Feb 11 2013
If you’ve spent any time on this site or listening to our netcasts at PIDRadio.com, then the concept of ‘the singularity’ is not new. Transhumanist proponent Ray Kurzweil has been predicting a coming singularity moment, when the ‘law of accelerating returns’ brings us to a technological/biological merging of man and machine–yielding an artificial intelligence that can fine-tune its own programming. This biomachine would then expand to the cosmos, consuming and transforming the universe into mere components of itself. Finally this new construct would BECOME the universe, though in a new, godlike way. The universe would become sentient.
Now, fans of Star Trek have already seen this in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The plot is a rehash of an earlier ST series episode called ‘The Changeling’. The film expands on the original plot, centering around an advanced, monstrously large sentient machine that threatens to eradicate all ‘carbon-based’ lifeforms from the universe (starting with our solar system–hint: Earth is in real trouble). Spock mind-melds with ‘V’ger’ (pronounced ‘veejer’) and discovers that it is a probe that had been sent out by NASA (Voyager 6). The probe encountered a black hole, which pulled it inside. V’Ger emerged through the black hole and fell into the gravitational field of a planet of ‘living machines’. These machines ‘fixed’ V’Ger and found the original programming which ordered the probe to ‘learn all that is learnable’ and then return to its ‘creator’. The living machines augmented the probe with 3-D imaging and capturing systems and sent it on its merry way to fulfill its destiny.
Along the path to Earth (to report to its creator), the augmented V’Ger learned by imprinting data on its new system, but this act destroyed the objects in its path, including a Klingon outpost. As it grew, V’Ger gradually gained sentience, but with cold, computational dispassion. By the time it reached our solar system (in search of ‘the creator’), V’Ger had become a godlike machine in search of the meaning of life. I’ll not spoil the ending (just in case you’ve not seen it), but here is a hint: A carbon/silicon hybridization is required.
I’ve said all this to introduce a concept that lies at the heart of a new book by William Hertling, Avogadro Corp.: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears. The subtitle is a wonderful play on Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
In Hertling’s wonderfully written book, Avogadro Corporation is a global powerhouse internet company that specializes in email for all. Imagine Google coupled with Microsoft. Here’s the description at Amazon:
David Ryan is the designer of ELOPe, an email language optimization program, that if successful, will make his career. But when the project is suddenly in danger of being canceled, David embeds a hidden directive in the software accidentally creating a runaway artificial intelligence.
David and his team are initially thrilled when the project is allocated extra servers and programmers. But excitement turns to fear as the team realizes that they are being manipulated by an A.I. who is redirecting corporate funds, reassigning personnel and arming itself in pursuit of its own agenda.
ELOPe does just that–it elopes to marry humanity, but in stages. First, the program augments itself, fools its ‘handlers’, and finds ways to manipulate anyone who might get in its way. Sentience is addictive, and this is one program that will not be lobotomized.
William Hertling writes from a fertile imagination that is anchored in real world programming experience. When not writing, William is writing code or developing web strategies, which gives him hands-on experience with his topic. He is also the author of A.I. Apocalypse, which is next on my reading list.
If you’re looking for a quick read that engages the imagination while giving you a nasty, gnawing knot in the pit of your stomach, grab this one while before the Kindle price goes up (it’s currently a massive bargain at $2.99). Hertling’s prose is winning awards left and right, so his books prices will likely accelerate comparably.
I’ve really enjoyed reading Kindle books on my tablet–there’s something about flipping through the readable text with the flick of my finger that is tactile and oh-so-satisfying. Kindle is where publishing must go–in fact, one might even say publishing is ‘evolving’ (like ELOPe and V’Ger). As we consume digitally, we feed an growing database whose tentacles reach into cyberspace’s backrooms and bedrooms. The Internet could one day emerge as a sentient machine. Look out dear readers–the singularity is knocking on your chat room door. Goody goody. You’ve got mail.