From Singularity to Polysingularity: An Evolutionary Approach

Tamsin van Essen


Digital technology affects us on many different levels.

The implicit and explicit choices that developers make find their expression in interfaces and algorithms that we use in our daily lives.

Those choices have a certain pragmatic and ideological basis, which is best captured with the concept of Singularity.

The concept of Singularity is based on the notion that some time in the future the machine intelligence will exceed that of the humans and we will enter into the the new form of life, where everything will be interconnected and every answer will be immediately available. A sort of apocalyptic narrative that has more to do with religious fundamentalism than with the inner workings of life. We have to take it seriously, however, because it’s a kind of vision that inspires the brightest minds in the Silicon Valley today, including the main proponent, Ray Kurzweil, who’s also the head of product development at Google.

The proposition I make in this talk, delivered at re:publica 2015 conference in Berlin is that we can embrace technological advance minus the negative traits of Singularity – what I call Polysingularity.

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Polysingularity is a practice of inclusive exclusivity: connecting, but also disconnecting, building the new bridges, but also burning the old ones.

The idea is to evolve and develop, but to make sure that the new form of life we’re building is based on heterogeneity, difference and variability – the basic building blocks of adaptation, which is at the very core of life’s evolutionary processes.

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Tamsin van Essen
Cover photo by Tamsin van Essen – Disruption of Form

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