Technology is constantly growing, and the more it grows, the faster it expands. Is there a ceiling, an asymptote, a point at which the growth will be uncontrolled? Many AI experts think so, and they have called this event the Singularity.
The predicted Singularity is a sudden jump in technology. The term itself refers to the mathematical concept of a singularity, which is an actual point in space and time where existing models of reality do not apply. This occurs within black holes, in which equations of relativity do not work.
The theory is based on an observation by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel. Moore’s Law states that approximately every 24 months, the power of computers increase exponentially. Both the speed of computer chips and the room for them on the motherboard double, causing the total power to quadruple. The Singularity proposition is also heavily based on the theory of evolution—as entities get more complex, their rate of development speeds up tremendously.
As the power of computers increases, their ability to accomplish things better and faster follows automatically. If both increase exponentially, improvements will occur suddenly and drastically, creating a future that we aren’t even able to imagine. This future is called the Singularity.
What kinds of changes will likely occur? This depends on which expert you ask.
Nearly all agree on one thing—nanotechnology will be the next big thing. Nanotechnology is the science where atoms and molecules are manipulated to create new products. This will lead to major productivity, and problems from global warming to poverty could be within our power to fix.
How will humans be able to keep up with such uncontrolled growth? Many people predict that, through nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence, robots made of carefully constructed molecules will enter human bodies. “Nanobots” will be controlled by thought and could perform several functions. In the beginning they would perform simple feats such as remembering facts or acting as calculators. Eventually they will enable a virtual reality, to the point of suppressing our 6 senses on command and substituting code and logic to fill in the missing details. People could hold conversations or business meetings in their heads with people who are on the other side of the planet. This system contains obvious risks—what would happen if these nanobots malfunction or somehow get hacked into? Or will that not be an issue by the time they’re implemented? As these ideas are theoretical to begin with, it is difficult to tell.
This advance in technology would parallel advances in genetics. Areas such as stem cell research already hold much promise for the future of medicine. As we discover the science behind the aging process, we could use genetics to slow it down. Medications could control miniscule problems at molecular levels. Eventually, we could be able to block messages from DNA and RNA to the human body, effectively changing our genetic makeup.
This is not science fiction. These are actual predictions by people who study Artificial Intelligence. Fanciful, exaggerated, and far-fetched? Perhaps. But when you consider how much growth exponential implies, perhaps not.
How close are we to the Singularity? It is difficult to tell; most estimates predict its arrival somewhere between 20 and 140 years from now. Living in the present, it is hard to look to the past and make a prediction about the future, particularly where exponential growth is concerned. Those who lived in the ‘20s could hardly imagine a lunar landing in the ‘60s, and the people in the ‘60s couldn’t imagine the growth of the computer as we know it in the twenty-first century. Maybe none of the Singularity predictions will come true, or maybe what actually happens will be so different that it is not recognizable from the hypothesis. We can only wait and see.