The Singularity refers to that point in the closer-than-you-think future when technology will have so transformed our society that people from today would barely recognize life in the Singularity era. It borrows its name from the singularity at the center of a black hole, where the laws of physics as we know them break down.
In my last post, I forecast one piece of technology that will change society in ways we can’t predict: the ubiquitous, accurate lie detector. Now let’s start to consider how our lives might change when nearly every lie can be detected.
Even if you don’t buy my premise that we’ll have these devices, let’s have fun speculating together, for speculation is all that we can do. In fact, the consequences of these Singularity-era devices are so uncertain that maybe I should only ask questions. Let’s begin with this one:
Will we all learn to relax, or will we retreat from each other?
We have all seen many movies and TV shows where one of the characters is suddenly rendered unable to lie. For me, they reach all the way back to the episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy had to avoid even white lies for 24 hours in order to win a bet. She found it liberating to tell all her friends exactly what she thought of their taste in furniture, and how ridiculous their hats really were. She even felt an exhilarating freedom in being able to confess her true age and weight, and that her hair was “mousy brown” under all that red dye.
That’s how it always goes in those shows: after an initial period of discomfort, it feels really good to tell the truth. Under that outcome, each of us learns that nobody is perfect and there’s no point trying to pretend otherwise. We can relax with each other and stop being so judgmental. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all love the truth simply because it’s the truth?
Yes, it would.
Unfortunately, lying has been bred into us by millennia of evolution. There is survival value in being able to deceive our enemies, sexual rivals, or even the objects of our sexual desire, from time to time. Not to mention the fact that we don’t always want to know the truth. The technology of the Singularity will arrive much faster than evolution can adapt. What if we’re not psychologically equipped to handle it?
In that case, one can envision a world not of liberation but ironically of increasing suspicion. Maybe there will be an arms race of lie-detector detectors just as today we have radar detectors to avoid speeding traps. Maybe lie-detector jammers will be invented that can cause nearby lie detectors to always report “truth”.
Perhaps people who can’t afford to engage in this arms race might take to communicating only by texting “just as a matter of policy” so their facial cues cannot be picked up by lie detectors and so their words have minimal context. Already today, one of my wife’s friends, who is middle-aged, mind you, prefers text to a phone call, although presumably not for this reason. And I, as an introvert, tend to start a back-and-forth by text before I say to myself, “Wait a minute. What I’m trying to accomplish would be quicker and easier if I just picked up the phone and talked to the person.”
Will our society become open, happy and liberated, or closed, suspicious and fearful?
Who can say?
Next time, we’ll speculate about the rise of professional liars.