For some reason, all the guys talking about money are suddenly also talking about 'The Singularity' and there seems to be profound misuderstanding of what a singularity means when talking about technology and humans. Artists, sciencefiction writers and above all, Japanese animators have been speculating about all of this and there are many who can see the really fearful side of all this as well as the blessings. I think the Singularity will not be technology triumphant but rather, WWIII and the destruction of the entire imperial system built up since 1600.
The Singularity? Remember Ray Kurzweil? Inventor. Entrepreneur. Artificial Intelligence. Futurist. Author: "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence." New book: "The Singularity is Near." In 2045 the human race "breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress and longevity." Kurzweil's Law of "accelerating returns." Material progress faster than Moore's Law.
But 2045? No, "The Singularity" is already here, now, today. The new Forbes says: "The latest super-computer is way faster than the human brain."
Visionaries like Kurzweil think at hyperspeed. Can you keep up? "See" the rapidly approaching future he sees? Change your investment strategy in time. You better. Why? Guys like Kurzweil are redefining Wall Street, the economy, your retirement. You must speak their language. It's everywhere: Behavioral finance, computer technology, marketing, everywhere. Get it or you're handicapped!
Test yourself, read Richard Thaler's 712-page bible: "Advances in Behavioral Finance, Vol. II." Thaler's a University of Chicago genius, heir apparent to Nobel Economist Daniel Kahneman, who won by disproving Wall Street's silly "rational investor" theory. Behaviorists proved that we're all "irrational investors," even Wall Street insiders.
Mr. Farrell always takes the shallowest and least reflective view of events and situations. He has to, he works for a financial news service that has to trick people, not look cold-blooded at reality. Like any singer of lullaby songs, he has to be the siren sitting on the rocks, la-la-la.
In scientific terms, a 'Singularity' is a point in time when time stops because one is trapped on the wrong side of a black hole, for example. Or it is a one-time event that can't happen again in this universe such as the Big Bang which was an awesome singularity that still is ongoing after billions of years. A similar singularity would be if the universe is curved and not moving outwards forever and instead of moving away, everything circles back into a new anti-singularity, the Implosion. Astronomers argue a lot about this. I am obviously on the side of 'Falling into an Implosion' side of the register.
Any way you look at this beast, it is frightful. When I was a child and hit directly by lightning, I entered into a state of Singularity and looked into the vast darkness of death and realized this was, after a point, inescapable. Somehow, I survived this glancing blow, this near-death experience (no, there was no glowing light, I saw a flash of other lightning, everything was reversed and opposites were the same).
And this is what the Singularity is: a paradox. People have a lot of emotional trouble with paradoxes. Just like everyone likes to imagine they can avoid fate. Technology follows the same laws of Evolution and Nature as all living and non-living things. Singularities are when Nature Evolves to a point where all things are the same: there are no opposites or rather, the opposites can inhabit the same space as positives. Namely, everything is everything all the time, suddenly.
The thing about Singularities is they are explosive. They blow up. Invariably. Even if they are black holes, they have explosions as they assemble more and more other things within themselves. Black holes are not stable at all, they spin at a high rate and deform space and the bigger they are, the more they deform space and the more they drag in other elements of the universe and this is a basic instability. Like all natural systems, they are ruled by the Laws of Nature and Evolution which means, there is an upper limit to their size. We can't see the results of this law because if we did, we would not exist anymore.
On a much smaller scale, science fiction writers have decided there is a time when machines like computers and robots, will rule us. Forbes has an article about this matter this month too. Seems there is something bugging these guys. They are, of course, hoping they will become gods! Masters of the Universe! If only they can figure out how to make a killing off of the robot/computer Singularity.
And bring on modern supercomputers. I am a director of a scientific supercomputer firm, SiCortex, in Maynard, Mass. Chief scientist Jud Leonard told me about his latest transistors and the cluster supercomputer these transistors are networked to produce. The SC5832 will cost less than $3 million and promises to increase scientific computation by factors of ten, per dollar, watt and foot. Its transistors are networked to form 64-bit arithmetic processors, six of which are fit on a "multicore" chip containing, thanks to Moore's Law, 10 8 transistors. An SC5832 cabinet consumes only 20 kilowatts but holds 972 of Leonard's multicore chips, or a total of 5,832 processors (hence the name), or 10 11 transistors. Each of Leonard's transistors can turn on or off 10 10 times per second, but they are clocked at 500 megahertz to deliver, say, a mere billion computations per second.
