It is a concept which easily escapes the minds and comprehension of most given the scope of its significance. The singularity is a theoretical and mathematically predicted event set to occur in the near future. What sort of event? Well to put it bluntly, an event which will alter our entire planet and the way we live our lives. The singularity is near. Whether or not you believe it will occur, on some level, it has already started.
“A future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.” – Ray Kurzweil
In simpler terms, the singularity is a exponentially based hypothetical which says that the growth of technology, pertaining to the size and capabilities of individual computer processing units, is rising at such a rapid pace that it will surpass human intelligence within this century. Ray Kurzweil, an American author and futurist, is the foremost authority on the singularity, citing many strong evidential theories as to why this is indeed a real event. According to Kurzweil, given the current pace of technology growth (the current pace of technology growth rises more each single hour than it did in its first 90 years of existence combined – see chart), the singularity, which is a “zero point” where the intelligence of the technological world will surpass that of humanity, shall occur in or around the year 2045. Wrap your head around that. Most of you reading this will be alive in the year 2045.
The chart below gives a view of the rising of technological growth. The rise of growth is not a straight line, but indeed curves upward, and will eventually become a straight line. That is the singularity.
Need a little more breakdown and explanation? Watch This Video.
So what does this mean for us? Well, according to futurists, it means a complete change in the way we live our lives. Completely. In the coming years, great advances in science are expected, including graphic and virtual reality advances so pristine that the actual world and the virtual world will be indistinguishable. Kurzweil describes a future society where most of humanity lives in the virtual world most of the time, using it to live out fantasies and escape their lives. Nanorobotics is also expected to emerge, which is a science with endless possibilities. Imagine robots small enough to be injected into your bloodstream to prevent heart attacks, or prevent infections. Imagine robots small enough to eradicate cancer, or kill a cold virus before you even feel symptoms, or gather and burn fat within your body while you sit at your desk. As hard as it is to imagine, it’s being developed right now.
One can easily see how such advancements in technology would be astoundingly good for us as a species. But there are of course negative aspects to the singularity. To begin with, fully self-aware artificial intelligence. It doesn’t take a Terminator film to know that intelligent machines which are potentially billions of times smarter than us is not something that rests so easily in the back of your mind. The year 2045 is when the development of technology is expected to be “taken over” by technology itself, and is expected to thereafter grow at a pace faster than we as humans can even comprehend. In the interest of looking at technology as a series of individual and collaborative machines, we will have in essence created a new species and will have built them with the ability to advance themselves at their own free will.
Kurzweil wrote a fascinating book called “The Singularity is Near” in 2005 in which he actively predicts significant events and milestones in the growth of technology in the coming decades. While the events are certainly not exact (they are predictions based on exponential growth; Kurzweil cannot predict the future), they are in many cases feasible, and as a whole, incredibly overwhelming:
- Supercomputers will have the same raw computing power as human brains, though the software to emulate human thinking on those computers does not yet exist. (IBM Sequoia)
- Computers will start to disappear as distinct physical objects, meaning many will have nontraditional shapes or will be embedded in clothing and everyday objects.
- Full-immersion audio-visual virtual reality will exist.
- The decade in which “Bridge Two”, the revolution in Genetics/Biotechnology, is to reach its peak. During the 2010s, humans will have the means of changing their genes; not just “designer babies” will be feasible, but designer baby boomers through the rejuvenation of all of one’s body’s tissues and organs by transforming one’s skin cells into youthful versions of every other cell type. People will be able to “reprogram” their own biochemistry away from disease and aging, radically extending life expectancy.
- Computers become smaller and increasingly integrated into everyday life.
- More and more computer devices will be used as miniature web servers, and more will have their resources pooled for computation.
- High-quality broadband Internet access will become available almost everywhere.
- Eyeglasses that beam images onto the users’ retinas to produce virtual reality will be developed. They will also come with speakers or headphone attachments that will complete the experience with sounds. These eyeglasses will become a new medium for advertising as advertising will be wirelessly transmitted to them as one walks by various business establishments. This was fictionalized in Dennō Coil.
- The VR glasses will also have built-in computers featuring “virtual assistant” programs that can help the user with various daily tasks.
- Virtual assistants would be capable of multiple functions. One useful function would be real-time language translation in which words spoken in a foreign language would be translated into text that would appear as subtitles to a user wearing the glasses.
- Cell phones will be built into clothing and will be able to project sounds directly into the ears of their users.
