The REAL singularity

I’m writing this in the explicit hope that I can get the folks over at Speculist to pick this up and run with it, but my theory is the REAL change brought on by all this singularity stuff will happen when there’s enough bandwidth and storage for the average person to understand how everything around him or her works.

Seriously.  I’ve got an old jeep in the driveway.  It’s a complicated machine which I could never build in an entire lifetime of hand-labor.  And I’m not exactly shy about trying new craft projects I should really have left to others (as several mocking friends and relatives will gleefully confirm).  

But give me some basic tools, and this:

and I can do a lot of the work I’d otherwise have to send to a garage.  Now, whether it’s economically effective for me to do that work myself (often it’s not) is another issue.  But I can look at where the parts go, figure it out, and go.

How about plumbing?  Electrical wiring in your house?  City sewer and transit systems?  Highway bridges?

It’s a tall order to say that massive social change will happen when we can all work on our cars — but when we can all comprehend the rest of the physical and political infrastructure around us, and represent them in a way that aids this comprehension, vast social and political change will be upon us.  For starters, it will cut the legs out from underneath progressivism’s assumption that technocrats need rule on our behalf.  While that will discomfit political liberals, it will also provide cold comfort to the other sides of the aisle(s).  If poorly-distributed, it could lead to techno-oligarchy (the informed making better decisions), or else it could lead to something radically less hierarchical and more communal.

It’s unlikely that it would empower Marx’ dream that one could be a fisherman in the morning, a painter in the afternoon, and write operas in the evening… for now, anyway, I suspect that not even brilliant software would make any opera of mine enjoyable.  YET.

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  1. Begin Ramble

    Hell’s bells, if they’d only upload a copy of Theory of Moral Sentiments into everyone’s skull, we’d be halfway there already.

    But failing that, yeah, I want it. Imagine if any uneducated schmoe in your society could bootstrap the society back up from ground zero — we’d have finally caught up with knowledge and become the “something better” we all dream of.

    End Ramble

  2. Or educated schmoe. I have two advanced degrees, and AT BEST I think I could get me and mine back to the early stone age. I mean, sure, I can use a flint and steel if I’ve the gear, but I’m not your go-to guy for taking raw iron ore out of the ground. Tanning hides, making felt, and some VERY elementary spinning is about all I’m good for in that department.

    And to wit, it would also fundamentally change education. There’s a LOT of stupid brute force involved in learning — 3/4 of what you get up to and through high school could simply be uploaded as data, while instructors like me run you how to USE the data, solve problems with it, and think critically regarding it, depending on the discipline.

  3. drteine

     /  May 29, 2009

    Well…as someone with a lot of specialized training let me speak my own personal opinion about training, education, and actual learning.

    All the great tools and wealth of information make it truly possible to pick up a lot of skills and quickly become a jack of all trades, but mastery is elusive and really does take time. I’m learning Chinese now thanks to a video game that has a built in writing pad (Nintendo DS). I can not only learn how to pronounce and read Chinese, but write it as well, and have feedback on my writing without going to a class. Thanks to technology you can cram a lot of useful information into a handy guide that can walk you through something really complicated really fast. But mastery? Even with all those tools it takes a lot of time, practice, and sometimes, just guidance to truly master something.

    I’m even more convinced that you can make great strides in teaching, education – but you still can’t ensure learning even with those two greatly advanced. It took graduate school before my brain finally clued into “Oh…so that’s how you learn something new!”. For some people it comes sooner, for others later or not at all. A person can train and train and train and get taught and eventually learn it – but they may never really master it. And it is mastery of a skill or knowledge that drives technology and civilization forward. No amount of singularity theory or practice can replace that mastery. To use a cliche, it’s like you know something, but you don’t really KNOW it until you’ve done it yourself and feel confident about it. No single device, except for the ability to transplant entire brain pathways from other masters, will achieve that.

    Or so I think anyway.

  4. No argument there, drteine. Mine is simply what a game-changer it would be if even 50% of society had a basic knowledge of how 75% of the things around them actually worked.

  5. convivialdingo

     /  May 29, 2009

    I’ve always been pretty lucky in the “how the hell does that work” department. And that’s mostly because I broke a lot of stuff as a kid, and was a total geek with computers.

    Everything else requires me to beat my head against it until it finally “cracks” it.

    To learn attic Greek, I’m writing a textbook. Because if I get to *make* something, my brain feels like it’s a treat. Wish I’d known that brain trick back at UD, eek!

  6. Thanks for the topic! We’ll be talking about it Sunday evening on our award-eligible podcast, FastForward Radio. Please do tune in!


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