Looking at the Future Through a Novelist's Eye
Posted April 22, 2021
If you want a vision of the next generation internet, you turn to Neal Stephenson and his metaverse.
That’s the “spatial web,” which we have been writing about under the guidance of the great John Schroeter.
In The Spatial Web: How Web 3.0 Will Connect Humans, Machines, and AI to Transform the World, Dan Mapes and Gabriel Rene offer the best exposition of its technological promise.
The Spatial Web exhibits not only a metaverse, but David Gelernter’s “Mirror Worlds,” where every geological point on earth is echoed and augmented by a virtual point. But it’s all really just footnotes on the visions of novelist's.
It crucially also encompasses a Stephensonian Cryptonomicon, reaching a new climax in Reamde, with the virtual gold-based financial system of a digital 3D world overflowing into our world.
Now I discover that perhaps the best summation of the perils and promise of artificial intelligence (AI) comes from British novelist Ian McEwan in his 2019 work Machines like Me.
I may have been captivated in part by my conceit that the hero, Charlie Friend, who is “the author of a short book on AI” celebrating “Alan Turing as titan,” is actually me and Gaming AI!
Well, we all have our vanities.
In any case, McEwan, author of Atonement and other great novels, is vastly more sophisticated on artificial intelligence than are such AI experts and prophets as Elon Musk (“It is potentially more dangerous than nukes”), Stephen Hawking (“It could spell the end of the human race”), and MIT’s Max Tegmark (Its power will keep doubling… in ultimately exponential explosions”) and so on, as the specialists descend into their sub-pico infinitesimals and exa-infinitudes.
Machines Like Me projects the creation of humanoid robots that live in the world with us.
It also places this singular event in a futuristic past of the 1970s and 1980s in a reimagined United Kingdom, where Sir Alan Turing survives as a patriarchal sage and Nobel laureate. (In fact, he died in ignominy in June 1954 after enforced treatment for his then criminal homosexuality that destroyed his will to live).
These imagined AI robots simulate human beings, including human gestures and expressions that enabled “Adam,” the robot, to seduce his girlfriend. As the hero Charlie asks: “What brought this ambulant laptop into our lives?” Its ultimate progenitor turns out to be no one else than Alan Turing.
Charlie describes Adam’s shrug as a response: “I hated that careless little shrug. Completely fake, and how easily we were taken in by, a minor subroutine tripped by a limited range of specialized inputs, devised by some clever, desperate-to-please post-doc in a lab somewhere on the outskirts of Chengdu.”
In a brilliant epiphany at the end, McEwan brings Turing back into his pages as an oracle. I will offer my observations in a future Daily Prophecy on the conclusions of McEwan-Turing about the underestimations of the singularity of the human mind.
Editor, Gilder's Daily Prophecy