At the middle of the last century Turing predicted that by the year 2000 there would be computers with the ability to trick people (via conversation) into imagining that the computer was a person. In 1993 Vernor Vinge predicted that by 2023 there will be “superhuman intelligence” and “the human era will be ended”. This kind of faith in the end of the world as we know it is now called singularitarianism.
I’ve been blogging about the antisingularity for several years (more). Isaac Asimov’s fictional future history of robots and the Foundation provides an interesting antisingularity imagining of the future. Asimov wrote stories about positronic robots with human-like intelligence and he set the time for construction of those machines in this century. Later, Asimov went on to merge his robot stories with his stories about the Foundation and galactic civilization far in our future. Even with artificial intelligences that can think as well as -or even better than people- there is no technological singularity in Asimov’s future history. Why not?
io9 is the source of the snippet, above, about “cutting-edge neuroscience” in Asimov’s Second Foundation. Asimov’s Second Foundation takes place 20,000 years in our future, but the “cutting-edge” technology includes things like a wiz-bang voice-activate typewriter. The “cutting-edge neuroscience” includes things like electroencephalography. In Second Foundation, people are still using fossil fuels and imagining that science and nuclear power are so mysterious and complex that they should be the basis for religion. What has caused human civilization to undergo 20,000 years of technological stagnation?
The robots, particularly Daneel, are in hiding, and working towards the creation of Galaxia. Daneel is constrained by his programming and the zeroth law to prevent harm to humanity. Why does Daneel think that Galaxia is so important? In Foundation and Earth, Asimov revealed that humanity faces some danger that will soon arrive from beyond our galaxy.
The Start of Eternity is a fan fiction sequel to Asimov’s Foundation and Earth. In The Start of Eternity it is revealed that Daneel has been using his telepathic powers to prevent people from developing new technologies. During the 20,000 years during which humans colonized the galaxy, they never thought about using their hyperspace jump technology to visit other galaxies…because Daneel did not let humans have such thoughts. During those 20,000 years Daneel was learning how to genetically engineer humans so as to build into the human brain the laws of robotics.
The Start of Eternity is also a sequel for Asimov’s time travel novel, The End of Eternity. We get to follow Noÿs and Andrew after they settle into their new lives in the 20th century. We see the role that they play in creating the Foundation Reality, but in the end, the Huaoshy pull the plug on human time travel and Asimov is left to write his “fictional” account of the Foundation.
If Daneel ultimately fails to establish Galaxia and the Huaoshy regain control of Earth, will humanity then achieve a technological singularity? The Start of Eternity is still being created…collaborating authors are welcome.