The Singularity’s Branding Problem

A world free of disease and poverty.


A dictatorial and all-powerful artificial intelligence.

Picnics on sunny days with one’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Genetically engineered dangerous mutants.

Which one of these scenarios describes our future? The incredibly fast pace of scientific discovery is making some people question the future we’re racing toward.

The term "Singularity" is increasingly synonymous with a hyper-technological future. Singularity denotes the stage at which machine intelligence will become at least as much as our intelligence, making it extremely difficult to speculate on what the future will look like after that point. Except for a relatively small but vocal group of believers in the Singularity, the majority of the public remains unaware of the coming changes in our environment and lifestyle thanks to advances in bio-, nano-, and cyber-technology. Futurists don’t really help mitigate this ignorance: they often speak about the technical aspects of the science and fail to effectively communicate to the common man what technological progress means for him specifically. This leaves scenario creation to the imagination of filmmakers and writers, who have traditionally painted extreme scientific progress in a negative light. Whether it’s the cold and destructive humanoids of Blade Runner or the evil machines pursuing world domination in the Terminator series, decades of subliminal messaging have painted the technological future as inhumane, dark and alienating.

In such an environment, futurists -- and particularly those that believe in the extreme changes that the Singularity will bring -- need to inform the public of the pros and cons of the trajectory they believe we are on. Interactive media and innovation guru Robert Tercek gave an excellent talk at the HPlus Summit at Harvard this summer, addressing exactly this need.

His presentation, titled “What Geeks Can Learn from Gurus,” lays out the problem with trying to convince a public that has already been inundated with years of poor imagery of techno-life. Having worked with Tony Robbins and Oprah Winfrey, Tercek offers a practical four step solution to the Singularity's branding problem:

1. Make it Easy to Follow (Be Honest about Challenges)

2. Establish Rapport (No Jargon, No Freaks, No Weirdness)

3. Harness Emotional Energy (Appeal to Emotional Instinct, not Intellect)

4. Inspire Action (Talk About Today, Not Just the Future)

As science gallops ahead, we need to take decisions individually and collectively to leverage and control its ramifications. While the Tercek model works very well with the standard Oprah audience, the younger Digital Natives need to be inspired by the Singularity because of the “fun” aspects of techno-life as well. Heather Knight’s Marilyn Monrobot company creates cute and fun robotic companions which are at least as appealing to young people as planning for a later retirement thanks to better healthcare in the future.

In its current state, the Singularity group fails to capture the attention and imagination of both the under and over 30 crowd because it provides neither the fun nor the meaning that interests them. If it expects to scale its audience, it needs to fix its image problem today.

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.

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