Monday, October 19, 2009

The Approaching Singularity: The Matrix Meets the Eschaton

Originally conceived and presented by Vernor Vinge
Part 1 - The Concept Defined

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended. 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. There are several means by which science may achieve this:

1) 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.

2) Large computer networks and their associated users (internet) may "wake up" as a superhumanly intelligent entity.

3) Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.

These possibilities depend in large part on improvements in computer hardware. Progress in computer hardware has followed an amazingly steady curve in the last few decades. Based largely on this trend, it is believed that the creation of greater than human intelligence will occur during the next thirty years. What are the consequences of this event? When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities… on a still-shorter time scale.

This event has been labeled the singularity. The singularity is a point where our old models of reality must be discarded as a new paradigm replaces them. From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye… an exponential technological and philosophical runaway.

Perhaps it was the science-fiction writers who felt the first concrete impact. After all, the "hard" science-fiction writers are the ones who try to write specific stories about technology outpacing humanity. As the concept of super-human intelligence looms closer, the dilemma felt by science fiction writers will soon be perceived in other fields. We will see automation replacing higher and higher level jobs.

And what of the arrival of the Singularity itself? What can be said of its actual appearance? Since it involves an intellectual runaway, it will probably occur faster than any technical revolution seen so far. The precipitating event will likely be unexpected, perhaps even to the scientists and researchers involved. If networking is widespread enough into ubiquitous embedded systems, it may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly wakened. And what happens a month or two (or a day or two) after that? We will be in the Post-Human era…

The preceding ideas are a “cut and paste” (literally and figuratively) composition from the complete and original material that is… available here.

It represents the most important question of our time. Our undying gratitude goes to Vernor Vinge for encapsulating and presenting this vital information to humanity.