The Spike: How Our Lives Are Being Transformed By Rapidly Advancing Technologies

The Spike: How Our Lives Are Being Transformed By Rapidly Advancing Technologies

by Damien Broderick

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The rate at which technology is changing our world--not just on a global level like space travel and instant worldwide communications but on the level of what we choose to wear, where we live, and what we eat--is staggeringly fast and getting faster all the time. The rate of change has become so fast that a concept that started off sounding like science fiction has become a widely expected outcome in the near future - a singularity referred to as The Spike.

At that point of singularity, the cumulative changes on all fronts will affect the existence of humanity as a species and cause a leap of evolution into a new state of being.

On the other side of that divide, intelligence will be freed from the constraints of the flesh; machines will achieve a level of intelligence in excess of our own and boundless in its ultimate potential; engineering will take place at the level of molecular reconstruction, which will allow everything from food to building materials to be assembled as needed from microscopic components rather than grown or manufactured; we'll all become effectively immortal by either digitizing and uploading our minds into organic machines or by transforming our bodies into illness-free, undecaying exemplars of permanent health and vitality.

The results of all these changes will be unimaginable social dislocation, a complete restructuring of human society and a great leap forward into a dazzlingly transcendent future that even SF writers have been too timid to imagine.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312700904
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 02/10/2001
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
File size: 435 KB

About the Author

Damien Broderick is a noted Australian critic and scholar with an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in literature and science. He has published several SF novels and another important speculative science work, The Last Mortal Generation. He lives in Australia.

Damien Broderick is an Australian science fiction writer who currently lives in Texas. He is the author of many acclaimed novels and stories, including The Dreaming Dragons and The Judas Mandala.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

—Vernor Vinge, NASA VISION-21 Symposium, 1993

It rushes at you, the future.

Usually we don't notice that. We are unaware of its gallop. Time might not be a rushing black wall coming at us from the future, but that's surely how it looks when you stare unflinchingly at the year 2050 and beyond, at the strange creatures on the near horizon of time (our own grandchildren, or even ourselves, technologically preserved and enhanced). Call them transhumans or even posthumans.

The initial transition into posthumanity, for people intimately linked to specially-designed computerised neural nets, might not wait until 2050. It could happen even earlier. 2040. 2030. Maybe sooner, as Vinge predicted. This is no longer the deep, the inconceivably distant future. These are the dates when quite a few young adults today expect to be packing up their private possessions and leaving the office for the last time, headed for retirement. These are dates when today's babes in arms will be strong adults in the prime of life.

Around 2050, or maybe even 2030, is when a technological Singularity, as it's been termed, is expected to erupt. That, at any rate, is the considered opinion of a number of informed if unusually adventurous scientists. Professor Vinge called this projected event "the technological Singularity," something of a mouthful. I call it "the Spike," an upward jab on the chart of change, a time of upheaval unprecedented in human history.

And, of course,it's a profoundly suspect suggestion. We've heard this sort of thing prophesied quite recently, in literally Apocalyptic religious revelations of millennial End Time and Rapture.

That's not the kind of upheaval I'm describing.

A number of perfectly rational, well-informed and extremely smart scientists are anticipating a Singularity, a barrier to confident anticipation of future technologies. I prefer the term "Spike," because when you chart it on a graph it looks like a Spike! Its exponential curve resembles a spike on a graph of change over time.

The more the curve grows, the larger is each subsequent bound upward. It takes a long time to double the original figure, but the same period again gets you four times farther up the curve, then eight times... so that after just ten doublings, you've risen a thousand times as far, then two thousand, and on it goes. Note this: the time it takes to go from one to two, and then from two to four, is just the same period needed to take that mighty leap from 1000 to 2000. A short time later we're talking a million-fold increase in a single step, and the very next step after that is two million-fold . . .

History's slowly rising trajectory of progress over tens of thousands of years, having taken a swift turn upward in recent centuries and decades, quickly roars straight up some time after 2030 and before 2100. That's the Spike. Change in technology and medicine moves off the scale of standard measurements: it goes asymptotic, as a mathematician would say. An asymptote is a curve that bends more and more sharply until it is heading almost straight along one of the axes—in this case, up the page into the future.

So the curve of technological change is getting closer and closer to the utterly vertical in a shorter and shorter time. At the limit, which is reached quite quickly (disproving Zeno's ancient paradox about the tortoise beating Achilles if it has a head-start), the curve tends toward infinity. It rips through the top of the graph and is never seen again.

At the Spike, we can confidently expect that some form of intelligence (human, silicon, or a blend of the two) will emerge at a posthuman level. At that point, all the standard rules and cultural projections go into the waste-paper basket.

A quick preliminary stroll through the future.

Everything you think you know about the future is wrong.

Excerpted from The Spike by Damien Broderick. Copyright © 2000 by Damien Broderick. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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