I’ve got two words for those working themselves into supernovas of incandescent cyber rage over Conroy’s internet filtering scheme: The Matrix.

I don't see numbers, I just see blonde, brunette, redhead ... The Matrix

Or how about: The Terminator. Or, to be more scientifically respectable: the Singularity. Let’s all unhook ourselves from our computers, iPhones and PlayStations for a few moments and consider the possibility that the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is not a reactionary Papist set on turning this free-speech-loving nation into – take your pick from the blogosphere pundits – Torquemada’s Spain, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia or Hu Jintao’s China.

Is it possible that in the not too distant future, the man voted 2009’s Internet Villain of the Year will come to be venerated as a John Connor-esque hero, a 21st century neo-Luddite resistance fighter, a man who tugged on the handbrake a little while the rest of humanity was intent on driving itself off a cliff?

Most non-geeks remain in a state of blissful ignorance about the Singularity. To briefly explain, in 1993, an American professor of mathematics, computer scientist and sci-fi author called Vernor Vinge published an essay entitled ‘The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in a Post-Human Era’ which predicted superhuman intelligence would arrive circa 2030.

Four years later, the Australian science writer Dr Damien Broderick published a book, The Spike, which foresaw the development, within the next half-century, of things such as part-man, part-machine ‘transhumans’ and ‘Santa Claus machines’ – nano-cornucopias capable of building anything from diamond houses to starships.

The most prominent Singularity expert nowadays is an American inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of 2005’s The Singularity Is Near. As journalist Dan Halpern relates in an article in the current edition of GQ Australia, Kurzweil believes that over the next three decades humans will first become partly machine, then fully machine, then software – that is, we’ll start uploading the contents of our minds to computers and morph into disembodied computer programs.

And after that, things get really interesting.

There’s the conversion of all matter in the universe into massive computers and the vestiges of human individuality transformed into an entirely communal, interconnected existence which evolves into a Godlike supercomputer.

If you’re thinking Kurzweil might have inhaled a few too many fumes down in the lab right about now, you may be proven right, but you should know that a lot of people rolled their eyes when he released a book in 1990 predicting something called ‘the internet’ was going to take off in a big way.

And the developments Kurzweil describes are no longer the stuff of sci-fi movies. They’re happening. Right now.

Humans are being increasingly augmented with machine parts. That mobile in your pocket allows you access to more information than any library has ever stored. Scientists are making solid progress on Artificial General Intelligence, that is, machines that can learn and become progressively smarter.

In 2000, Bill Joy, a computer scientist and the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote an essay for Wired magazine entitled ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’. It argued that in a world of intelligent machines, self-replicating nanotechnology and full genetic engineering things essential to humanity or humanity itself would very likely fall by the wayside.

Now, call me old school, call me paranoid, call me a Cassandra, but shouldn’t we all be taking the advice of very smart men like Bill Joy and devoting a little thought to where largely unregulated technological advances are taking us? Surely I’m not the only one a tad apprehensive about the prospect – however distant or unlikely - of being subsumed by a supercomputer?

Granted, the right of Australians to view interracial midget porn if they so choose to is important, but shouldn’t the potential extinction or enslavement of the entire human race generate a roughly equivalent amount of impassioned debate and media coverage?

Two centuries before the cyber-activist group Anonymous attacked Federal Parliament’s computers to protest the internet filter, another group of people who felt their way of life under threat started creating trouble. They were English skilled textile workers who believed — accurately — that the introduction of mechanised looms would make them redundant. They called themselves Luddites.

They attacked looms for a couple of years until the British government cracked down hard. Those arrested for the crime of ‘Machine breaking’ were typically dealt with in two ways: execution or transportation to Australia.

It would be interesting to know whether those exiled Luddite’s descendants believe their government is doing too much or too little to regulate today’s machines.

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26 comments

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    • Eric says:

      06:31am | 18/05/10

      Bring it on.

      Feminists like to say the future won’t need men. Well, it won’t need women either.

      As for the Luddites - they sure stopped all those nasty machines, didn’t they? The technologically superior group will always come out on top.

    • shane says:

      08:33am | 18/05/10

      Agreed. I’d download myself tomorrow if I could. And, yes, I’m aware of the philosophical implications of “self” etc.

    • Chase says:

      12:07am | 19/05/10

      Why do you hate women so much Eric? Why?

      What drives you to blame feminists? Do you long for a bygone era, the fifties, where men were men and women did what they were meant to?

      I hope not. I sincerely do.

