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Stanislaw Lem and the Singularity: Cyberiad

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a literary mash up with Marge Piercy and Stanislaw Lem over at BookViewCafe.com’s blog. I read these two books with their very different possible futures at the same time, a chapter of one and then a chapter of the other. In that blog I didn’t expound as much as I wanted to about the Lem book, Cyberiad, in terms of the Singularity so I’m going to do that now.

The Cyberiad was published in the 70s and so it gives us a look at what the post Singularity world would like to someone thinking about it back before we were all thinking about it. I don’t believe the word Singularity was in common usage then, so Lem didn’t call the world post Singularity, but that is in fact what he was writing about. He envisioned a future where robots have taken over and humans have all but disappeared.

When we say robots, we mean robots in the classic 70s sense: steel and tin, rivets, oil, screws. They worry about rusting and seizing the way today’s humans worry about clogged arteries and cancer of the colon. Modern sf writers usually depict robots as androids and/or cyborgs. Their human/robot of the future will be squishy, soft and proteinaceous. Lem’s robots are robots. They’re hard and lumbering and they look down on the “paleface,” the creatures of albumen that once roamed the galaxy. These robots scoff at the idea that the palefaces actually created the robots. Not possible, they insist. Palefaces are too primitive, stupid, and weak. Not so, counters the robot mythologist who states the true evolution of higher beings is cyclic, with palefaces inventing robots and then robots inventing palefaces and then palefaces inventing robots and so on forever. It’s a sort of religion of the Singularity, one robot’s belief system of where intelligence comes from

Lem’s writing is funny with lots of technical verbiage thrown in for the math majors. It’s clever wand entertaining even if we don’t believe the robots are going to look like this. If you take the book seriously, which if you do, you won’t enjoy it much, you’ll see the robots of the future suffering from the same frailties we suffer from: pettiness, greed, selfishness. It’s as if no matter how you serve up intelligence, it’s not going to be pretty.

Does Lem believe humans will evolve into robots and robots into humans? Who knows but it does give one food for thought when you ask the question where is all this going? The answer doesn’t matter, of course, because we believe what we want to believe and the future takes care of itself.

Sue Lange
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at BookViewCafe.com

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