What is the Technological Singularity?

The Technological Singularity is a hypothesis that there will be an intelligence explosion. Most often, the singularity is posited as runaway exponential computing growth and is normally associated with general artificial intelligence.  This concept has received a lot of criticism and skepticism over the years, but is gradually winning over converts among the science community. 

Superintelligence

Nick Bostrom states that a superintelligence is “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom, and social skills.”

Who Originated the Concept of the Singularity?

The first recorded instance of this concept comes from a paper published in 1965 by British mathematician Irving John Good  Good stated

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an intelligence explosion, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.” (Good 1965)

This was further described by computer scientist and science fiction author, Vernor Vinge. In 1993, Vinge predicted:

“Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” (Vinge 1993)

We owe thanks to I.J Good and Vernor Vinge for popularizing the Singularity, and it has since been expanded upon by thousands of scientists, authors, and futurists.

The Law of Accelerating Returns

When Is the Singularity Going to Occur?

 

This is a tough question to answer. It looks like Vinge will be incorrect with his prediction of 2023. Other predictions have already passed us by. Others, like famous futurists Ray Kurzweil and Micho Kaku predict around the middle part of this century. The majority of forecasts fall in line with the middle of the century in approximately 2050. It can be hard to predict an exact year, but the continued exponential increase of computing technology and performance would indicate that we can expect $1000 of computing power to provide greater computational ability than the total sum of all human brains.

 The real question to answer is “Is the singularity ever going to happen.” 

Is the Singularity Ever Going to Occur?

This question is also difficult to answer, with each camp possessing strong arguments. The “never going to happen” side’s arguments generally align with the human brain being too complicated to understand and reproduce. The other side generally says that exponential progress for computing will inevitably solve the problems that are encountered when trying to create a human level general artificial intelligence.

Not Plausible

Plausible

Ultimately, deciding if the singularity is going to occur is a matter of belief. Technology trends point to it being plausible, many computing experts believe it will happen, and 

Hard and Soft Takeoffs

Other Potential Routes to SIngularity

The singularity is traditionally associated with an artificial intelligence explosion through the creation of a self-improving general artificial intelligence. However, there are other potential methods if you believe the singularity is the moment when intelligence is able to achieve super-human ability. 
 
The Many Roads to Singularity
  1. Genetic Engineering
  2. Epigentic Modulation
  3. Man-Machine Interface
  4. Nootropics
  5. Connected Biological Processing
 

Citations

  • Good, I. J. (1965), Franz L. Alt; Morris Rubinoff, eds., “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine”, Advances in Computers, Advances in Computers, Academic Press, 6: 31–88, doi:10.1016/S0065-2458(08)60418-0, ISBN 9780120121069
  • Vinge, Vernor. “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”, in Vision-21: Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in the Era of Cyberspace, G. A. Landis, ed., NASA Publication CP-10129, pp. 11–22, 1993.
Reading List
Superintelligence by bostrum
Singularity is near by kurzweil