    • Scott Maxworthy says:

      08:00am | 18/05/10

      The Revolution will not be Tweeted

    • thomas vesely says:

      10:54am | 18/07/10

      it just might,see iran.

    • Cyborgsarewaycool says:

      08:45am | 18/05/10

      What a scare campaign you have there Nigel! We should stop all progress and make sure we don’t make any more technological advances! If only we could live in the dark ages with plague and scurvy again. Who needs running water? Why should everyone have access to an education? Do we need to have a defense force… really? Who needs science? God and Jesus are way cooler.

      Pfft.

      What a technophobe.

    • Old Bert says:

      08:45am | 18/05/10

      I don’t understand what this all means. Could you repeat it please?

    • Scott Glennon says:

      08:55am | 18/05/10

      @Nigel, regulation of an international information source in just Australia would not prevent what you’ve rambled on about. As www is world wide, these decisions should be discussed and implimented Globally.
      And as you’ve pointed out, Anonymous groups have, can and will take down our Fedral Governments internet services and they can’t even find the offenders. Leading me to believe that they don’t know enough about the internet to start a regulation/censorship effort.

    • Dave Sag says:

      08:58am | 18/05/10

      Singularity, Rapture, end of the Mayan Calendar, or the close of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.  You say toe-mate-oh, I say toe-ma-tow.

      Now I don’t deny that the looming merger between nanotechnology, information technology, biotechnology and artificial (or real) idiocy could pose we humans some problems but it also pays to look at the upsides.

      I can recommend any of Iain M Bank’s ‘culture’ novels for example for a great dose of hyper-optimism.  You’ll find the future does need us after all.

    • Huddo says:

      03:25pm | 18/05/10

      Dave Sag,  The ‘culture’ was the first thing I thought of when reading this article….... Great books   smile

    • dancan says:

      11:02am | 18/05/10

      You know how we now look back on the Luddites, shake our heads and think “primitives”.  That’s what future generations will do when looking at us now.

    • Mark says:

      11:48am | 18/05/10

      Given that the ‘Global Elite’ agenda is to use technology to enslave the masses, I prefer to have some knowledge and control over that which would destroy us. If we leave control of technology to governments or to our corporate Facebook overlords, then we surely are doomed.

      Conroy is no hero. He’s a shill for the enslavers who tell us that the internet, and knowledge in general, is a bad, scary place. Never mind, the government and its corporate sponsors will protect you.

    • Duke says:

      12:17pm | 18/05/10

      “Is it possible that in the not too distant future, the man voted 2009’s Internet Villain of the Year will come to be venerated as a John Connor-esque hero, a 21st century neo-Luddite resistance fighter, a man who tugged on the handbrake a little while the rest of humanity was intent on driving itself off a cliff?”

      Not in this or any other reality continuum baby…If it looks like a dufus, sounds like a dufus, chances are…

    • Mick says:

      12:27pm | 18/05/10

      Soooooo - In the authors logic we will be safe with this filter because the Terminator will arrive via html. Whew.

      The filter is a nonsense, both technically and politically. It cannot work.

      As mentioned in the article - technology always finds a way around. And in the filter’s case it already has.

    • Simonious says:

      01:05pm | 18/05/10

      The machine is coming. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      01:26pm | 18/05/10

      Bring it on!!! Although humans running on Windows Vista will definitely have to upgrade to Windows 7 and that iPhone embedded in the forearm will have to be upgraded to an iPad in the chest which flops down like a tray…

    • Bethany says:

      02:41pm | 18/05/10

      “There’s the conversion of all matter in the universe into massive computers and the vestiges of human individuality transformed into an entirely communal, interconnected existence which evolves into a Godlike supercomputer.”
      And then the computer says, “Let there be light.” And there was light.
      And so we start all over again. Asimov, wasn’t it?

    • Kate says:

      03:53pm | 18/05/10

      Stephen Conroy has nothing whatsoever to do with stopping or slowing anything of which you have spoken. What a ridiculous start to the article.

    • thomas vesely says:

      10:58am | 18/07/10

      this jerk trivialises a much more immediate threat;CONROY

    • Ryan says:

      04:13pm | 18/05/10

      Perhaps the next level of super computer is going to be organic built at a cellular level comprising of billions of neurons. Hell we might even reinvent ourselves in the future!

    • David says:

      01:54am | 19/05/10

      What has the crux of your piece (the advancement of technology to levels which will challenge our perceptions of ‘human’) have to do with Conroy’s attempts at establishing a level of control over the Australian internet experience which is unfeasable, ineffective and motivated by the morally righteous (aka the Mrs Lovejoys and Ned Flanders of Australia)?

