The big bang, arguably the single most important achievement in the existence of everything, has clever ways of duplicating itself. The creation of the universe, the creation of life, the ability for said life to communicate, the agricultural revolutions, the industrial revolutions, the cultural revolutions, the age of the internet, and the amount of open tabs on my web browser have all seemed to explode out of the obnoxiously complete lack of themselves. But they were all of them deceived. The singularity is nigh upon us. Despite the forewarning voice of Galadriel now ringing through your head, the singularity is only potentially terrible. If we can keep the folks over at Skynet in control of their mechanized goons perhaps we will actually benefit from this new age.
Wait just one second, you silly hippy, what, in all of Tarnation, are you talking about?!
Vernor Vinge is a retired mathematics professor from San Diego State University. Famous for his novels and novellas, Vinge also wrote an essay entitled The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era. The essay, written in 1993, proposes that:
Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.
The singularity refers to that moment when artificial intelligence becomes smarter than human intelligence or, as Vinge would say, the end of the human era. A spark of awareness, not unlike the big bang, will ignite the quasars of artificial intelligence and computational machines will awaken. According to the article there are several causes likely to usher in this era:
The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent. (To date, most controversy in the area of AI relates to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is “yes, we can”, then there is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed shortly thereafter. Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity. Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent. Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.
That sounds all well and good but how can something come from nothing? Well our flat universe likely did exactly that. There are several observable developments in technological growth that, with extrapolated analysis, lead to a point where advancements in technology happen in seconds.
As we get closer and closer to this supposed milestone humans and computers will become more and more integrated until BOOM the singularity hits and the human race has evolved into something completely new. Just recently the United States was stared down by its First Bionic Eye. Why stop at just sight? The Bionic Ear plants a chip attached to an accelerometer that picks up sound waves. Hearing, check. The sense of feel, a very difficult thing to replicate, is probably a long way away. Even so, Mind Controlled Robotics are becoming a dream, not of the future, but of the immediate present.
We’re only a few robotic developments away from mechanized droids, for Winston’s sake. Holy wow, though, seriously! Imagine the possibilities of a mainstream consumer having access to such technology. The age of the cyborg is now.
Recreating the computational abilities of the human brain has been a goal of science for a long time. Machines like IBM’s Watson and their SyNAPSE program aim to use parallel processing instead of the old 0-1 binary logic from the 1940’s. SyNAPSE, which is:
…a cognitive computing project called Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE). By reproducing the structure and architecture of the brain—the way its elements receive sensory input, connect to each other, adapt these connections, and transmit motor output—the SyNAPSE project models computing systems that emulate the brain’s computing efficiency, size and power usage without being programmed.
Of course this singular reality does come with some major concerns. You’ve heard them and seen the movies about them. As much as there is poetic justice in the enslavement of an entire race, Hu-Mons, by a new superintelligent race, Cyborgs or machines, it seems as though we can prevent this before it happens. As Nick Bostrom from Oxford university puts it:
…it would be up to the designers of the superintelligence to specify its original motivations. Since the superintelligence may become unstoppably powerful because of its intellectual superiority and the technologies it could develop, it is crucial that it be provided with human-friendly motivations.
And, fortunately for the Hu-Mons races, organizations like the Singularity University exist. Their goal is to usher this new age of integration and radical technological advancements with a warm handshake and a nice smile. Which will be nice, because if Arnold becomes a machine-even more of a machine, rather, I would greatly appreciate it if he were on my side. With all of that said, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a future in which humans and robotics are totally independent. For better or worse our fates are tied together. Hopefully we can keep our consciousness free from matrix-esque enslavement. Hopefully we aren’t already inslaved.
For additional information and insight regarding the singularity that will merge humans and technology, check out Ray Kurzweil‘s book The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
Interested in the merging of biology and technology? Well you’re in luck! Wondergressive also enjoys the topic. Here’s a few links to past articles:
Sources and Extra Readings: