The singularity: fact, fiction or somewhere in between

January 13, 2016

What’s the consensus on Ray Kurzweil’s position concerning future singularity? Is his premise and timeline fiction or reality, but not one that’s going to arrive anytime soon? Is it inevitable as Kurzweil suggests, or millennial day dreaming?

The first use of the term singularity in this context was made by Stanislav Ulam — in his 1958 obituary for John von Neumann. He mentioned a conversation with von Neumann about the “ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

The term was popularized by mathematician, computer scientist and science fiction author Verner Vinge, who argues that artificial intelligence, human biological advancement, or brain-computer interfaces could be possible causes of singularity.

Kurzweil predicts the singularity around 2045, Vinge predicts 2030. I’m not having a go at Kurzweil or his ideas — the man’s clearly a visionary, leagues ahead when it comes to intelligence and foresight.

Do you agree with Kurzweil but harbor serious fears that we’re all obliterated? Are you a moderate, maintaining that singularity, certain to occur, will pass unnoticed by those waiting?

Scientists have been working on artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and robotics for many years.

Kurzweil explains the pace of change, exponential growth, will result in a runaway effect — an intelligence explosion where smart machines design successive generations of increasingly powerful machines — creating intelligence exceeding human intellectual capacity or control.

Because the capabilities of such a super intelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is the point beyond which events may become unpredictable or even unfathomable to human intelligence. The only way for us to participate in such an event will be by merging with the intelligent machines we are creating.

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