      Seriously? I’m just not even sure how you got this past the editor. You start off proposing Conroy might be remembered as a ‘hero’ who attempted to slow down humanity’s trajectory towards a cliff edge. Then barely even segway into essentially science fiction predictions from people who may or may not have a good idea about what they’re talking about (some I doubt seriously given their limited understanding of basic laws of physics and chemistry, E= mc^2 go check it out).

      Then mystically you return to Conroy, with the addition of luddites, and essentially ask whether a disproportionate amount of public discussion is focused on the filter issue and not the big bad fantasies of a few ‘geeks’ as you call them.

      Worst article on the punch in a long time (which says something given Steven Fielding has posted here recently).

    • Joel says:

      06:09pm | 20/05/10

      Nigel, you have missed the crux of the problem

      It is many millions spent on some that is completely ineffective. There are far more efficient ways to spend money to protect children such as this.

      This internet filter is akin to trying to put out a bushfire with a wet flannel. While it is all well and good for people to say it is better than nothing, the reality is, that this towel cost $44 Million.

    • LC says:

      08:27pm | 20/06/10

      Firstly, tell me how advanced technology like supercomputers and robots are comparable with the internet.  The internet is merely a collection of cables and severs which on their own are nothing and are more-or-less the same with the computer and it’s cables that is sitting on your desk, and compared to the former, there’s little “intelligence” in it. I know form experience that when one of these thinks it’s smarter than you it’s not a good thing.  smile

      Secondly, to bring this back on-topic, Conroy’s filter will not:
      - in the words of an expert in the industry, Mark Newton: “Censorship will not catch a single pedophile, will not cause a single image to disappear from the internet, will not protect a single child.”
      - Children are tech savvy. They know how to bypass filtering. They do so as a matter of course at schools to access games and facebook. Chances are even a child you know could show you how to get around it! They can do the same things to make a mockery of the $44 million dollar ISP filter.
      - Parents who are not technologically informed will think the government has finally made the net child friendly, and as such will stop supervising their kids on the net when the reality is (above point aside) they still can access legal r18 and x18 websites and are still vulnerable to pedophiles lurking on facebook or instant messaging services.
      - It does not deal with the underlying issues which cause people to seek out this stuff in the first place and that will mean they are either driven further underground onto heavily encrypted connections, making them much, much harder to track and find, or worse, driving them out onto the streets.
      - As such, it means not only will it take you taxes and flush it down the toilet (the $44,000,000 for the filter, the $11,000 per year per site blocked and the extra cash required to catch the law-breakers hiding behind encrypted connections) but it will also result in more parents not supervising their kids, less pedophiles being caught and locked up and will make the world more dangerous for children.
      - Admittedly, the chance is not high, but it could be used for civil liberties violations in the future. The ACL demanding it cover anything deemed to controversial for a 15-year-old to view mandatorily within the next 3 years probably isn’t making people feel particularly at ease.
      This being the case, will you be proud that you voted them in? Would you want to bring up any children in such an environment? Yes, it’s not fair and not nice to label him as a Nazi, Marxist, Stalinist etc, it’s also not fair, not nice, and frankly lazy debate for him to imply those against the filter are child pornographers, such commentary which could get him sued if he said it outside of parliament.

      Nigel, you may be honestly more out of touch with the internet than Rudd, Conroy and Jim Wallace combined. I like the way you take this completely off topic from the internet filter too! Seems to be a common thing with the pro-filter brigade. If you want to make another article on this topic, then stay on topic and make sure to address the technical issues.

    • Luchy says:

      11:00pm | 07/02/12

      @batman: Even if you’re a woman.Meanwhile, I just pchsraued a research paper on how women’s and girl’s magazines screw up women from “The Australian Women’s Forum” called “Faking It” and I’ve been very impressed that it’s a well put together read for anybody (male or female) and isn’t vilifying male roles.@Sansha: I tried to have a reasonable discussion to begin with, but it became apparent that things weren’t quite right, so I’m just reading. If you haven’t seen it today yet, a woman who is the mother of a child who has been sexually abused is saying the ISP filter is useless. I wonder whether she will also get the holier-than-thou treatment… I admire how well-composed “Ms Caddy” is after her ordeal.

    • Mahdi says:

      11:00pm | 07/02/12

      Don’t worry, those for it will the first to cry foul when they rzliaee what the government has brought in. Time to move overseas i guess.

 

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