Nobody really knows, but we [human beings] need to be thinking about what our universal, biological, and technological history of accelerating change could mean for the future and larger purpose of humanity.
Since it’s not only a theory, but a highly controversial one, there are numerous definitions put forth by extremely brilliant people who study the phenomenal rate of technological change in the world and think about the future it could mean for the world. But let’s start simple.
We all know what plain old singular means: One.
The word Singularity comes from a mathematical term [which I won’t get into] and is defined in the dictionary as:“Something that is singular such as a separate unit or something unusual or distinctive.” If there is just one of something, it is unique and the word can apply to anything: looks, behavior, state of being, whatever.
● The Singularity
Unless you’re deep into heavy-duty mathematics or physics, The Singularity actually means The Technological Singularity, which is essentially a theory about the accelerating rate of technological growth … but one that will affect everyone in the world.
The Singularity isn’t a new concept, although this name is. It is a phenomenon noted by many of the extremely brilliant people and a few not so brilliant.
● R. Thorton, editor of the Primitive Expounder laid the groundwork for the theory in 1847 [170 years ago] when writing about the recently-invented four function mechanical calculator.
“Such machines when brought to greater perfection, may think of a plan to remedy all their own
defects and then grind out ideas beyond the ken of mortal mind!”
● Samuel Butler (1835-1902), English poet, satirist, and author, wrote the following at about the same point mid-19th century:
“There is no security against the ultimate development of mechanical consciousness, in the fact of machines
possessing little consciousness now. Reflect upon the extraordinary advance which machines have made during
the last few hundred years, and note how slowly the animal and vegetable kingdoms are advancing.”
● John von Neumann (1903 – 1957), Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, and computer scientist, was the first to put the idea forward, although he didn’t refer to The Singularity.
The point at which the accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, gives the
appearance of approaching some essential point in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know
them, could not continue"
● I.J. Good (1916 – 2009), British mathematician and cryptologist, calls the hypothesis the Intelligence Explosion and predicts a point in time where a computer or machine or something else made by man
“...running software-based artificial general intelligence enters a "runaway reaction" of self-improvement cycles,
with each new and more intelligent generation appearing more and more rapidly, causing an intelligence explosion
and resulting in a powerful superintelligence that would, qualitatively, far surpass all human intelligence.”
● Alan Turing (1912 – 1954), English mathematician, computer scientist philosopher and theoretical biologist, wrote that machines will eventually surpass human intelligence:
“Once the machine thinking method has started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers. At some stage
therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control…”
● Vernor Steffen Vinge (1944 - present), American science fiction author and retired professor of mathematics and computer science at San Diego State University) popularized the theory in his 1993 essay The Coming Technological Singularity, in which he wrote:
“[The singularity] would signal the end of the human era, as the new superintelligence would continue to upgrade
itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate.”
● Ray Kurzweil (1948 – present), computer scientist and inventor, is possibly the best known proponent of the singularity. He brought the theory into mainstream thinking with a slightly different twist.
“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.”
“It's a merger between human intelligence and machine intelligence that is going to create something bigger than
itself. It's the cutting edge of evolution on our planet. One can make a strong case that it's actually the cutting edge
of the evolution of intelligence in general, because there's no indication that it's occurred anywhere else.”
Kurzweil is more than a futurist who sits around and thinks. He is a computer scientist and inventor who has been on the forefront of pushing technology into the artificial intelligence era. Among his many accomplishments, he developed the technology behind the first flatbed scanner, he is a leading expert in speech recognition, and was the inventor of the first print-to-speech synthesizer. When his “speech-to-reading machine for the blind” was launched in 1976, it was credited by scientists as being the first device to successfully use artificial intelligence. He has many other credits in the fields of music and medicine … and a thirty-year track record in accurate predictions regarding technology.
● Stephen Hawking (1942 - 2018), recognized as one of the most brilliant minds of the century, was a British theoretical physicist whose theory of exploding black holes drew upon both relativity theory and quantum mechanics. His groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology and his books helped to make science accessible to everyone.
“It's clearly possible for a something to acquire higher intelligence than its ancestors: we evolved to be smarter than
our ape-like ancestors, and Einstein was smarter than his parents.”
