I’m going to do a series of apologist posts in defense of the optimistic view of the future called “The Singularity” capitalized because while it’s not the name of a location, it’s the name of a point in time. Popularized, and I think coined by, the inventor-entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil (you’ve heard of the electric keyboard I presume, that was him). One of the other things Kurzweil is famous for is taking computer related technologies and plotting relevant metrics on a graph and extrapolating the curve. Like Moores law (a projection from the brain of Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, stating the number of transistors on a chip per cost would double every 18 months) most computer related technologies feed off this growth in computers. From the Internet to genetics sequencing is growing at an exponential rate. After viewing hundreds of curves from varying technologies Kurzweil hypothesized an optimistic utopian future. The Singularity refers to the point in time when the intelligence of a computer outpaces the intelligence of a human. I’ve heard many projections, but I recall Kurzweil estimating this time around 2040, less than 30 years away, within most of our lifetimes. At this point, as computers take over all research, ALL technology becomes computer related and we’ll see an unprecedented explosion of information incomprehensible but to those insanely creative enough to imagine the probable possibilities.
Now I want to be clear, this won’t be like the Johnny Depp movie Transcendence (surely inspired by Kurzweils book titled Transcendent Man) about a man who invents a computer smarter than a human, but with no intelligence to inhabit it, his technology to download a brain having gross side effects. On his death bed they decide to give it a try, and he almost changes the world. (I won’t spoil the end… Though I kinda already did.) The number of lone inventors the likes of Edison and Tesla in today’s world are few, though along with Dean Kamen and Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil is surely one of them. Though even Edison and Tesla had their teams to help them, they were the driving spirit. Most technology, transistors, computers, the Internet, cell phones, etc, are built discovery by discovery, advancements by advancement, by competing teams of researchers and engineers. The Singularity will happen gradually, few will probably notice when it happens and there will be no line to draw in the sand to state, “this is when it happened”. As a case study, the Siri feature of the iPhone was a fantastic achievement in software engineering, many hailed it as the long awaited natural language processing AI we’d been promised since the 60s. Now, less than a half decade later, we curse it when the 1 in 10 times it sends your mom an explicit text instead of telling her you’re coming over for dinner. We’ll be cursing this future for some time to come, as it cures disease, the planet and war. Just as we do today despite decreased death from wars and disease as we look in awe at Hubble images on our tablets.
Also, the technology doesn’t actually need to “think”, one of the arguments against The Singularity is that computers will never be able to think, it merely needs to appear to think and give the same results as thinking. I am convinced we will have “thinking” computers in less than 20 years, but this thinking will only be in appearance, able to answer almost any question we have, do our homework, remember to feed the cat and record ones life story through conversation and ordering it into a sequential entertaining biography for posterity… then make it into a movie. In 100 years… Well… That’s gonna be the next few… Dozen… Few dozen posts.
(Insufficient disclaimer: I did not fact or spellcheck anything in this post… Don’t hold your breath for future posts.)