[FoRK] Douglas Adams: Is there an Artificial God?

Jeff Bone <jbone at place.org> on Fri Jul 13 09:12:09 PDT 2007

On Jul 13, 2007, at 9:15 AM, Matt Crawford wrote:

>>  3. computation -- seeing that little tiny things can add up to make
>> complex things
>>  Someone asks from the audience, "What's the 4th age of sand?"
>>  He notes: greater and greater interconnection, many-many  
>> communication.
> Related reading: _Rainbows_End_, by Vernor Vinge.  As always, he  
> extrapolates more plausibly and yet more excitingly than other SF  
> writers.

Hmm, I do love Vinge, but I can't agree that his detailed  
extrapolations are any more (or even as) plausible than / as other SF  
writers in that same vein.  He seems to make bold and provocative  
"large inferences" but the gritty minutia and the path from here to  
there just isn't his strong suit...  (For example:  despite all the  
trappings of very High Technology --- localizers, interstellar  
travel, FTL galaxy-scale data networking, etc. --- his characters  
continue to be largely human-scale intelligences, with the occasional  
Big Bad AI.  Yet he doesn't convincingly explore why this is the case  
or how interstellar society functions w/o there being massive deltas  
in relative individual power levels.

I'd have to say I prefer (among recent bright lights) Ian McDonald  
and Charlie Stross (in his better moments.)  The undisputed if less- 
recent masters of the gritty detailed extrapolation are George Alec  
Effinger (focus on the inherent tension between modernity /  
technology and Islam;  ubiquitous cell phones and data networking ---  
back in the early 80s, when this seemed semi-preposterous, if only  
because of the infrastructural chicken / egg hill-climb that was  
necessary to get there), Sterling (in various details, mostly re:  
social impact of technologies), Gibson (of course), and in better  
moments Stephenson (particularly Snow Crash, though that's a life- 
imitates-art sort of thing of course..)

This of course brings to mind the old saw:  "science fiction isn't  
about the future, it's about today."

On that level, the most prescient sci-fi author of the 20th century  
may well have been Frank Herbert.  Dune is a fantastic discourse on  
the relationships between religion, power, and society --- and  
particularly the thorny problems and threats of Islamo-fascism,  
terrorism, monopoly, and resource-constraint economics.


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