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Sunday, May 14, 2006


As a follow up to my post on the effect of Moore's law continuing the increase in computing power so that in 50 years it will have increased 8 billion times.

Stanford are having a conference on this subject. See The refer to this as the Singularity (a term taken from an astronomical term for the area where conventional physics breaks down, known in day to day conversation as a Black Hole. Just as a Black Hole is somewhere where we cannot tell what is going on inside, where the laws of physics break down & you can't come back when you go through a singularity in human history is something where unforcastable changes take place, rules of society change & we can't go back to the old ways afterwards. The invention of agriculture is taken as the classic case though you could make a good case for the discovery of fire or the Industrial Revolution. Of course the more Singularities you come up with the less singular they are.

Or to quote from the site
the singularity represents an "event horizon" in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future cease to give reliable or accurate answers, following the creation of strong AI or the enhancement of human intelligence. Many futurists predict that after the singularity, humans as they exist presently won't be the driving force in scientific and technological progress, eclipsed cognitively by posthumans, AI, or both, with all models of change based on past trends in human behavior becoming obsolete.

In the 1950’s, the legendary information theorist John von Neumann was paraphrased by mathematician Stanislaw Lem as saying that “the ever-accelerating progress of technology…gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

Or to put it another way we cannot really envisage (!) the long term results of the enormous geometric growth of computer capacity & indeed lesser, but still enormous, by historical standards, GNP growth.
On the other hand if you enter a Black Hole (I am told) there is no point at which you will find yourself passing the event horizon, there will always be a visible universe to you it is just that some of it will get further away. The crossing of the event horizon is only seen by the observer. Thus we, in my own lifetimes, have passed the event horizons of the mass childhood epidemics like polio, the Pill, Gay Rights, & the Internet all of which have changed society in ways incomprehensible to an observer in 1954 (to whose values we in turn could not return) & are, by & large, the better for it.

Please ignore the "puny minds" & "no longer science fiction" references here - somebody is not showing the required seriousness.
forecast that computational intelligence will, in the coming two or three decades, not only match but swiftly surpass human intelligence, and that civilization will at that point be radically transformed in ways that our puny minds cannot possibly imagine. This bold hypothesis, now often called "The Singularity," strikes some as wonderful and strikes others as abhorrent. But whether it is wonderful or abhorrent, is the singularity scenario even remotely plausible, or is it just science fiction? If the singularity scenario is plausible, is the time frame proposed ridiculous or realistic?
I would go for realistic that's what the arithmetic says & arithmetic beats wishes every time.

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