Historicism, Science Fiction, and the Singularity

In Barry Dainton, Will Slocombe & Attila Tanyi (eds.), Minding the Future: Artificial Intelligence, Philosophical Visions and Science Fiction. Cham, Switzerland: pp. 197-218 (2021)

Authors
Mark Silcox
University of Central Oklahoma
Mark Silcox
University of Central Oklahoma
Abstract
Many writers who have discussed the Singularity have treated it not only as the inevitable outcome of advancements in cybernetic technology, but also as natural consequence of broader patterns in the development of human knowledge, or of human history itself. In this paper I examine these claims in light of Karl Popper’s famous philosophical critique of historicism. I argue that, because the Singularity is regarded as both a product of human ingenuity and a reflection of the permanent limitations of our rational capacities, speculation about its likelihood occupies an interesting border zone between what Popper referred to as “technological prediction” and what he lambasted as “prophecy.” I go on to examine representations of a post-singularity world in the novels of Iain M. Banks, as well as in Bruce Sterling’s short story “The Beautiful and the Sublime.” These narratives demonstrate how trying to imagine what human life might be like in the presence of intellectually superior AIs requires a more aggressively skeptical attitude toward the human capacity to understand our own history than even Popper was prepared to allow for.
Keywords David Chalmers  Artificial Intelligence  AI  Karl Popper  Science Fiction  Singularity  Historicism
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