Fantastic essay. The Singularity won’t be Heaven by Annalle Newitz</a> on how the belief that technology will save us by transcending human limitation and misery on an imagining of today’s technologies isn’t going to happen. Brilliant and spot on with her insight that we often believe technology will go far enough to benefit us, and then stop before it disrupts us… “the future is not the present on steroids.”
Love her observation on how the Victorian belief in the power of industrialization would save all humanity (despite Malthus) in much the same way we look at technology, popularized in things like Star Trek, as being able to save us as we progress. Love the idea of insufficiently weird predictions of how technology will change us just being wrong.
There’s no denying that industrialization laid the foundations for a better, more productive society. It has led to countless innovations, and has improved the lives of many working people. But it also destroys life in ways that Adam Smith and Eli Whitney could never have imagined. It has transformed our entire planet, from its ecosystems to its atmosphere and beyond. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that we do not live on the same planet that people lived on in 1750. The environment - from megacities to airborne particles and space junk - has changed that much.
Singularity-level technology changes the world to the point where the things our ancestors wanted are not the same things we want. Today, we are trying to roll back the effects of industrialization. We are trying to undo the damage that penicillin did. If history, real history, teaches us any lesson it’s that new technologies do not cause us to transcend. They fix some things, and then cause new problems we hadn’t anticipated.
Even more interesting though is the idea that a Singularity narrative is so similar to religion. Perhaps human beings are simply incapable of not believing in a heaven, whether promised by technology or religion.