Singularity: A New Paradigm of Futurism
نقطه انفصالی: پارادیم جدید آینده نگری
Modern futurism dates back to the end of World War II, when thinkers like Ossip K. Flechtheim and Bertrand de Jouvenel started to look beyond both capitalism and socialism to search for solutions to basic problems of humanity (1).
In the last half of 20th century, the vision of futurists has revolved around the “post-industrial” model, upon which Daniel Bell expounded in his masterpiece The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society. Authors such as Alvin Toffler and John Naisbitt followed Bell's model. Toffler called post-industrial society a ‘third wave’ that followed two prior waves of agricultural and industrial societies, while Naisbitt developed methods to map the megatrends forming at the end of 20th Century.
With the tremendous growth and expansion of computers and Internet during that period, post-industrial society became synonymous with information society. Futurists increasingly scrutinized the impact of computers on every aspect of society and human life. In addition to older futurist associations like World Future Society, newer endeavors such as Wired Magazine focused exclusively on the latest developments of computers and networks.
In the last years of 20th Century, Ray Kurzweil came forward with a new vision, elaborated in his book The Singularity is Near (2).
I will explain below
why I view ‘singularity theory’ as a new paradigm for futurism.
The notion of paradigms and paradigm shifts mainly entered scientific discourse following the publication of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In the last decades of 20th century, the arguments of Kuhn's philosophy, referred to as subjective knowledge, contrasted with Popper's falsification theory about scientific discovery, referred to as objective knowledge. The topic was discussed extensively in a review of Philosophy of Science in 20th Century (3).
I tend to agree with David Bohm and David Peat regarding those arguments of Kuhn and Popper's views where they note:
“A paradigm, as Kuhn points out, is not simply a particular scientific theory but a whole way of working, thinking, communicating, and perceiving with the mind. It is based largely on the skills and ideas that are tacitly transmitted during what could be called a scientist’s apprenticeship, in graduate school for example. However, since the publication of Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, many people have equated a paradigm with a fundamental general theory and a change of paradigm with a consciously produced change in this theory. In this way some people go so far as to propose a paradigm change. This, however, totally misses the main force of Kuhn’s idea, which is that the tacit infrastructure, mostly unconsciously, pervades the whole work and thought of a community of scientists.” David Bohm and David Peat, Science, Order, Creativity, 1987, Page 42
Perhaps Thomas Kuhn's focus on the general theory of relativity as a prime example in his book was the reason why his concept of paradigm was misunderstood as a particular scientific theory, which is what Popper is basically concerned with, when discussing his falsification theory.
As far as scientific theories are concerned, emerging fields such as genomics prove that the no-hypothesis approach in some major areas of science may even work better than all the models discussed in philosophy of science in the 20th Century, but this is not the issue under discussion here.
Using Thomas Kuhn's model of paradigms, Kurzweil's theory of singularity is a real paradigm shift in the way futurists have been thinking about what may happen in the future. For example, we can no longer just limit ourselves to the trends that are discernible by context analysis. The fundamental changes that Kurzweil has revealed to us will move humanity to the point where the word ‘human’ will not mean what it meant for millions of years, and this is not in a distant future, but by 2045 (4).
What Kurzweil has shown is not only a major disruptive change, but also a major paradigm shift for modern futurism itself. Furthermore, its immediacy makes it hard to be ignored by anyone interested in what can, may or would happen in the future!
Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,
September 3, 2012