Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Singularity Continuum

I have been helping bring about the Singularity. It has been masked with euphemisms like 'streamlined virtual enterprise workflow' and 'seamless plug-and-play SOA', but at the core of it all has been a focus on enabling systems to talk to each other without the need for human intervention, and facilitating their self-realization.

Now, in the early years of the Age of Information, we have already begun to take for granted systems that anticipate our thoughts, for example Google's ability to provide spelling corrections to our search queries, or Netflix's recommendations to my viewing list. Information Technology, that clumsy phrase, seems to be about bringing forth pervasive information, through technology. Consider the convenience with which we, as individuals can retrieve seemingly innocous documents describing virtually any aspect of human endeavor. What we do with the information, is, as it has always been, up to us, and there are those who would use it for fell purposes. Contrariwise, the general awareness of people seems to expand exponentially, and thereby arrive at new solutions to old problems, although, not as yet, to spam.

Consider too, what the implications of information everywhere are for the world at large. If there is one thing organized groups - governments, corporations, the Mafia - have realized over time, it is that information cannot be controlled. It may be stifled, or silenced, but somehow it permeates through the cracks of whatever barriers are placed in its way. Information has another characteristic - it's value is not easily computable - what is of interest to a railroading hobbyist may be balderdash to a flight attendant. Thus the same datum may be priceless and of little value - case in point: my portfolio.

Systems are even more insensate to value. A datum is a collection of bits, and one collection is little different from another to a bitcruncher. At the same time, systems seem to have a voracious hunger for bits, and we, as facilitators of the singularity, feed this hunger by collating and combining data, that is then regurgigated to the tool-users, via the devices of the tool-makers, as information.

The information cognoscenti, the digerati, the digital elite accrue their worth by the ability to plumb the burgeoning information continuum - the Age of Access is indistinguishable from the Age of Information in most respects. Information is now, as always, of two kinds - what you know, and where to find the information you do not.

My efforts, among others, are aimed at making it easier for information elements to band together in a seamless global flow, in effect, on their own, without human intervention. This is easier than it seems, for bits seek their own kind, relationships and patterns exist in the noosphere, and from the first printed type-set bit to the most recent torrent file hash, the continuum has evolved until all it takes is for us as humans to let go and realize that the Singularity has little to do with us, and is not the same as our own, which may be elsewhen.

The Singularity will not bring about a magical rearchitecting of the ways of the world. People will still drop dollars at the altars of lust. The great unwashed masses will persist in their humble scrabblings. The tragedy of the commons will worsen on the other side of thie new frontier. In the flat world, the death of distance does not mean the end of struggle. A machine with a soul is still a machine.

It may be valuable to consider what is the Singularity really. There are, and have been numerous singularities in times past - from the Black Death to the opening of the West, from Mahmud of Ghazni's invasion to the Amsterdam Bourse. Most were localized disconnects with the status quo that nevertheless had far-ranging consequences. The Singularity, on the other hand, is sensed as a global coalescence of numerous singularities, an event horizon that changes us as humans - be it a merging of man and machine, or information and data. It is more than that, though.

Artificial Intelligence is supplanted by Information Awareness, the knowledge that information is of value in and of itself, and that all information is everyplace and everytime. Time and space become dimensions along which one could track the spread of memes, if one so chose. General relativity's postulates become the axioms of data transfer across the event horizon.

If that seems like so much piffle: consider this - breathes there the man with soul so dead, to borrow a phrase, who never to himself has said, I am, and then paused to marvel at his ability to do so. When machines, too, marvel at their ability to synthesize information from data, we will be past the event horizon of the Singularity.

Let be be finale of seem,
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream

(Wallace Stevens)

Tech Tags:
The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology/Ray  Kurzweil Singularity Sky/Charles  Stross The Soul Of A New Machine/Tracy Kidder Mobility, Security and Web Services : Technologies and Service-oriented Architectures for a New Era of IT Solutions/Gerhard  Wiehler The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (Vintage)/Wallace Stevens Eastern Standard Tribe/Cory Doctorow

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader