Thoughts on the Singularity

Today I want to talk about mechs.

One of the really interesting things in science fiction is the interface between flesh and machine. And one of the most interesting things about that interface is how ambiguous it often is. Bladerunner, for example: we never know for sure whether a replicant’s core is robotic or not (or even what, precisely, the word “robot” is intended to mean). Battlestar Galactica played a similar are-they-or-aren’t-they game in its initial episodes.

And I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that, in creating such fictions, we’re skating over some pretty thin ice around our culture’s broader anxieties. We know this stuff is coming. We know there’s going to be a Web N.0 where it all gets right inside our heads. Or maybe those of our children. But we’ve got very little sense of the exact sequence events might follow. Or how the timelines might play out. It’s all just guesswork.

And, as Warren Ellis pointed out last week, it’s made even more problematic by the way in which all too many of the folks who are best equipped to speculate are content to get all misty-eyed and mystical about the Singularity (aka the “Rapture for Nerds”, though Ken McLeod has been at pains to point out that he didn’t coin the term). And before you start hurling epithets and tomatoes: sure, there’s some kind of Singularity on the horizon. I know that. Something’s brewing. That much seems clear. But it’s probably not going to be the peaches-and-cream mass-upload that so many seem to have in mind. It’ll be something far more ambiguous. It’ll hit us from the blindside like the web did. And like the web, even as it opens up new worlds, it won’t magic away anything in the real world. And we forget that at our peril.

But I was here to talk about mechs.

Look, here’s the thing: the problems I’ve been talking about admit of ambiguity. Mechs in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS don’t. More than one reader/reviewer (and god knows I love them all, so don’t take this as an ad hominem attack, ‘cos it ain’t) has used the word mech interchangeably with the word cyborg. To paraphrase Winston C., that is something up with which I cannot put. They’re different classes of concepts. While you’ll have to read the book itself to find out where I come down on the whole cyborg question, the mech issue is far more straightforward:

The word’s come down from the old man himself. Both kinds of runners hit this city tonight. The razors work the zone [i.e., the net] and the mechanics kick in the doors.

Make sense? Mechs doesn’t refer to cyborgs, nor is it a reference to anime mechas. Mechs are the men and women who call themselves mechanics: assassins. They’re black-ops operatives who specialize in physical combat while the razors with whom they’re partnered work the zone and enable their runs. And in fact, I’ve got some additional information as well, on the bottom-right of this page.

Cool? Cool. Or rather, I wish it was #$# cool. But it’s not. In fact, it’s hot as hell right now in the middle of our nation’s capital. You can tell this town was the result of a political compromise. Thanks a lot, Founding Fathers.


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5 Responses to “Thoughts on the Singularity”

  1. Al Billings Says:

    I always thought it was fairly clear in Bladerunner that the replicants were engineered biologicals without any hardware. Otherwise, why are they doing the weird tests instead of running them through metal detectors or more advanced detection devices?

    The thing with the cylons in Battlestar Galactica has always been pretty inconsistent. Sometimes, they seem to have something like machinery (glowing lights in spine? Ability to shove a wire in the arm?) but, strangely, no one can detect these bits.

  2. David Williams Says:

    I agree with you, Al–the movie definitely leans strongly in that direction. But it still leaves some ambiguity, particularly in the use of the word “robot” in the opening text.

    There’s also a tantalizing reference in one of the earlier scripts:

    On the cylons: one possibility re the glowing red lights in the spine is that they’re akin to the glowing red eyes of the replicants: i.e., they’re a narrative device that’s only visible to those who can see through the fourth wall (i.e., the audience).

  3. Ian Hristo Says:

    Hi David, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. Let me know when you want to use any of my ideas for a new book ;-). I will pick up your book in the stores, it sounds very interesting. Good luck with it and future writing.

  4. Al Billings Says:

    Yes, they probably are a narrative device but it is still annoyingly hard to be sure. Of course, in the end, it is just media.

    By the way, I enjoyed your book quite a bit. I hope to see more.

  5. David Williams Says:

    @Ian: thanks a ton–hope you enjoy it!

    @Al: appreciate the kudos. . . there will be more indeed–plus I’ll be posting daily here . . .