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The Singularity: On the Horizon
First we had cavemen discovering fire. It was a technological advance, along with the invention of tools, and then the wheel. He had the printing press. That was important. But bigger leaps had to be made: from Galileo, daVinci and other great scientific thinkers; from the Industrial Revolution to Marconi (radio science) and Rosalind Franklin (primary researcher of the DNA double helix).
With each advancement, the knowledge curve increases. Sometimes it fluctuates for a while, but it never goes down. With the computer age, this curve has reached a rate of increase that exceeds anything in the past. This is where we are right now.
What happens when, say, 30 or 50 years from now, this curve reaches a rate of increase that is indistinguishable from the straight line? The answer is: nobody knows.
And this is the uniqueness.
Many predict the arrival of the Singularity, but no one can predict the details. What does singularity mean for the human race? Will we be made up of computer parts, like bionic man? The AI will be sentient, like the Cylons Battlestar Galactica? Will the clones be running around, applying for a driver’s license? Do we even recognize ourselves?
Even Vernor Vinge, the professor and author who coined the phrase the Singularity, he doesn’t know what will happen when we get there. But he has written several detailed novels and scientific papers about the event and different paths through it.
From the summary of the interview with Vinge on IT Conversations, Vinge says: Based on raw hardware trends, it’s plausible that within thirty years we’ll create superhuman intelligence, and so we’ll pass through a technological singularity. This is a different form of change than that imagined by past futurism. In fact, thinking we can predict beyond this singularity is a bit like expecting a goldfish to understand AC2005.
Vinge says there are two ways the singularity could happen: good or bad. The good way is what he calls a soft take off, with the transition (the curve of the timeline) happening over many years. This would give humans a period of adjustment, time to reflect on the ethical ramifications, and the ability to take preventive measures against any misuse of advanced technology.
But the transition could take less than 100 hours, Vinge continues. Such a hard takeoff is almost certainly a very bad thing.
In his book THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR: When humans transcend biology, scientist Ray Kurzweil takes an optimistic stance. Some of the things we might see in the Singularity: death becomes curable; hunger and disease will disappear completely; humans and machines become one; Computer nanochips can be implanted in our brains or other parts of our bodies, allowing us to think trillions of times faster than we do now; and who knows, we’ll probably be able to order Tea, Earl Grey, hot of the replicator as Captain Picard. Nanofactories will create material products quickly and cheaply.
But both Vinge and Kurzweil also know that the singularity could lead to a world that would be unrecognizable today. Author and engineer John Burch, on his website NanoFuture2030, is positive about the next experience. He says: The drive to contribute something to society in exchange for what can only be a meaningful relationship with a group of users is a beautiful thing to see. And I think this will continue as tools become more powerful.
Action items for us mortals:
√ Know the sciences and keep up to date.
√ Get the best possible science education for your children and grandchildren.
√ Be aware and active in various legislations that you think are important.
√ Spread kindness and compassion wherever you go, setting the stage for a singularity that is exciting, beneficial, ethical and responsible.
The bionic man was produced by Kenneth Johnson
Battlestar Galactica was originally created by Glen A. Larson
Vernor Vinge holds a PhD in mathematics, has taught at San Diego State University, and is a best-selling science fiction author.
Captain Picard is from Star Trek: The Next Generation and was created by Gene Roddenberry
The home page for IT Conversations is at http://www.itconversations.com
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