Vernor Vinge talked about how he got started writing science fiction, about numerical parametrization of group minds, about some characters in "Deepness in the Sky", and, of course, his brainchild -- the concept of Singularity, the ways it could happen, and what current research might lead to it.
10 people were at the discussion. Some have heard more about the concept of the Singularity, others less. Moderator Mike Ignatowski described two common Singularity scenarios. They are:
-- "hard takeoff": a computer develops human-level AI, and then within a few hours doubles, quadruples it, etc., and very soon becomes intelligent beyond our comprehension and takes over the world;
-- "soft takeoff" -- technological advance is gradual enough so any given human does not lose comprehension of what's happening; however, in a few hundreds of years the society and technology nonetheless changes so much that it's incomprehensible to a modern-day human.
We examined some of those scenarios and objections to them.
William Gibson gave a reading, answered audience's questions and signed books in Barnes & Noble on June 11, 2008. He started by saying he was glad to be back in Austin, a city that 14 years ago was ground zero for the "so-called" cyberpunk movement. Then the microphone failed. The irony of this happening right before the speech of a writer who pioneered a new attitude towards technology in science fiction did not escape the audience. After a few attempts by B&N staff to fix the microphone, Gibson gave up and said he'll do a reading a capella. "I don't let technology get in my way," he said. "People have been reading books aloud for centuries. I'm gonna do it the way Byron did it, the way Dylan Thomas did it, except sober." And he read part of the first chapter of his latest novel, "Spook Country".
Then Gibson answered audience's questions. A few of those questions were specifically about "Spook Country", and they didn't make much sense without having read the novel. Others were about writing and Gibson's view of the world in general. Here are a few questions and Gibson's answers. Does he consider his works to be dystopian? Does he create his characters deliberately, or do they spontaneously generate themselves? The latter is definitely the case, as in an example of a character that grew out of a white room. Is there really such a cultural phenomenon as cyberpunk? Last, not knowing much about technology can enable a SF writer to see the forest for the trees.
Pictures available in my photo gallery.
Synopsis from ArmadilloCon program book: Why have the cyberpunks abandoned the future? Do William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" and Bruce Sterling's "The Zenith Angle" evidence a trend? (And don't forget the pre-2001 "Cryptonomicon" of Neal Stephenson and "Zeitgeist" of Sterling) Are they science fiction? What makes them different from more mainstream techno-thrillers? What does it mean for the future of SF?
Some memorable or amusing moments from panels where I didn't take enough notes to yield an article of its own:
Looking for an idea? Watch our panelists brainstorm.
What's the latest strange discovery? Our panel talks about the most recent results and odd topics they've seen.
Looking for new ground in speculative fiction, art and science.
Topic, according to the convention program: We just thought it would be cool to have this group discuss future possibilities.
What was said on the panel: Vernor Vinge found irony in the panel's "weaselly" title; are there technical errors in Vernor Vinge's works? When fans find excuses for the writer's technical errors; what are some of the most interesting recent computer-themed SF books? theological value of ubiquitous computing.
Images from ArmadilloCon 2003 can be found in my photo gallery.
Topic, according to the convention program: Our panel looks for the coming breakthrough in technology that changes everything.
For another debate on Singularity, see my blog post from the SXSW 2011 Singularity panel with Doug Lenat, Michael Vassar, and Natasha Vita-More.