- Advertisements will utilize a new technology whereby two ultrasonic beams can be targeted to intersect at a specific point, delivering a localized sound message that only a single person can hear. This was fictionalized in the films Minority Report and Back to the Future Part II.
- By now, it is likely that “clean a house” will be within the capabilities of a household robot.
- 1013 bits (=10 TB) of computer memory—roughly the equivalent of the memory space in a single human brain—will cost $1000.
- The decade in which “Bridge Three”, the revolution in Nanotechnology, is to begin: allowing humans to vastly overcome the inherent limitations of biology, as no matter how much humanity fine-tunes their biology, they will never be as capable otherwise. This decade also marks the revolution in Robotics (Strong AI), as an AI is expected to pass the Turing test by the last year of the decade (2029), meaning it can pass for a human being (though the first A.I. is likely to be the equivalent of an average, educated human). What follows then will be an era of consolidation in which non-biological intelligence will undergo exponential growth (Runaway AI), eventually leading to the extraordinary expansion contemplated by the Singularity, in which human intelligence is multiplied by billions by the mid-2040s.
- Early in this decade, humanity will have the requisite hardware to emulate human intelligence within a $1000 personal computer, followed shortly by effective software models of human intelligence toward the middle of the decade: this will be enabled through the continuing exponential growth of brain-scanning technology, which is doubling in bandwidth, temporal and spatial resolution every year, and will be greatly amplified with nanotechnology, allowing us to have a detailed understanding of all the regions of the human brain and to aid in developing human-level machine intelligence by the end of this decade.
- Computers less than 100 nm in size will be possible.
- As one of their first practical applications, nanomachines are used for medical purposes.
- Highly advanced medical nanobots will perform detailed brainscans on live patients.
- Accurate computer simulations of the entire human brain will exist due to these hyper-accurate brain scans, and the workings of the brain will be understood.
- Nanobots capable of entering the bloodstream to “feed” cells and extract waste will exist (though not necessarily be in wide use) by the end of this decade. They will make the normal mode of human food consumption obsolete.
- By the late 2020s, nanotech-based manufacturing will be in widespread use, radically altering the economy as all sorts of products can suddenly be produced for a fraction of their traditional-manufacture costs. The true cost of any product is now the amount it takes to download the design schematics.
- By the later part of this decade, virtual reality will be so high-quality that it will be indistinguishable from real reality.
- The threat posed by genetically engineered pathogens permanently dissipates by the end of this decade as medical nanobots—infinitely more durable, intelligent and capable than any microorganism—become sufficiently advanced.
- The many variations of “Human Body 2.0” (as Kurzweil calls it) are incrementally accumulated into this and the following decade, with each organ and body system having its own course of refinement and development. It ultimately consists of a nano-technological system of nourishment and circulation, obsoleting many internal organs, brain-extension and an improved skeleton.
- 1016 calculations per second—roughly the equivalent of one human brain—will cost $1,000.
- The most likely year for the debut of advanced nanotechnology.
- Some military UAVs and land vehicles will be 100% computer-controlled.
- Mind uploading becomes successful and perfected by the end of this decade as humans become software-based: living out on the Web, projecting bodies whenever they want or need (whether in virtual or real reality), and living indefinitely so long as they maintain their “mind file”. Eventually, all human beings (including those with transbiological 2.0 or 3.0 bodies) will migrate to this postbiological state except for those who wish to remain unenhanced: the transbiological era giving way to the postbiological era.
- Nanomachines could be directly inserted into the brain and could interact with brain cells to totally control incoming and outgoing signals. As a result, truly full-immersion virtual reality could be generated without the need for any external equipment. Afferent nerve pathways could be blocked, totally canceling out the “real” world and leaving the user with only the desired virtual experience.
- Brain nanobots could also elicit emotional responses from users.
- Using brain nanobots, recorded or real-time brain transmissions of a person’s daily life known as “experience beamers” will be available for other people to remotely experience. This is very similar to how the characters in Being John Malkovich were able to enter the mind of Malkovich and see the world through his eyes.
- Recreational uses aside, nanomachines in people’s brains will allow them to greatly expand their cognitive, memory and sensory capabilities, to directly interface with computers, and to “telepathically” communicate with other, similarly augmented humans via wireless networks.
- The same nanotechnology should also allow people to alter the neural connections within their brains, changing the underlying basis for the person’s intelligence, memories and personality.
- The many variations of “Human Body 3.0” are gradually implemented during this and the following decade; It mostly likely lacks a fixed, corporeal form and can alter its shape and external appearance at will via foglet-like nanotechnology.
