Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

August 4, 2008

I began reading Rainbows End ready to be amazed.

The story is set in 2025 San Diego. We follow
the famous poet Robert Gu.
Now cured of Alzheimers, but missing all
recent changes in technology.
Which we are now introduced to
through Robert’s experience.
So far so good.

We learn that everyone is plugged into the net on a constant basis
via wearable computers with contact lenses for output display.
Through your contact lenses you can “google” in midair.
There is a complete visual overlay on the “real” world,
allowing everyone to effectively “live” in whatever fantasy world they desire.
And the DHS – departmentment of Homeland security – logic
is deeply embedded in all hardware.
Athletes are on drugs …etc.

Its all very neat and all very likely,
but not very exciting, and not very amazing,
actually. This is more
like today than 17 years out in the future ….
I wanted to be excited about this book –
but in the end I was not. I am afraid.


Getting to the Singularity, Charles Stross’ Accelerando

September 23, 2007

Charles Stross book accelerando is a nice read. No doubt about it. But we kind of heard
the singularity plot outline before (e.g. Ray Kurzweil):

One day in this century, machines will have more processing
power than human brains – and that will make for a completely
new society. The singularity.
In Charles Stross’ words: “Sometime in this century laboring women will
produce forty-five thousand babies a day, representing
10^23 MIPS of processing power. Also around the world,
fab lines will churn out out thirty million microprocessors a day,
representing 10^23 MIPS of processing power.
After that day most of the MIPS being added to the solar
system will be machine hosted”.

And obviously human minds will be connected to
the machines. In accelerando we have the meta cortex –
a distributed cloud of software
agents that surrounds humans in the near future –
a thing which is as much a part of the books characters
than the society of mind that
occupies their skulls.

Eventually, human minds are running more on machines than they
are inside human skulls. Death and biology conquered.
No problem, except perhaps for the legal system. I.e.
“the law didn’t recognize death as a reversible process.
people pay for having their heads frozen after their death,
but when they wake up all reconstructed in some simulation
and without any rights – was that what they wanted ?”

And off we go to the fourth decade,
where the machines are up to 10^33 MIPS and rising, allthough
there is still a long way before the solar system is fully awake.

People (kind of) with neural implants, that feel as natural
as lungs or fingers, with half their wetware running
outside their skull in a personal metacortex, i.e. cyborgs,
gets the first alien nessage – on where to find the router to plug
into the galactic internet.
This we also kind of expected – think Timothy Ferris here.

The new stuff (for me) comes with the ceti
– communication with extraterrestrial intelligences –
Surely, you need a piece of software, that you put into
your head to allow you to have a highlevel protocol service that allows you
to connect to the router and start the ceti.

After that you transfer yourself into the alien network –
and find yourself in a simulation where you dont need to simulate breathing.
Oh sure, you dont feel all that human if you dont breathe?
But so what, you are a posthuman now.

Eventually you catch up with other superintelligences.
Or at least you know they are there. Superintelligences don’t
go travelling, as they cant
get enough bandwidth to transport themselves from one place
to another through the routers … and perhaps
they don’t really need the outside input anymore –
having become a superintelligence what is their really to learn
from the outside. And so Charles Stross neatly solves
the Fermi Paradox for us.

The planets are all dismantled and used as materials
to build a Matrioshka super brain.
The only question now is if information from such a superintelligence
will ever become apparent to someone
from the outside (think fred Hoyle here)
– or it will just die living nothing behind.

I don’t think we really get the answer form Charles Stross
on that one. But he does make the impact of technology on human society, identity and consciousness totally believable. Of course things are really
going to go down this road. It is inevitable.
Highly readable, techno-babbling at times, exciting, but not all that new.
We kind of heard it before.
So now we are certain thats the way it is going to play out.
Don’t know if thats a relief or not …