[Home]TheSingularity

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Many have suggested that life on earth is moving towards "TheSingularity"--the convergence of everything; life and technology, technology and art, art and life. Taking a cue from MooresLaw, those who see this happening suggest that the graph of technology's growth is stretching to the asymptotic which in turn, they say, suggests that the "technologic" (evolving as a by-product of human processes) might become more pervasive and advanced than the "biologic" (evolving as a by-product of natural processes). Humankind will be merely a part in an expanded cybernetic landscape.

JaronLanier defines what TheSingularity is aptly in this quote from [1],

[B]iology and physics will merge with computer science (becoming biotechnology and nanotechnology), resulting in life and the physical universe becoming mercurial; achieving the supposed nature of computer software. Furthermore, all of this will happen very soon! Since computers are improving so quickly, they will overwhelm all the other cybernetic processes, like people, and will fundamentally change the nature of what's going on in the familiar neighborhood of Earth at some moment when a new "criticality" is achieved- maybe in about the year 2020. To be a human after that moment will be either impossible or something very different than we now can know.

And really most of Digerati thinks this is a neat thing. A good thing. An amazing, transcendant thing.

I disagree, much like Lanier.

If anything has been shown in the past five years, it's been that the limitations of humans have restrained technology time and time again. For instance, consider that computers want to get smaller, but they cannot because we can't use displays one square centimeter large. Consider the amount of effort put into making computers even easier to use--and consequently much less powerful.

But this is not a bad thing. For, what purpose does technology have if not to solve our problems? It may be somewhat romantic to suggest science for science's sake, but technology for technology's sake never works out. I mean, who cares what neat thing you can do if it isn't doing anything for me? Whizbang wonderful, sure, but I'm already onto the next thing.

Really, I believe in quite an opposite form of TheSingularity. Technology won't subsume humans. Humans will continue to subsume technology. PervasiveComputing will make computers part of the background, but not of our body. Indeed, technology will dissolve the substrate of our society like rock dissolves in water. We will be enhanced by the material only in the sense that we aren't distracted by it as much.

Moreover, the network may be the computer, but society is the network. We can only enhance and strengthen that truism as we move forward. BarnRaising is a fact of life; making that efficient drives our world ever faster. It's not as if you will get more free time; always less. Imagine a world where you can never get away from the office. That's what interconnectedness means... failure to disconnect.

A singularity of people. -- SunirShah

See also the CyborgManifesto.

A great blog focused on The Singularity is http://singularityhub.com/

CategoryPervasiveComputing CategoryFuturology


A key question is whether TheSingularity will come to pass, regardless of its "goodness". In seeking a rational basis to understand where life came from and where it is going (as well as other examples of self-organization in complex systems), I have found systems/cybernetics theory compelling. Within this framework, PrincipiaCybernetica's MetaSystemTransition Theory (MSTT) is a compelling explanation of the emergence of perceived layers of order. In particular, I see something like TheSingularity as at least plausible -- merely another MST in a long line of MSTs on earth. --anon.

If you believe in the long cycle of life, then rest assured, singularities have never happened. They only happen in predictive theories that have only some of the forces, but not all. If you only knew about gravity, you would think all mass would be clumped in perfect spheres, but there are other forces that allow structures to be built. Similarly, TheSingularity presumes the lack of contravening forces, which is always a foolish presumption to make. -- SunirShah


For another definition and speculation about Singularity, see the 1993 essay "Vernor Vinge on the Singularity" at [2]. [Strangely enough, I was thinking about adding this link last night just an hour before Sunir posted the above, and even searched for a VernorVinge page.] A CritOrg ed version of the above essay was available at [3]. (now defunct, but possibly searchable in Way Back Search Engines) -- FridemarPache

One of the interesting features of VernorVinge's science fiction is his explanation of why humanity avoids a Singularity--the "Zones" of thought in the galaxy. Several SF authors have also felt they had to explain why the humans in their story are so similar to today's people, rather than some transcendent networked intelligence.

The "Culture" stories by BookShelved:IainBanks are one of the most attractive SF alternatives to a Singularity. (I'll try to find a good online link soon.)

--CliffordAdams

However, Culture people are more "mercurial" than they are today, if I understand that word right. For example, they can change sex by thinking about it, reconfigure their metabolism for different gravity strengths, and are generally "soft" and flexible. -- DaveHarris

[An essay] regarding The Culture.


More ArtificialIntelligence/Singularity text can be found at the "Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence" [4]. (Link found from the "politech" mailing list.) I'm not quite as optimistic as they are, but their documents include several interesting ideas and approaches. --CliffordAdams

More links on another wiki: http://gnufans.net/ai.pl?AiSingularity. Also see #sag on irc.freenode.net for The Singularity Action Group.

An extensive website discussing systems theories of accelerating change and various singularity hypotheses is http://singularitywatch.com


A good site relating to the Singularity is [SL4]. They also have a [wiki] with lots of information.

This is the short explanation I use for describing the Singularity and my personal thinking about it:

"If you create a mind that can improve itself, it can improve itself until it has enough power to change the world as we know it, creating a singularity in history. Whatever comes afterwards is probably unimaginable today.

"This Singularity could yield unlimited good or unlimited evil. The direction lies in what we do now, before the Singularity, because afterwards it will be too late. I try my best to encourage a positive Singularity and avoid a negative one."

-- GordonWorley


While I have never believed this will ever happen, I have in recent years started to believe that people who chase TheSingularity are remarkably self-centred Westerners who have not truly grasped how much their world depends on Globalization. I believe they are only really thinking about the richest segment of the richest countries in the world. When billions of people do not even have telephones, and when you consider the capital cost to create and then sustain one person at the level of technology implied by the dream of TheSingularity, this is not only impossible, I would even claim it is selfish. The necessary capital to support even one person would be better served in raising the quality of life for millions of people.

Further that, when you follow the horrific impact on people around the world to extract the heavy metals to build a computer, and the equally horrific conditions (primarily in China) to recover these metals at the end of life of a computer, then it's hard to see a world with greater technological demands for even more people. The sheer cost in human lives to create this reality makes me wonder if it is even achievable before there is a rebellion. -- SunirShah

Sunir, allow me to introduce a more reconcilable view. Why seeing people, who welcome and work for a friendly development of TheSingularity as "self-centered". Viewing them as Self-centered, in the sense that they transcend their egos by their work, is to me an equal valuable viewpoint to consider. Couldn't we see them as people, who help emerging the Google:Noosphere? Why not embracing pro- and con- people both as the necessary system antagonists like "Gas and Brake" in a car? This way the process could give us some more time to eliminate inhumane effects, that you just described. -- FridemarPache

Imho, while the market allows it, people can experiment with something like space tourism, richest segment of the richest countries. The global singularity however doesn't seem to happen before circa 2020 .... --JuanmaMP


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