Sterling is a funny guy and good speaker, but I'm afraid his arguments don't stand up to scrutiny. For instance, he says that you "might see Apple IIs everywhere, then vanish like the morning dew. Achieve nothing that lasts," referring to fast-paced technology sort of disappearing. Like Hurricane78's argument above that the singularity is limited by resources, these are nice logical "If A then B, so B" arguments but the premises simply aren't based in reality. Is Sterling really saying that the Apple II improved nothing, counted for nothing, simply "disappeared"? Is he really saying that the Dot Com bubble simply vanished after it happened, with no consequences or changes in the game? To answer Hurricane78, yes the singularity would have a limit but that limit is so far beyond our current level of understanding that we can't reliably predict it - that's the point of "singularitarian thinking." It's primarily the next order of technological revolution - from textiles, to electricity, to the assembly line, to atomic physics, to networked information, all of these revolutionary changes have taken scarcity and turned it into plenty. Like Sterling when he (essentially) argues that there has never been any historical basis for singularity, you misunderstand the timeline and take what you have today for granted. Even on a human timescale - let alone for a moment the sort of change we see on an evolutionary timescale, something else Sterling anthropocentrically fails to factor in - something like the invention of the automobile was indeed a "blink-of-the-eye" change. One day you had horses and buggies, the next you had the interstate highway system. Of course its not this simple, but neither is the argument for the singularity.
And that's really what bothers me most about Sterling's talk - despite the sincerity in his practiced voice and his history as a sci-fi novelist, he seems to fail to take talk of the singularity seriously enough to effectively argue against it. Even the facetious title of the talk, "Your Future as a Black Hole," belies his inferred motive of seeking truth. He chooses Verner Vinge - a radical and eccentric even among singularitarians - as his straw man and proceeds to deconstruct Vinge's vision with many memorized quotes and quips. He fundamentally fails to grasp the real argument here that the singularity isn't some sort of magical apocalypse (which is ironic since that's where Sterling is trying to head with his arguments). Vinge never claims to have any of Sterling's "fairy dust." My suggestions to Sterling? First, try refuting a scientist like Kurzweil instead of a sci-fi writer like Vinge. Second, realize that humans are not the only form of intelligent life, nor did we used to be as smart as we are today. Lastly and relately, recognize that by many standards we already have some fairly advanced AI, and all that research into AI in the 70s and onward didn't turn out to just "vanish" or "come to nothing." Where do you think we got instant credit transactions? Targeted advertising? UPS/Fedex and the mobile warehouse? It seems to me that sometimes people are so caught up disproving the sensationalized and fantastic versions of things that they can't see the forest for the tree. Yeah there's nutters out there that think the world is going to end and we'll all ascend to geek nirvana, but like any other facinating vision you're going to have insane people following it. That's no reason to dismiss the premise out-of-hand.
The one part I did agree on was when Sterling talks about how his scarecrow singularitarians never realize that technology will simply be in the hands of the rich and powerful like it always has and they can't just sit around. But this is, as "Chapter80" puts it above, another "well duh" moment. I've thought about this since the first time I ever considered the singularity. I think lazy people are going to be lazy and rich people are going to be rich. Thanks to Sterling for pointing that out. Here let me do it: If a science fiction writer hasn't worked a day in their life, then they are worthless. Therefore science fiction writers are worthless. Very logical but untrue.