There are two technologies that I haven’t mentioned in my short list of three singularity-spawning options which I think, nevertheless, need to be talked about.
Why did I not include them? Well, to be honest, I see them as gateway or emergent technologies more than actual routes in themselves. Some technologies, you see, are so revolutionary that they change everything before them. Others are more evolutionary than revolutionary, at least at first. Let me say one thing though: I’m not sure it’s fair that I didn’t include them. Either of these two technologies would lead to amazing new inventions all by themselves. They will, in fact. I know this. I just that I think that their true potential will flower only after the singularity itself.
Or, in other words, they will form part of the burgeoning explosion of technology which epitomizes the singularity, rather than cause it. Their maturation will mark dividing lines of before and after. And when I say maturation, I mean that of all the things we think these technologies are capable of – when we think of what is now science fiction and say wouldn’t that be cool? – that that is what will be commonplace and de rigueur for our society.
The two technologies are nano-technology and genetic engineering.
I can hear the cries of dismay already, because both of these technologies are in widespread use today. Genetic engineering, if you want to get technical about it, has been in use for tens of thousands of years. We’ve just been going at it the slow way by breeding rather than direct tinkering. So why do I think these are post-singularity technologies?
Well, I think both of these are great, if risky, places to invest your money. We are seeing and will continue to see massive advances in these fields. It may be, in fact, that we have the microscopic machines that live inside our bodies within twenty years. It may be we see the super-crops that can feed the billions that are otherwise predicted to cause global collapse after 2050 (yep, hold onto your hats everyone, we’ve got about forty years before we are unable to feed everyone on the planet, unless the irresponsibly heavy breeders in lands that cannot sustain them curb their reproductive urges). But I don’t think we’ll see either of these technologies maturing to the point that they are world-changing without the increase in computing necessary to investigate in faster-than-real-time just how gene A splices with protein B.
I think it likely we’ll be able to grow protein sources in vats, so the messy and inefficient process of farming animals can essentially stop (not that that won’t bring troubles of its own). I think it likely that one or both of the above technologies will bring life-extension into the multiple-hundreds of years range at least (if not indefinite). It may even be a technology which is not restricted to the super-rich (after all, if it works the way I think it may work, once we understand the how, the actual implementation will be cheap unless set artificially high).
We may even be able to work on our own bodies – to mould ourselves into whatever forms we find pleasing, however outlandish. It may be that, through both or either of these technologies, we are able to transcend various limitations set upon us… I just don’t see either of them directly resulting in a post-scarcity economy.
I do, however, see them as being massive contributors to that effort. With genetic engineering, we can maybe grow computers. Vast, massively powerful computers. With nanotech, we may be able to build better, faster, more capable computers, in places and out of materials otherwise inaccessible to us. Unlocking how genes work may, before we use it to give ourselves tails or wings, let us create those three-dimensional printers that can print food in addition to roads, houses, computers and everything else we desire.
So I am not disparaging them, I am not discounting them. I am not even saying they are not massively important (because I think they are), but I do think they complementary rather than incipient.
So hey, maybe I should cover them anyway?