The Myth of Techno-Transcendence: The Rhetoric of the Singularity
Harris, Michael Spencer
University of Kansas
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Recent studies suggest that people are anxious about the influence of technology on (and in) the future. The rapidity of technological progress, combined with the failure of technical discourses to provide answers in times of uncertainty have forced audiences to find alternative means of making sense of their contemporary situation. In particular, narrative forms have become prominent resources for audience's seeking to understand the trajectory of technology and its effects on their lives. One example of the emergence of these types of discourses is the Singularity, a story about a future point where human and machine intelligence is indistinguishable and humanity has been transformed by technology. As such, in this study, I illuminate and analyze the rhetorical form and function of both pro- and anti-Singularity discourse in an effort to understand the contemporary cultural role of stories about the future. In doing so, I argue that advocates of the Singularity employ a mythic form of reasoning, combining narrative and technical discourses while characterizing rationality in religious terms. Alternatively, critics of the Singularity warn audiences of the impending doom of artificial intelligence (and the like) through a narrative form of secondary allegorizing. Finally, I suggest that the prevalence of these competing discourses indicates a possible blurring in traditional distinctions between myth and allegory, while also highlighting the changing role of cultural and social narratives in a technological era.
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