I had occasion this morning to read “The Singularity Is Always Near,” a 2006 essay by Kevin Kelly; if you haven’t given it a look, you should check it out. It’s partly a debunking of Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, but more precisely, it’s a periodic glimpse into the perpetual history of covert wonder:
I think that technological transitions represented by the singularity are completely imperceptible from WITHIN the transition that is represented (inaccurately) by a singularity. A phase shift from one level to the next level is only visible from the perch of the new level — after arrival there. Compared to a neuron the mind is a singularity — it is invisible and unimaginable to the lower parts. But from the viewpoint of a neuron the movement from a few neurons to many neurons to alert mind will appear to be a slow continuous smooth journey of gathering neurons. There is no sense of disruption, of Rapture. The discontinuity can only be seen in retrospect.
Language is a singularity of sorts, as was writing. But the path to both of these was continuous and imperceptible to the acquirers. I am reminded of a great story a friend tells of some cavemen sitting around the campfire 100,000 years ago, chewing on the last bits of meat, chatting in guttural sounds. One of them says,
“Hey, you guys, we are TALKING!
“What do you mean TALKING? Are you finished that bone?
“I mean we are SPEAKING to each other! Using WORDS. Don’t you get it?