Hawking, among other top scientists, spoke out in 2014 about the possible dangers of artificial intelligence (including AGI), which he reiterated at a technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2017. Speaking on the topic of Artificial General Intelligence, he stated:
"Success in creating AI (AGI) would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last,
unless we learn how to avoid the risks." He warned about a time in the future which this technology would be
"Outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing
weapons we cannot even understand. We cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and
sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it."
● Kevin Kelly (1952 – present), Editor, publisher, writer, conservationist and co-founder of Wired Magazine, defines the singularity as:
“The Singularity is the point at which “all the change in the last million years will be superseded by the change
in the next five minutes.”
● John Smart (1960 - to present), technology foresight consultant, scholar, educator, and systems theorist in global processes of evolution, writes that in 20 to 140 years, depending on which expert you agree with:
"The ever-increasing rate of technological change in our local environment is expected to undergo a permanent
and irreversible developmental phase change, or technological “singularity,” becoming either: 1) fully autonomous
in its self-development, 2) human-surpassing in its mental complexity, or 3) effectively instantaneous in
self-improvement (from our perspective).
● Sean Arnott
“The technological singularity is when our creations surpass us in our understanding of them vs their understanding of us, rendering us obsolete in the process.”
● James Martin (1933 – 2013), world-renowned futurist, computer scientist, author, lecturer and, among many other things, the largest donor in the history of Oxford University – the Oxford Martin School, defines the singularity as follows:
"The Singularity is a break in human evolution that will be caused by the staggering speed of
Photo Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World_population_growth_(lin-log_scale).png
Graph Credit: Waldir [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Most of us today realize that life is constantly changing due to the development of new technology … even the millennials, although they not only expect change, they demand it. It’s not cool to have last year’s Smart phone.
Unfortunately, many people, even very smart ones, don’t understand the pace … that change is not just happening but accelerating. I learned very quickly when I retired that being out of the profession of urban planning for four or five years rendered my thirty-five years of experience almost useless. WORLD POPULATION GROWTH
As Ray Kurzweil writes, “The last 20 years are not a good guide to the next 20 years. We're doubling the paradigm shift rate, the rate of progress, every decade. This will actually match the amount of progress we made in the whole 20th century, because we've been accelerating up to this point.
The 20th century was like 25 years of change at today's rate of change. In the next 25 years we'll make four times the progress you saw in the 20th century. And we'll make 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century, which is almost a thousand times more technical change than we saw in the 20th century.”
Graph Credit: Bank of America, Merrill Lunch Global Investment Strategy, University of Chicago
Photo Source: https://hackernoon.com/are-you-ready-for-an-artificially-intelligent-future-b9df618d53b4
ARTIFICIAL GENERAL INTELLIGENCE (AGI)
The one thing that all of this requires is the development of Artificial General Intelligence. So far, the accelerating rate of technological advances has been limited by the human brain, which hasn’t changed much in recent millennia. However, human ability to imagine and reflect on different scenarios, human obsession with linking minds, and the ever-increasing power of computers portend a future with Artificial General Intelligence and machines that are more intelligent than human beings.
In other words, intelligent machines which have the capacity to understand and learn any intellectual task a human can. Some might refer to it as a machine capable of experiencing consciousness. Today we have what is called applied or weak Artificial Intelligence: machines which can do one or two highly contained tasks much faster and more accurately than humans, but is not able to perform the full range of cognitive abilities.
Don’t relax yet. According to Wikipedia, there are at least forty organizations actively researching in AGI. China has recently announced its intent to become the AI/AGI leader in the world. Some of the applications already using AI in China are scary enough without AGI.
Whichever turns out to be the case – superintelligent machines, superintelligent humans, or a combination of machine and human superintelligence – something will happen to human society as a result of rapid technological growth.
Some of those changes are already occurring, and many of us don’t even realize the vast impact of those changes have made and will continue to make, on human affairs.
"The point at which the accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, gives the appearance of approaching some essential point in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue." Think about this definition as you read the following. Have human affairs continued in their previous modes or are they irrevocably changed?
● Industry Utilizes Artificial Intelligence In Machines For Manufacturing
In 1961,“Unimate", an industrial robot invented by George Devol in the 1950s, became the first to work on a General Motors assembly line in New Jersey. Its responsibilities included transporting die castings from the assembly line and welding the parts on to cars – a task deemed dangerous for humans.”
Source of Photos: https://www.robotics.org/joseph-engelberger/unimate.cfm
Since then, the use of machines in production of goods has increased at a rapid rate. This revolution in manufacturing has had severe impacts on jobs. Although there has been job growth, new jobs created are in different and more technical fields.
● The Internet Connects Everyone In The World
The history of the internet is long, not in time but in complexity. A lot happened leading up to the first communication with the Interface Message Processor [computer] going live in 1969. The use of the web grew slowly in the academic and research arenas until April 30, 1993, when the European Organization for Nuclear Research [CERN] put the web into the public domain. https://www.popularmechanics.com/culture/web/a20104417/www-public-domain/
▼Photo Source: pursuitist.com/older-people-internet Photo Source: www.youthkiawaaz.com/rural-india ▼
● The first cell phone went on sale 35 years ago  for $4,000
No one took it seriously. It was a toy or novelty for rich people. https://mashable.com/2014/03/13/first-cellphone-on-sale/
The Smart devices that didn’t exist or were hugely expensive twenty to thirty years ago have become essential to our life style. We can’t seem to survive without them. Out of the world’s estimated 7 billion people, 6 billion have access to mobile phones. Only 4.5 billion have access to working toilets.
▼Photo source: newsfeed.time.com/cellphone vs toliets
● Today’s Hand Held Smart Phones Have More Computing Power Than ENIAC, The Computer That Sent Man To The Moon And Which Filled An 1,800 Sq. Ft. Room
▼ENIAC Computer that landed Apollo 11 - Photo Credit: US Army
Photo source: www.thevintagenews.com/computer-ENIAC
● People Around The World Already Allow Electronic Devices To Run Their Households.
These devices turn on and off lights and appliances, provide monitoring away from home, remind us of things to do and close garage doors, Some refrigerators do our grocery lists. Those devices are capable of learning to adapt to voices and accents, to determine the things we like and dislike, etc. None of these devices involve Artificial General Intelligence. Not yet, anyway. But consider what is happening in China.
By the way, Alexa can record what you are saying and has mistakenly misinterpreted conversation as commands.
Photo source: beverlypress.com/west-hollywood
● China Is Positioning Itself To Be The World Leader In Artificial Intelligence And Artificial General Intelligence
“China is reversing the commonly held vision of technology as a great democratizer, bringing people more freedom and connecting them to the world. In China, it has brought control.” One of their current efforts is with face-recognition technology. Paul Mozur: 07-08-2019 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/08/business/china-surveillance-technology.html
Chinese Police wearing Face-recognition glasses/ Smart Powered AI glasses
Photo credit: Reuters - https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/08/business/china-surveillance-technology.html
● Paintings By Robot Artist Ai-Di Brought In Over $1 Million At Her First Art Show
Ai-Di [named after the mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace] is the first realistic Artificial Intelligence humanoid robot artist. Created by British inventor and gallery owner Adian Meller, in collaboration with robotics company Engineered Arts, Ai-Da can draw from sight thanks to cameras in her eyeballs and AI algorithms created by scientists at the University of Oxford that help produce co-ordinates for her arm to create art. She uses a pencil or pen for sketches, but the plan is for Ai-Da to paint and create pottery.
Sources of Photos: news.artnet.com/robot-artist-ai-da
Another AI Humanoid Robot named Xin Xiaomeng served a TV anchorwoman on China’s Xinhua state news agency in March 2019, delivering a one minute news story with a presentation that mimicked human facial expressions and mannerisms. https://www.asiaone.com/china/chinas-xinhua-presents-news-using-robot-news-anchor
● Medical Miracles Include Merging Machines with Man
Sounds incredible, doesn’t it. I envision draining one’s mind and consciousness into a mechanical brain or robot, sort of like siphoning gasoline out of a car. Maybe that’s what certain proponents of the singularity mean, but for now human and mechanical merging is a little less science-fiction-like.
Photo Source: Wikipedia Photo source: www.hopkinsmedicine.org/cornea Photo Source: orthoinfo.aaos.org/knee-replacement
It may take a long time, but medicine is moving in the predicted direction.
Learning to mind-control an artificial hand
Photo source: uchicagomedicine.orgneurosciencesbrain-controlledlimbs
If or when this superintelligence comes into being, through enhancement of human intelligence or through artificial general intelligence, the event will change, for better or worse, the world we live in and life as we know it today. I also believe that although significant changings will be happening faster than ever, most human beings won't even be aware of it at the time.