Now, let's turn to the brain's "transistors." It's been a while since I studied neurons for my MIT undergraduate thesis in 1968 (fortunately we can't find copies of that anymore), and so I consulted with Raymond Kurzweil, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, Tomaso Poggio, a professor at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, and with Chris Diorio, a professor of computing at the University of Washington.
In his latest book, The Singularity Is Near (Viking Adult, 2005), Kurzweil shows that transistors have come quite a long way since 1968. Neurons, on the other hand, are still pretty much the same. Intelligent design is way faster than evolution. Poggio and his students are now successfully using transistors to emulate neuron networks, in particular those in the visual cortex of the brain. His computer software is beginning to approach the performance of the brain in picking out objects in a simple scene. Diorio studies how nervous tissues (i.e., brains) work in order to improve designs for computers. His research has resulted in some early "synaptic transistors" that learn from their inputs.
If Mother Nature were a computer/robot that creates and runs the universe and all the parts therein, we would call her 'God'. But what runs things is not an entity but rather, Forces that are inherent within the existence of matter, antimatter and the void between them. The weight of a ton of iron can equal the weigh of the space between electrons within a Singularity. When I was a child, I saw with clarity that the scales Libra holds at the Gates of Death are really the same: the feather and the lead brick are the same.
Mother Nature's Laws have certain properties. One is, all things must eventually balance each other or they must consolidate or blow up and the process of balancing leads to destruction of one half while the other half grows. Whatever 'halves' we are talking about. Lopsided situations always move towards consolidation and integration. This is why there is no infinity within the orb of Mother Nature's rule.
Her rule was launched with the Big Bang Singularity and it will end in the Big Consolidation.
The Singularity that we all hope will happen, whereby we get to live forever as semi-hyper robots run by super-powerful computers is the non-singularity, meaning, it can't happen and won't happen because we will blow up long before it happens.
1. What Is The Singularity?
The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater-than-human intelligence. Science may achieve this breakthrough by several means (and this is another reason for having confidence that the event will occur):
Computers that are "awake" and superhumanly intelligent may be developed. (To date, there has been much controversy as to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is "yes," then there is little doubt that more intelligent beings can be constructed shortly thereafter.)
Large computer networks (and their associated users) may "wake up" as superhumanly intelligent entities.
Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
Biological science may provide means to improve natural human intellect.
The problem with any system using computers to run humans is, humans exist in this vast dimension which I call 'the Dream World' and within this is 'The Outer Darkness' which is where our souls meet our brains and there are some unpleasant repercussions. Namely, the Freudian 'Id' is very much still here despite people pretending there is no such thing. I like to give this place various names and such just to make it easier to talk about. One good name is 'Hell' but there is another opposite involved since everything in this place is melded so I call this place 'Heaven' or perhaps better, 'Pegasus' pasture on Mt. Olympus where the Graces and other female goddesses in charge of culture, art and learning hang out with the satyrs and get drunk.'
Science fiction writers amuse themselves wandering about this space which is why so many of their stories are disutopian. Namely, they recognize the need for passion, blood, death, sex, hysteria and other basic human emotions. Robots and computers don't have these things. In the famous movie, '2001', the computer cold-bloodedly decides, based on its own data, humans must be eliminated. It views the elimination of humans as disposal and not death.
This attitude is always within the laws of Nature: everything is disposable and through death, life springs. Humans kill all the time, this is how we live. Awareness of this is dealt with by burying this reality into rationalizations and simply not paying attention to it. But the brain is like a computer: it keeps all the data and if the soul sector which is the part we emotionally attach ourselves to, ignores deaths the organism causes, the brain doesn't ignore this but stores it away in the darker, lower reaches which are the Dream World's Empire.
