From Pandemic to Singularity

The Road Ahead

I can detect three distinct stages in the way America has approached the pandemic; three distinct strategies or three kinds of escapism. The first stage was denial or oblivion. We have already seen how the country as a whole spent critical weeks dismissing the threat. The reasons for this are various, but they all come down to the fact that those who are busy creating imaginary worlds have no time or patience for the real one.

The strategy of oblivion was pursued to the limit, but by the first week of March it was becoming obvious that it could not be sustained. The human and economic costs were no longer a matter of opinion and, worse, it became possible to imagine a widespread collapse if nothing was done. At that point, a new strategy was silently envisaged. Americans would no longer ignore the virus. They would turn it into high drama.

The third way to escape from biological reality, the third stage of escapism,

is also the most promising. The belief here is that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from fantasy. Trump started as someone intent on ignoring the pandemic and he might end up being vindicated in his approach, with the crucial difference that this alternate reality will be a product of technological innovation rather than wishful thinking.

It may even be possible that the pandemic was the necessary shock to get us to the singularity, the moment in technological development where humanity succeeds in eliminating the gravity force of reality. Of course, the ongoing public debate about climate change pointed to the same conclusion, but with a critical difference: climate change seemed to show that human activity was the problem, or that technology was the problem. The coronavirus turns this intuition on its head. Far from believing that our natural environment needs to be liberated from human interference, we are now much more likely to think that it needs to be colonized anew. Nature is once again the problem. The present moment feels like a beginning, almost as if humanity is once again discovering the Neolithic.