- People spend most of their time in full-immersion virtual reality (Kurzweil has cited The Matrix as a good example of what the advanced virtual worlds will be like, without the dystopian twist).
- Foglets are in use.
- Nonbiological intelligence will be billions of times more capable than biological intelligence.
2045: The Singularity
- $1000 buys a computer a billion times more intelligent than every human combined. This means that average and even low-end computers are vastly smarter than even highly intelligent, unenhanced humans.
- The technological singularity occurs as artificial intelligences surpass human beings as the smartest and most capable life forms on the Earth. Technological development is taken over by the machines, who can think, act and communicate so quickly that normal humans cannot even comprehend what is going on. The machines enter into a “runaway reaction” of self-improvement cycles, with each new generation of A.I.s appearing faster and faster. From this point onwards, technological advancement is explosive, under the control of the machines, and thus cannot be accurately predicted (hence the term “Singularity”).
- The Singularity is an extremely disruptive, world-altering event that forever changes the course of human history. The extermination of humanity by violent machines is unlikely (though not impossible) because sharp distinctions between man and machine will no longer exist thanks to the existence of cybernetically enhanced humans and uploaded humans.
Post-2045: “Waking up” the Universe
- The physical bottom limit to how small computer transistors (or other equivalent, albeit more effective components, such as memristors integrated into Crossbar latches) can be shrunk is reached. From this moment onwards, computers can only be made more powerful if they are made larger in size.
- Because of this, A.I.s convert more and more of the Earth’s matter into engineered, computational substrate capable of supporting more A.I.s. until the whole Earth is one, gigantic computer, except for a few nature reserves set aside on the planetary surface for those humans who decided to remain in their natural state. “MOSH’s” (Mostly Original Substrate Human) who choose to remain purely organic would still possess virtual assistants that will act as their transcendent servants, living in the blurred real world (“foglet-reality”) and being provided with environments and everything they could possibly need as they live out the rest of their normal lives unless they enhance themselves.
- At this point, the only possible way to increase the intelligence of the machines any farther is to begin converting all of the matter and energy in the universe into similar massive computers. A.I.s radiate outward from Earth, first into the Solar System and then out into interstellar space, then galaxies in all directions, utilizing starships that are Von Neumann probes with nanobot crews, breaking down whole planets, stars, moons, and meteoroids and reassembling them into computers. This, in effect, “wakes up” the universe as all the inanimate “dumb” matter (rocks, dust, gases, etc.) is converted into structured matter capable of supporting life (albeit synthetic life).
- Kurzweil predicts that machines might have the ability to make planet-sized computers by 2099, which underscores how enormously technology will advance after the Singularity.
- The process of “waking up” the universe could be completed well before the end of the 22nd century, provided humans are not limited by the speed of light.
- With the entire universe made into a giant, highly efficient supercomputer, AI and human hybrids (so integrated that, in truth it is a new category of “life”) would have both supreme intelligence and physical control over the universe. Humanity will still not possess infinite levels of any attributes, as the accelerating change of evolution never reaches an infinite measure (though it moves rapidly in that direction), becoming, as Kurzweil writes, “moving inexorably toward this monotheistic conception of God, though never reaching this ideal”; even with theories such as the holographic universe. The final chapter however notes that, if possible, the ability to create and colonize other universes (and if there is a way to do this, humanity’s vast intelligence is likely to harness it, as with surpassing/bypassing the speed of light) could allow the intelligence of the human/machine civilization to extend indefinitely, akin to a mathematical singularity. If not, then saturating humanity’s own universe will remain their ultimate fate.
– via Wikipedia.org
As members of the current race of humanity, it should be impossible for the occurrence of the singularity or anything like it not to affect and completely change the lives of every living person. As Kurzweil outlines in his writings, a post-singularity world would potentially be life on a completely different planet.
There is much debate as to whether or not this epoch of human life will even occur, or if so, to what extent. But it can be said that the evidence is certainly all around us. Each year cell phones and computers get smaller and thinner. Processing units grow in capacity and shrink in size. Medical breakthroughs are made every day. The theory that technology is certainly growing at a consistently faster pace is anything but a theory. Over 1.4 billion citizens of the planet earth have smartphones. Medicine utilizes more machinery as replacement body parts every year. The fact is, no matter which direction we move as a society, the singularity, or an event like it, is near. What is the best way to prepare? Stay informed, and know what to expect.