The Dream World rules the Waking World, in other words, our brain/computers are not allowed to give us raw data, it all transits first through the Dream World which then colors it or alters it or totally, radically deforms it and then the Waking Brain is allowed to let it into the outer world. Computers don't have this process.
For example, if I fed into a super-computer all the economic data I collect and ask it to project into the future, it would happily tell me all about the coming economic Singularity when the USA goes bankrupt and the entire world economic system collapses and WWIII happens. It might even give me an exact date.
What about the coming decades, as we slide toward the edge? How will the approach of the Singularity spread across the human world view? For a while yet, the general critics of machine sapience will have good press. After all, until we have hardware as powerful as a human brain it is probably foolish to think we'll be able to create human-equivalent (or greater) intelligence. (There is the farfetched possibility that we could make a human equivalent out of less powerful hardware -- if we were willing to give up speed, if we were willing to settle for an artificial being that was literally slow. But it's much more likely that devising the software will be a tricky process, involving lots of false starts and experimentation. If so, then the arrival of self-aware machines will not happen until after the development of hardware that is substantially more powerful than humans' natural equipment.)
But as time passes, we should see more symptoms. The dilemma felt by science-fiction writers will be perceived in other creative endeavors. (I have heard thoughtful comicbook writers worry about how to create spectacular effects when everything visible can be produced by the technologically commonplace.) We will see automation replacing higher- and higher-level jobs. We have tools right now (symbolic math programs, cad/cam) that release us from most low-level drudgery. Put another way: the work that is truly productive is the domain of a steadily smaller and more elite fraction of humanity. In the coming of the Singularity, we will see the predictions of true technological unemployment finally come true.
There are billions of people fighting this technological Singularity. Our Pentagon is spending billions of dollars to develop the Total Power Fighting Death Machine, aka, the Death Star or Darth' Vader's Rule. They dream day and night of this creation. The USA is going bankrupt fighting peasants all over the planet. These pesky people who use ancient technology and older belief systems, who insist on living in ancient times with ancient cultures and feelings, are driving the USA into the Singularity which I call, 'WWIII': our only way of stopping these pesky anti-tech peasants is to destroy the entire planet earth.
The only way to fix our greed is to destroy everything so no one can have it, not even the cockroaches and vultures.
And this is the paradox: protecting our empire, extending our technological controls and reaches, we have to dehumanize ourselves and surrender to our robots and machines and unleash their power upon the organic, old-type humans who insist on living in a pre-industrial age technology and culture and when we do this, we all die. And if we succeed in killing off or enslaving within the Machine, all those difficult, pesky old-technology people, we are STILL destroyed utterly by our machines because running them eats up the entire evironment of the earth and destabilizes space and time in this sector and it will then blow up or implode.
Either case, this means we all die.
I was once told by the Physics Today staff, my stories about the End of Eternity was too depressing and therefore, not worth airing because it would depress scientists and cause them to question what they are doing.
Well, the fact is, the End of Eternity is the Birth of New Life. Namely, once anything becomes 'eternal' it dies. Everlasing life is eternal death. I try to explain this to religious people and they have the same response: they hate me. Hindus don't have a problem with all this which is why the greatest mathematicians and theologists have arisen from their rich soil. Many modern religions born in the last 5.000 years tend very much towards the Singularity: Nirvana, Heaven, Holy Land, Eternal Life, etc. Everything is about being forever, unchanged.
Why has this desire to create a mental system that is DEAD arise? I would say, it is part of technology: the more a culture is capable of technology, the more they want everything spiritual to freeze in time. As they rapidly change the earth and society as well as the ability to kill, the more they desire Oneness with Eternity Forever. This may be a natural artifact of technology.
In that great work, Goethe's Faust, the devil tells the professor, he will die and go to hell only if he says, 'Stop time! This is perfect!' So, after many adventures and loves, Professor Faust is digging this ditch when he suddenly realizes this is the perfect moment in time when all is fulfilled. He shouts the fatal words and dies and falls into the ditch for it is actually only his own grave.
When I studied Faust in College, the professor didn't like it when I treated the end as a humorous affair. He thought Faust fooled the Devil and went to Heaven.
I said, 'Nope. He became part of the Singularity and is now a space between electrons crushed by a black hole.'