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Dr Vernor Vinge wrote a seminal essay in 1993, “The Coming Technological Singularity,” which predicted that computers would be so powerful by 2030 that a new form of superintelligence would emerge.
The term “singularity” (as I understand it from reading John Tierney’s article in the NY Times)) is used to refer to the edge of a black hole, where the old rules no longer apply.
Vinge, a mathematician and computer scientist in San Diego, has won five Hugo Awards and good reviews from engineers who analyze his writings.
The singularity of which Vinge speaks is sometimes called “the Rapture of the nerds,” but not many people predict it will be blissful. In fact, his new novel, “Rainbow’s End: A Novel With One Foot in the Future,” envisions catasrophes.
The novel, taking place in 2025, tells the story of Dr Robert Gu, a former English professor and famous poet whose Alzheimer’s symptoms have been almost perfectly evaporated by technological miracles — even the wrinkles are gone.
But Dr Gu is so lost in this new world that he has to go back to high school to learn to cope. Tierney explains:
Thanks to special contact lenses, computers in your clothes and locational sensors scattered everywhere you go, you see a constant stream of text and virtual sights overlaying the real world. As you chat with a distant friend’s quite lifelike image strolling at your side, you can adjust the scenery to your mutual taste — adding, say, medieval turrets to buildings — at the same time you’re each privately communicating with vast networks of humans and computers.
Our protagonist is in a multitasking hell. Retreating to one of his old haunts, the Geisel Library, once the intellectual hub of the University of California but now about to be razed for a highbrow version of a virtual theme park, he and a few other ‘medical retreads’ form the Elder Cabal and conspire to save the paper library about to be shredded.
Dr Vinge, who wrote the book, urges his fellow humans to get smarter by collaborating with computers. Find some of his proposals at www.nytimes.com/tierneylab .
Read Tierney’s article at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/science/26tier.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=John%20Tierney&st=cse&oref=slogin. I found it in the paper version, in the regular Tuesday “Science Times.”
Vernor Vinge’s “Rainbow’s End” is published by Macmillan, 2006; 364 pages. ISBN 0312856849
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