in 11 point Times New Roman with the option of an extra sheet of readable graphics?
  • Eliminate mandatory this, no tolerance that, rules that have become a pox on our society?
  • Make Judges accountable to other Judges and the Bar with impeachment by the people an option?

You can think of more, I know you can!


“Here’s the problem: there are no grownups. “

I have a new hero!  I love this line, maybe it was just a matter of right words at the right time on the right topic but it is perfect.  Bob Krum was discussing the euro debt crisis among other things (like stupid questions on ‘presidential debates’) in Stop Waiting for Superman.  

There are no grownups; there are just folks (blokes in Brit speak) like us, imperfect humans who are lucky to make a right decision (on issues more complex than whether to turn into the path of that oncoming Mack truck or not) much more than 50% of the time (and we don’t always make the right one regarding the Mack truck.) 

What does that mean? Many things but one of them is that overly complex political, financial, social, technical…etc constructs are asking for problems.  Stable systems are ones that are essentially self organizing, a pile of sand will settle into the same conical shape every time because its stable in its environment.  Small c capitalist, old meaning liberal economies, are self organizing and stable.  The euro zone is a complex web of overly constrained systems that like some cartoon Rube Goldberg steam plant is constantly threatening to blow a gasket and it requires a genius just to know where to apply the next tourniquet. 

In the last few decades we have made vast strides in understanding ourselves and our world (in a thousand different dimensions.)  Then we have often reacted to this increased understanding by thinking we can control more things and implementing more and more rules.  The effects of those rules are often individually complex and unintended but the interactions between them is (IMHO) utterly outside of our ability to cope with.  Among other things I rather suspect that every one of us (barring a newborn baby maybe) is technically a criminal, having violated at one time or another various laws, rules or regulations most of which we had no idea existed or had no way to follow.

Somehow we have become inured to the regulated world, see it as natural, but it’s probably reached its practical limits and is now in the process of imploding.  We have the tools to creat a more self organized – de-bureaucratized world but have not yet quite figured out what it really looks like and how to transition from where we are to where we need to be. 

Maybe that’s just wishful thinking….fueld by a frustration at the idiocy that seems to have become institutionalized in so many places.  But change ‘is in the air,’ though it may still be some years away.  I just hope that the transition can be made relatively peacefully, there are far too many people on this orbiting rock (7Billion!?) for a major disruption to be anything other than catastrophic for far too many.

There is no utopia waiting over the brow of the next hill, and there was never a golden age that we have somehow lost (one man’s golden age was someone elses hell.) We can’t go back to a past that never existed, and refusing to live and work today because the day after tomorrow will be better is foolish and self-destructive.  Tomorrow never gets here, let alone the day after, and your vision of the world will never occupy a future today unless you work for it in the today you find yourself in. Live in the now with a vision of where you want to end up.