The Singularity is nearer than we might think
18 Mar 2009

The Singularity is nearer than we might think

The future is getting harder to imagine

18 Mar 2009

The future is getting harder to imagine –so much that the SciFi channel is giving up on science fiction and rebranding the channel. Rather than pushing for bold futures, network executives at NBC Universal have decided to retreat into the make-believe worlds fantasy, the supernatural and pro wrestling. From their media release:

By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider range of current and future imagination-based entertainment beyond just the traditional sci-fi genre, including fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure. It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and nonlinear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures.

This change highlights a key problem: it’s getting hard to imagine the future.


Science fiction literature of the previous two centuries predicted amazing things (i.e., artificial satellites, undersea exploration, teleconferencing) that have become common elements of our lives. This worked well when the pace of change was much slower. But, over the past few decades, the rate of social and technological change has started to take off, and the genre is grinding to a halt as people hit the limits of their imagination and foresight. The moment where change occurs so rapidly that we cannot imagine what will happen next is the Technological Singularity.

Perhaps SciFi’s move away from science fiction is a sign the Singularity is nearer than we think?

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  1. Carmen Tschofen March 19th, 2009 8:17AM

    So are we hitting an absolute limit to human imagination, or is the lack of rapid (or any) imaginative ability a cultural or social phenomenon? (And then there are those “SciFi-ish” things that are already reality but that are often inadvertently or deliberately unacknowledged…)

  2. John Moravec March 19th, 2009 8:39AM

    It seems to me that we’re trending toward focusing a greater portion of our imagination on interpreting the present (i.e., “what is going on in the world?”) than focusing on how we will design tomorrow. I suspect this started at the end of the Cold War, where we moved from a view of the present that was binary (us vs. them) and easy to understand. From 1989 onward, our views of the present world seem to have become far more diverse and complex, and the rates of social and technological change have increased. I think a lot of people (and institutions) are simply overwhelmed with trying to catch up with understanding the present than imagining the future…

  3. Carmen Tschofen March 20th, 2009 9:25AM

    I’m intrigued by this. Certainly, we’ve always used our imaginations daily in understanding things like others’ state of mind, for example (a critical social skill), but the idea that rapid change keeps our imaginations tethered to the present as a coping mechanism has some pretty serious implications.

    Wonder if there’s literature on this anywhere…?

  4. FrankGW March 22nd, 2009 6:21AM

    Even Oprah Winfrey is having a Show about “Extreme Life Extension”
    It’s coming up on Tuesday March 24. The show airs at 4 p.m. on ABC.

    “The show is about extreme life extension, including all the latest technologies and new ways that people are extending their lives,” spokesperson Don Halcombe said. “Often people thought that one couldn’t extend one’s life to 120 or 150, but new advances are showing that may indeed be the case.”

    Details can be found on in an article titled “Oprah to feature Murdock, Research Campus March 24?.

  5. Anonymous March 22nd, 2009 2:18PM

    Now I know why I thought the 2000s lack the number of quality sci-fi shows like in the 90s. Come to think of it, near future scifi shows like Viper (a high tech transforming vehicle that fire rockets and changes colour) are not really ‘Science-fiction’ now but only ‘fiction’… and Babylon 5.. set in the middle of 23rd century, is way past the supposed singularity.

    I’m still skeptical on the conclusion drawn from the name change of Sci-fi channel, but to me it seems to be a good time to conduct a research on various scifi genres nowadays to confirm if there is such a trend.

  6. Phaethon Rhadamanth March 12th, 2011 6:25PM

    I heard an interview with William Gibson on his recent novel, Zero History, in which he said that Science Fiction is getting harder and harder to write because within the time interval it takes to write and publish a novel (1-2+ years?) the science/technology is advancing so fast as to render dated and obsolete what was a futuristic concept when he started to creative writing process.

  7. David Foster March 14th, 2011 12:03AM

    ScyFy probably has (mostly) more mundane reasons for their decline, but what this really suggests to me, is that creative intelligence is going to be more and more important as time goes on. It will be important not only for only getting ahead, but just plain keeping up. Expect a lot of upheaval.


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