Recent SF Readings on Singularity & Decentralization
When thinking about the future, I find it much easier to interpolate than to extrapolate. Then it’s just connecting the dots, rather than continually extending into the unknown. It’s good for career planning too: think about the possible paths of how dots connect, then insert yourself into it .
To interpolate, one needs some well-defined possibilities of what the future might hold. That’s where science fiction (SF) can help tremendously. SF has changed. It’s not your dad’s 1950s space operas. The new SF has a broader design space because science and technology have progressed, inspiring new generations of writers in new ways. It explores various singularity scenarios, ideas about reputation and identity, and even blockchain-y infosec. Explorations on AI, AR, VR, and brain computer interfaces are more fleshed out, more accurate, and more thoughtful (on average).
Friends often ask me what recent SF has influenced me the most. I’ve typically shared it by email. But, I’ve just realized, why not share it with everyone? That’s what this post is about. I’ve also added several non-fiction books which are nicely complementary.
If I had to pick just one about singularity, I’d suggest Accelerando, by Charlie Stross. It starts with the near future, and ends with a radical future thousands of years from now. In between it’s a hilarious crazy creative journey. A couple highlights:
- Early in the book, the protagonist loses his AR headset. And in doing so, forgets who he is and stumbles around like a lost soul. Where do our selves end and our cognitive enhancers begin?
- Later on, the protagonist’s girlfriend breaks up because he was acting bird-brained for a couple centuries too long. Literally bird-brained: he’d transformed himself into a flock of birds.
- It starts with the present. A bunch of “dumb” agents leads to a chain reaction of events that ends with a radical restructuring of society. We get to watch every step of the way. If you want to understand possible scenarios of where decentralization & DAOs might take us, this is required reading.
Here’s a full list of recent SF that has influenced me the most.
- William Hertling — Avogadro Corp, AI Apocalypse, The Last Firewall, The Turing Exception (4-part series). AI wakes up; uploads; AI rights; AI-human fight over resources.
- Ramez Naam — Nexus, Crux, Apex (3-part series). Brain-computer interfaces, neural OSes.
- Daniel Suarez — Daemon, FreedomTM (2-part series). Decentralized governance, reputation.
- Cory Doctorow — Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom. Reputation. Tribes.
- Charles Stross — Accelerando, Singularity Sky, The Rapture of the Nerds (with Doctorow). Singularity, gonzo-style. Also, Neptune’s Brood conceptualizes fast, medium, and slow money as cash, bonds etc, and interstellar bitcoin (!) respectively.
- Greg Egan — Diaspora. What if feels to live like a pattern of intelligence. The first 50 pages are slow going, but somewhere along the way, things click and then you are that pattern of intelligence. I was blown away.
- Vernor Vinge — Rainbows End. Augmented reality. I re-read this and wrote down business ideas. I got 10 pages’ worth!
- Ernest Cline — Ready Player One. Virtual reality.
Here’s some related, recent nonfiction of note:
- Robin Hanson — The Age of EM. Uploads meets economics.
- Ralph Merkle — DAOs, Democracy, and Governance (essay)
- Ray Kurzweil — The Singularity is Near (2nd edition coming soon)
- Nick Bostrom — Superintelligence. Super deep dive into design space of intelligence.
- Katie Hafner — Where Wizards Stay Up Late. History of ARPAnet, internet.
- Tim Wu — The Master Switch. History of information networks / monopolies.
This is not a thorough list. It’s not intended to be. But if you read even some of these books, I guarantee it will change how you think about the future. And maybe even influence how you design your career!