[CULTURE] The Singularity in science fiction - Charles Stross's "Router"

From: mike99 (mike99@lascruces.com)
Date: Thu Feb 06 2003 - 17:51:43 MST

The Singularity is appearing more and more frequently in science fiction
these days. Since Vernor Vinge's original formulation, the Singularity has
been making more appearances, including in Damien Broderick's novel
_Transcension_ and in the short stories of Charles Stross. (And a hearty
"Thanks, Damien!" for tipping me/us about Mr. Stross!)

Charlie Stross (about whom see more at http://www.antipope.org/charlie/),
like SF writer David Brin (more comments on Brin to come in a later
message), has gone beyond the Singularity event horizon. Vinge deliberately
sets his post-Singularity stories far from Earth so as not to have to
describe the situation there. Broderick's novel (unlike his non-fiction
Singularity book _The Spike_; for a summary see
http://www.panterraweb.com/tearing1.htm) touches upon the Singularity only
at its inception. But Stross dives right in to show us his vision of what
lies beyond the Singularity's Schwarzchild radius.

Stross does not write for the uninitiated. His use of concepts and
terminology from science, computer technology, and extropian/transhumanist
philosophies is given straight up, with no condescending definitions or
analogies to help novice readers.

To give a flavor of his work, I present here an excerpt from Stross's
novella "Router" (Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, Sept. 2002, pp.
115-116). The context of the story will become (somewhat) apparent from this
extended quotation. Suffice to say that it takes place among uploads sitting
in a simulated barroom on an interstellar space craft. But I urge everyone
to obtain the original and enjoy an intellectual feast of stimulating


[Journalist Donna asks] "Do you believe in the singularity?"

"Am I a singularitarian, do you mean?" asks Pierre, a fixed grin coming to
his face.

"Oh, no, no, no!" Donna waves him down, grins broadly, nods to Su Ang: "I do
not mean it like that! Attend: what I meant to ask was whether you in this
concept of a singularity believe, and if so, where it is?"

"Is this intended for a public interview?" asks Ang.

"Well, I cannot into a simulation drag you off and expose you to an
imitative reality excursion, can I?" Donna leans back as the bartender
places a ceramic stein in front of her.

"Oh. Well." Ang glances a warning at Pierre and dispatches a very private
memo to scroll across his vision: _don't play with her, this is serious_.
Boris is watching Ang with an expression of hopeless longing; Pierre tries
to ignore it all, taking the journalist's question seriously. "The
singularity is a bit like that old-time American Christian rapture nonsense,
isn't it?" he says. "When we all go a-flying up to heaven, leaving our
bodies behind?" He snorts, reaches into thin air and gratuitously violates
causality by summoning a jug of ice-cold sangria into existence: "The
rapture of the nerds. I'll drink to that."

"But when did it take place?" asks Donna. "My audience, they will to know
your opinion be needing."

"Four years ago, when we instantiated this ship," Pierre says promptly.

"Back in 2016," says Ang, "When Amber's father liberated the uploaded
lobsters." [NOTE: See Charles Stross' story "Lobsters" which can be obtained
online for pennies from www.fictionwise.com]

"Is not happening _yet_," contributes Boris. "Singularity implies infinite
rate of change achieved momentarily. Future not amenable thereafter to
prediction by pre-singularity beings, right? So has not happened."

"Au contraire: it happened on June 6th 1969, at 11 hundred hours, eastern
seaboard time," Pierre counters. "That was when the first network
control-protocol packets were sent from the data port of one IMP to
another--the first ever internet connection. _That's_ the singularity. Since
then we've all been living in a universe that is impossible to predict from
events prior to that time."

"That's rubbish," counters Boris. "Singularity is load of religious junk.
Christian mystic rapture recycled for atheist nerds."

"Not so," Su Ang glances at him, hurt. "Here we are, sixty-something hundred
minds. We've migrated--while still awake--right out of our own heads using
an amazing combination of nanotechnology and electron spin-resonance
mapping, and we're now running as software in an operating system designed
to virtualize multiple physics models and provide a simulation of reality
that doesn't let us go mad from sensory deprivation! _And_ this whole
package is about the size of a fingertip, crammed into a starship the size
of your grandmother's old walkman, in orbit around a brown dwarf just over
three light years from home, on its way to plug into a network router
created by incredibly ancient alien species, and you tell _me_ that the idea
of a fundamental change in the human condition is nonsense?"

"Mmph." Boris looks perplexed. "Would not put it that way. The _singularity_
is nonsense, not uploading or--"

"Yah, right." Ang smiles at Boris and he wilts.


Michael LaTorra


Extropy Institute: www.extropy.org
World Transhumanist Association: www.transhumanism.org
Alcor Life Extension Foundation: www.alcor.org
Society for Technical Communication: www.stc.org

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