Technical Absurdities

Here’s another instance of scan-to-gibberish in a chapter title from Jaron Lanier’s 2010 book You Are Not a Gadget, followed by completely intelligible points he makes in the subsequent paragraphs.

an apocaLypse of seLF-aBDicanon  (Make that:  An Apocalypse of Self-Abdication)


“The Singularity is an apocalyptic idea originally proposed by John von Neumann, one of the inventors of digital computation, and elucidated by figures such as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil…  In some versions of the story…. the internet itself comes alive and rallies all the net-connected machines into an army to control the affairs of the planet. Humans might then enjoy immortality within virtual reality, because the global brain would be so huge that it would be absolutely easy—a no-brainer, if you will—for it to host all our consciousnesses for eternity.

“The coming Singularity is a popular belief in the society of technolo­gists. Singularity books are as common in a computer science depart­ment as Rapture images are in an evangelical bookstore.

“(Just in case you are not familiar with the Rapture, it is a colorful belief in American evangelical culture about the Christian apocalypse. When I was growing up in rural New Mexico, Rapture paintings would often be found in places like gas stations or hardware stores. They would usually include cars crashing into each other because the virtuous dri­vers had suddenly disappeared, having been called to heaven just before the onset of hell on Earth. The immensely popular Left Behind novels also describe this scenario.)….

“The difference between sanity and fanaticism is found in how well the believer can avoid confusing consequential differences in timing. If you believe the Rapture is imminent, fixing the problems of this life might not be your greatest priority. You might even be eager to embrace wars and tolerate poverty and disease in others to bring about the conditions that could prod the Rapture into being. In the same way, if you believe the Singularity is coming soon, you might cease to design technology to serve humans, and prepare instead for the grand events it will bring.

you  aRE hot   a  gaDset  (the hapless scanner’s rendering of the book’s title in the chapter header with its eccentric font)

“But in either case, the rest of us would never know if you had been right. Technology working well to improve the human condition is detectable, and you can-see that possibility portrayed in optimistic sci­ence fiction like Star Trek.

“The Singularity, however, would involve people dying in the flesh and being uploaded into a computer and remaining conscious, or people simply being annihilated in an imperceptible instant before a new super-consciousness takes over the Earth. The Rapture and the Singularity share one thing in common: they can never be verified by the living.”

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