Sunday, November 29, 2009

Some points to ponder regarding space travel -- from Charlie Stross

Charlie Stross is one of many current science fiction authors whose works I have yet to explore.

Thanks to a link from Ken Macleod's site, however, I've been greatly enjoying Stross's blog. Here is a particularly interesting post, in which he dissects and debunks the myth of space travel as it has been traditionally envisioned.



Seth said...

I have also been enjoying Charlie's Diary and felt the starship post was worth adding to my shared items in Google Reader. I haven't read any of his books yet either, but I'll let you know if I do and I hope you'll let us know what you think of them if your read any.

Seth said...

I take that back, I guess I have read one of his books, but I didn't read it in book form. I read Accelerando! online
This was not too long after my introduction to the concept of the singularity and if I recall correctly, I enjoyed it. I'll have to look into some of his other books.

Procyon Sky said...

Stross' post gave me a headache. There isn't going to be Drexlerian nanotech, or general purpose AI, or a Singularity, or exotic trans-human interstellar transport.

For two reasons.

(1) These things are not science fiction, they're fantasy.

Singularity enthusiasts rhapsodize about nanotech manufacturing and super-intelligent AI when our technology can barely handle protein folding, or metaphor in everyday speech, or software bugs in operating systems.

And no, Moore's law doesn't show that we'll solve such problems, or experience exponential technological progress. It just means computers got faster and faster for a while. Extrapolating from that to a super-duper miraculous "technological singularity" is like finding a growing population of rabbits and predicting that they'll overrun the Earth.

- Even if a "singularity" were physically possible, or nanotech and AI feasible from an engineering standpoint anytime in the next ten thousand years, climate change and peak oil are destroying the ecological and industrial basis of human civilization. Yet we're supposed to believe that, somehow, there will be funding for vast R&D of exotic, down-the-road, hyper-technologies like AI, nanotech, or beaming nano-AI-whatchamacallits to Alpha Centauri. Really?

Come on. Science fiction needs to start dealing with plausible futures based on actual science and realistic sociology. Not techno-gasmic utopian fantasies.

Seth said...


You may be right, computers will stop getting faster and more capable, thus eliminating the chance of developing a machine intelligence superior to that of a man which might then improve upon itself and usher in the technological singularity. Maybe.

At what point in time do you think Moore's Law will cease to model the increase in computer speeds and what will be the reason for this?

How good were computers at protein folding or handling speech of any sort twenty years ago? Should people have said that augmented reality was a fantasy thirty years ago because our technology couldn't handle it yet?

I may sound overly optimistic (I may need to join Optimists Anonymous), but perhaps people are coming up with some ideas that will allow us to avoid TEOTWAWKI (until the singularity hits of course.) Alternatives to oil? Adapting to climate change, or doing a bit of radical geoengineering (I know, dangerous prospect, but if it's try this or civilization ends?)

Do you have a more detailed explanation as to why these ideas that Stross contemplates should be tossed into the fantasy genre?