The Singularity

For all of you, who like this author, somehow completely missed The Big Event: the world has slipped quietly into the age of the Singularity

It was only because a February issue of TIME caught my eye, that I was brought to task about this potentially radical departure from what we historically have known forever as the Human Era. And after reading the article, researching some other sources, combined with some of my own soul searching, what ultimately makes this so compelling, fascinating, daunting and haunting, is not only is there a good chance we will all literally become this movement, but we will, and are now, the architects of our own demise – at least for awhile anyway.

Apparently,there is an emerging organization afoot – the Singularitarians – that give a fairly persuasive argument that not only will computers be able to replicate the total human thinking process, but these new breed of super computers could, in the not to distant  future, decide we are an archaic phenomenon that needs to be redone, rebooted, replaced, or simply deleted if you will – therefore putting to bed the final phase of the human Information Age. 

Many of you might of thought that AI represented artificial insemination, but you will be forced to modify your vocabulary, although one could argue that Artificial Intelligence, the new AI, could be portrayed as eventually not being all that far away from the original.

The author, culprit and figurehead for this movement is Raymond Kurzweil, who I’m afraid looks to be a good deal smarter than not only the average “Joe” on the street, but most likely 99.9% of the rest of us. His visions move way beyond the linear cognitive thinking that most of us are cursed with, into the world of exponential growth and curves. For those of us math-challenged that means everything moves in multiples of two with doubling times that increase rates of change to an unimaginable degree.

An example from Kurzweil will help: the average cell phone today is about a millionth the size of, a millionth the price of, and a thousand times more powerful than the computer he had at MIT 40 years ago! Does that start to get your attention? 

If not this will: he predicts that by 2015 computer power will accelerate past the brain of a mouse, by 2023 it will accelerate past the brainpower of a single human, and by 2045 will exceed all the brainpower of everyone on earth. You should now be fully awake. 

Want more? How about being functionally immortal. Just scan, implant, inseminate your conscious being into an ultra-intelligent Cyborg and you have just played God. Kurzweil believes that there are people alive today who will most likely not be bothered with the angst and frustrations of aging and death. Everything can and will be translated and transformed into the mind-twisting world of mega-digital AI.

My guess is that all those corporate “suits” or “torn Levis and Crocks”, if you will, from Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook are taking this a little bit more serious than you are at the moment. Want to bet whether Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg have picked up the check for lunch with Raymond Kurzweil in the last few months? I’m going to guess that the AI champion also knows his way around both Silicon Valley and Wall Street pretty darn well, and all the digital and financial moguls are listening when he enters the room.

But before you start shouting with glee and giving a huge sigh of relief at your fortunate rondevous with destiny, there are just a couple of things to be considered before breaking out the champagne and caviar. If Kurzweil’s predictions seem somewhat feasible to you, and his impeccable credentials and previous endeavors look, shall we say, spectacular: 

  • Do you really think we (they) are going to need nine billion human beings on the planet in 2045?

If he is correct, we will, over the next years and decades, slowly but dramatically become the most downsized and unwelcome flotsam inhabiting this world. 

Other than eventually being the laughing stock of the Cyborg generation for allowing the world of AI to drive us to the point where we have created our own self-devouring machines, what possible scenario do we fit into? Absolutely none, because we have let ourselves become so vulnerable to digital imperialism that technology has evolved into our surrogate economic, political and spiritual master. In essence, it is our only hope for our day to day necessities, while promising a future for us that seems less and less clear as more time passes.

Now, I know there are those out there thinking:

Yea, but that will never happen! We’re too smart, too dominate to let technology overwhelm us. We would never let something like that control our lives, be completely dependent on an automated economy, let a corporate culture so easily manipulate our every moves with their message of mindless materialism, and then knowingly participate in the wounding and destruction of our ecosystem until circumstances drive us to the point of no return.

Well doubters, I would only say to you: Look around for God’s sake! 

Kurzweil, as brilliant a visionary as he is, will not and cannot save us. Technology is written, as much as human history is written. It is a Pandora’s Box. We have breached its warnings, and any attempts at this late date to return those lessons are unrealistic and impossible for a slew of reasons.

What is not written though is the pace of technology. Technology has always been driven by numbers, those numbers being you and me and everyone else. Our population numbers have moved, and will continue to do so, in direct proportion to the many stages of mankind’s development, including the Information Age and beyond. The basis for all major changes in the world’s civilizations has been the advent and miraculous development of technology, driven hand-in-hand by dramatically increasing populations. 

Unfortunately, we have moved from cultivating technology with all its labor saving benefits, medical wizardry and whiz-bang creations, to being totally dependent on it. But we could make a significant difference by slowing the demand for more and more of this increasingly omnipotent science. That is something we can do, and that would slow the spiraling momentum of our destiny. We would be foolish and shortsighted not to control demand by choosing to reduce population pressures and realize more time for contemplation and introspection. 

  • Raymond Kurweil could be wrong, but if he is right we are moving into a world that would have been inconceivable just a decade ago
  • And that world could very possibly be one that does not include us  
  • So keep in mind we may be no-shows at any future celebrations, at least not in any form we would recognize today 

The problem is not simply that the Singularity represents the passing of humankind from center stage, but that it contradicts our most deeply held notions of being.

Vernor Vinge

 Remember: A Billion people = 1000 Million people

Thanks to Author: Lev Grossman – TIME: February 21,2011

1 Comment

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 17:03:34

    Great post David…

    “we have let ourselves become so vulnerable to digital imperialism that technology has evolved into our surrogate economic, political and spiritual master”.

    You’ve got me thinking about ‘digital imperialism’ now. Everytime I see a new robot invention from Japan I cringe alittle inside. I think, what the heck for? But robots are worth money. You and me…not so much compared to one of those.

    If you ever saw the movie Idiocracy…here we go. That is story of humans too dumb to continue working the robots after they ran out of battery power.

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