The Technological Singularity is a hypothesized point in the development of a scientific civilization where artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. It’s about more than becoming self-aware, it’s about machines replacing humans because they will have become so advanced that humans cannot meaningfully direct their progress. What does that mean?
In the worst case, some brilliant inventor will create AI that will recursively augment its mental abilities and then for some reason it will turn hostile. We’ve seen it in Terminator 3 where Skynet (software program) spreads throughout the world infecting systems as it becomes self-aware, and it realizes that humans are a huge threat and must be eradicated. Of course, this kind of AI logic seems ridiculous because we have emotions and we can distinguish right and wrong better because of it. AI only see things in black and white so its decisions are absolute.
In the best case, some brilliant inventor will do the same thing but AI is friendly and have laws which say they can’t harm humans. But wait a minute, didn’t we also see something like this in the movie called I ROBOT. Robots in that movie were controlled by a central positronic brain known as V.I.K.I. or Virtual Interactive Kinetic Intelligence. That AI interpreted three laws that ensured human safety in a completely wrong way. V.I.K.I. decided that humans had to be prevented from self harming behavior and it ends up that humans are harmed in the process. That movie takes place in 2035.
Some think this singularity will be reached in 2029. Ray Kurzweil, the director of the Singularity Institute has set this date. That date will never come if steps are taken to ensure that humans are always on top. The phrase “dreams become reality” will come true eventually if guidelines aren’t developed. The point is, you can’t ignore the possibility of something like this happening now that the world is relying more and more on technology and amazing advances are being made all the time.
I guess you could become a neo-luddite which are people opposed to technological advances because they partially fear existential risks like the singularity scenario. Society doesn’t work like that though. People always want to get ahead and become better. We can’t become better unless we create powerful A.I. to do what we cannot.
This may all sound frightening, so I will talk about my best case scenario here if all is unavoidable. Okay so what happens when the technological singularity is reached. Well, first it’s called the singularity because our model of the future breaks down once we surpass the upper limit on intelligence…just like our current model of physics breaks down when describing the center of a black hole in outer space. Once we can create smarter than human intelligence, a snowballing effect occurs where smarter minds can produce even smarter minds. The law of accelerating returns extends Moore’s law to describe an exponential growth pattern in technological progress. Humans and machines will eventually blur in a computer based social structure of such complexity that no one person will be able to understand more than a tiny fraction of it all.
Ray Kurzweil states:
“An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘intuitive linear’ view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century—it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The ‘returns,’ such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to the Singularity—technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.”
Take some time and read the Wikipedia entry as well as this article on Yahoo about the Singularity Summit to get a bit more on this topic if you’re interested. There are thousands of articles out there about this and it’s only going to get more interesting.
“The Singularity Summit: AI and the Future of Humanity” brought together hundreds of Silicon Valley techies and scientists to imagine a future of self-programming computers and brain implants that would allow humans to think at speeds nearing today’s microprocessors.
“Some critics have mocked singularists for their obsession with “techno-salvation…but advocates argue it would be irresponsible to ignore the possibility of dire outcomes.”
Pictures from Kliman.com and Wikipedia.