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chibi_tektek

The Sputtering Propeller of the Singularity

In my last Emergence devlog entry, we started talking about what might delay a technological singularity, might make it sputter like an airplane propeller getting started.  So let's play that out.
I think that non-scientific major crises could do it - war, or ecological disaster, anything that significantly diverts the resources needed for technological advancement, especially since that advancement has typically come as part of improving (global) communication and trade.  So, say we hit peak oil and everyone freaked out about petroleum products and they became prohibitively expensive.  It would take a while before we could continue advancements.
I think there could be a punctuated cultural version of that, too.  Just as the Cultural Revolution gutted China's universities, branding a lot of inquiry as taboo and 'counter-revolutionary', I think that a significant cultural backlash could make certain technologies go underground.  This would now be hard to get at a global level, but it could happen locally.
The most likely delaying factor, though probably not fully preventative, seems to me to be amistics, to use Neal Stephenson's phrase.  That is, technologies that we declare, culturally, to be taboo.  It's rare, but I think that in some ways we've done that with atomic energy, or else we'd probably have relatively safe miniature reactors all over the place.  I think we also did it with eugenics - we've had the ability to run brutal, brute-force eugenics for over a century now, and every time genetics research gets close to enabling more subtle eugenics, we have a pop-cultural meltdown over it.  And that'll probably continue until we find culturally acceptable compromises: sure, eliminate what feels like clear dysfunction, but stay the hell away from 100% sure-fire, deterministic prescriptive or even creative manipulation.
And then there's always the Dark Ages scenario, where a sufficient social collapse leads to a loss in either the information or the supportive infrastructure for high technology.  One thing that I like about the Zones of Thought setting is that transcendent technological advance is just kind of a known thing.  If your civilization is in the right place, eventually it'll happen to you.  If you're stuck in the "slow zone", then you'll probably advance and retreat, develop and collapse, with the idea that the technological height of a civilization is cyclical.  Dark ages happen, which isn't something that I've seen Kurzweil allow.

In Emergence, I'm taking a bit of each of those. Technology in the setting gets really close to the Singularity via nanotechnology and Generalized AI/SI.  As it gets close, the relatively small (population) civilization freaks out and declares both technologies off-limits. Society fractures in the paroxysm around 'banning' those technologies, with some parts going "back to basics" and deliberately leaving high technology, Amish-style; the rest loses the infrastructure to continue advancement.  I need that sort of on-the-cusp setting because I'd like both of those technologies to linger, hidden and nascent in places, albeit undeveloped and taboo.  Then, much later, they can come back as nascent magic, and be developed and considered from a very different angle.  Honestly, it's kinda Pernian.

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