Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Shadowboxing the Singularity

The convergence of human and machine intelligence has reached a point, quite naturally and in an understandable if not predictable manner, where the question of a technological “singularity” presents itself. The phenomenal development of computer technology over the last 50 years, and the explosion of networked technology over the last 25 years are mind-boggling. The advancements in computer science lead us to suspect that our creations may be too smart for their own good.

The term singularity represents a complex and evolving concept that essentially anticipates a moment in the near future where artificial (machine) intelligence surpasses human capacity, thus bringing about the end of the human era. The universal concept has been refined into a trinity of beliefs or three schools of thought that are defined as…

1. The moment in time (event horizon) or technological omega point where artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence.

2. Exponential or accelerated change where artificial intelligence grows at an ever-increasing rate.

3. Intelligence Increase (I²) where human/computer interface creates a positive feedback cycle.

The three faces of singularity all address the anticipation of the event itself. Each facet of the singularity triad explores aspects of what comes next. It is the anticipation that evokes the strong emotional response in humans. Anticipation… the question of “what comes next” is central to human nature. The ability to reflect upon the future is the identifying characteristic of domesticated primates. Consequently, throughout history humans have been in the prediction or future forecasting business.

It can be argued that prediction of the future is the basis for much of humanity’s ritualistic behavior. One important aspect of ritual is the attempt to intervene upon expected events… as predicted… by the participants of the ritual. The business of prediction is directly responsible for such widely diverse technologies as the I-Ching and tarot… for such divergent institutions of predictive belief as religion and science.

It is important at this juncture to identify the tek-gnostic bias toward religion: Religion is an interesting sub-genre of science fiction, dealing with ancient astronauts, godly higher intelligences, wheels within wheels and the like. Like science fiction, religion deals with the hopeful, or more often, fearful intervention of the future. Here is where an interesting aspect of the singularity concept… technological apocalyptism… comes into play.

Like religion, singularity inspires a sense of foreboding among the partially informed. People read an excerpt from Vernor Vinge discussing the end of the human era and think… oh my god… apocalypse now!!!

The concept of apocalypse has been with us as far back as human history goes… and will continue to be part of our collective psyche as evidenced by the singularity concept itself. The end will always be near. Once we find our way past the singularity event horizon, we will be anticipating the next post-singularity event, and so on ad infinitum.

Riding along side apocalypse is the companion horseman known as Armageddon. Many religious sects believe in a last battle between good and evil at, or as a result of apocalypse. The final conflict is known as Armageddon or the end-time. So too with singularity… the fear becomes an Armageddon between man and machine.

Unique in the ancient apocalyptic literature was the view of the Gnostics in which the end time described did not manifest itself in the normal culmination of a battle, judgment, or catastrophe, but rather as a steady increase of light, through which darkness is made to disappear or in which iniquity dissolves just as the smoke rising into the air eventually dissipates. In the Gnostic perspective, wisdom is an inevitable force that needs to be yielded to by those who choose to accept it and are capable of understanding it. There is no mention of angels, or YHWH's coming, or resurrection of the wise, or any of the typical Messianic language that we usually associate with Judeo-Christian eschatological texts. It simply argues for a change in focus from folly to wisdom.

It is in the spirit of the ancient Gnostic texts that tek-gnostics views the approaching singularity. Not as some catastrophe, but rather a natural progression and evolution of Earth’s intelligence, as demonstrated by Earth’s intelligence agents… the domesticated primates and their artifacts of intelligence… technology. We approach this as an intention, for the difference between knowledge and wisdom could also be the difference between technology run-amok and human/tech synergy. It is our obligation to harness our artifacts for Earth’s benefit… as we are but the reflective organ of our home-world.