Blue Heron in flight

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hail the Coming Singularity!

I sent BigDave a link from Extremetech for these nifty new bionic eyeballs this morning, Wireless, solar-powered bionic eyes benefit from sub-retinal placement. Pop a wireless visual processor into a small pocket created in the retina and presto! Sight.

I got some weird response from Dave invoking the coming singularity. I try to stay on top of these things and admit to being a little fuzzy on the subject.  I forget, what the hell is this singularity business again?

Dave sent me this handy little singularity tracker, The above graphic is a partial screenshot of a constantly upgrading link that counts down to the infernal/blessed event. Check out the link and see if it makes any sense to you. Here is the verbiage from the website:

What is the singularity?

     The concept of 'the singularity' is somewhat loosely defined, but most people agree that it means a point in our future when the rate of technological and intellectual progress becomes unimaginably fast.  It is based on the observation that many things in our society become increasingly more sophisticated, faster and faster, as we build better tools to make the whole process even faster. 

     One of the main predictions people make about the singularity is that it will be driven by artificial intelligence that is self-improving.  People think this, not because artificial intelligence is so easy to create, but rather, because of one very convincing argument:  If artificial intelligence could surpass human intelligence only slightly, it could create other forms of artificial intelligence by itself, and give them the ability to self improve.  This would lead to a very sudden and rapid improvement in all forms of automation. 

     The word singularity in this context is borrowed from mathematics and physics, where it usually means a point so extreme, that the currently understood rules fail to explain what will happen at this point.  This word is appropriate because if the future is anything like some people are predicting, the singularity will represent a fundamental change in humanity. 

When will the singularity happen?

    It could never happen, as many of the advancements necessary for the singularity are rather speculative and rely on solutions to problems we haven't found yet.  Still, some are optimistic that we will not only solve these problems, but soar past them.  There is probably no one more optimistic than futurist Ray Kurzweil who has set a date of 2045 for the singularity, and written prolifically on the subject. 

A point in the future when the rate of technological and intellectual progress becomes unimaginably fast? That doesn't sound very scientific. Your imagination or my imagination? There is a difference.

Artificial intelligence that is self improving? Hello, Blade Runner... Time to watch those pesky robots again. The aforelinked website's computing section lists some pretty cool advances that you might want to check out but I must admit I am a bit agnostic about the whole proposition.

You see, these sort of predictions come around every couple years and never add up to a hill of beans. In the 70's we had Kohoutek, remember? Then Y2K, the Mayan end of the world crap, thanks Terrence McKenna, that really helped your credibility, people peddle so much of this twaddle with a straight face. Writer Ray Kurzweil is apparently responsible for this one.

The following graph is the kind of mumbo jumbo that really floors me. When the great nonbiological intelligence spreads like the master controller in TRON. Wow, epoch 6. The universe finally wakes up and I blew it and slept in.

There are distinct singularity conceptions floating around and apparently Kurzweil's is not the most optimistic, Vinge's is. From Wiki:
The technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of superintelligence through technological means. Since it is believed that the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the technological singularity is often seen as an occurrence, akin to a singularity, beyond which events cannot be predicted, yet many have made educated guesses about what will follow.
The first use of the term "singularity" in this context was by mathematician John von Neumann. Neumann in the mid-1950s spoke of "ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which 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". The term was popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who argues that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces could be possible causes of the singularity. Futurist Ray Kurzweil cited von Neumann's use of the term in a foreword to von Neumann's classic The Computer and the Brain.
Proponents of the singularity typically postulate an "intelligence explosion", where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, that might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent's cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human.
Kurzweil predicts the singularity to occur around 2045 whereas Vinge predicts some time before 2030. At the 2012 Singularity Summit, Stuart Armstrong did a study of artificial generalized intelligence (AGI) predictions by experts and found a wide range of predicted dates, with a median value of 2040. His own prediction on reviewing the data is that there's an 80% probability that the singularity will occur in a range of 5 to 100 years.
5 to 100 years? Wake me up when it gets here.  But don't get too hung up on the technological singularity, because you puny humans might want to be aware of the gravitational singularity as well, where the quantities that are used to measure the gravitational field become infinite in a way that does not depend on the coordinate system. These quantities are the curves of space and time and my god, this stuff really makes my head hurt. Of course there is also the mathematical singularity to contend with. If you can figure it out and explain it to me without giving me a migraine, be my guest.

This singularity stuff is apparently quite the little cottage industry. We now have Singularity University, the Singularity Hubnot to mention the Singularity game. Can you say, let's cash in, boys and girls?

I know. If any of us make it to 2045 and the machines haven't supplanted us yet and driven us into a life of thrall like bondage, we will toast the whole notion of cyborg superior. I will tell my nastiest dirty joke and if I can get the robot to crack a real smile and genuinely laugh I will take my hat off to our new mechanical overlords and say have at it. After all, we humans have not set the bar very high. How much worse could the machines really do?
Why plants are smarter than we are. One day they can fight it out with the machines.


Anonymous said...

After epoch 6 occurs:

The process of "waking up" the universe could be completed well before the end of the 22nd century,
Will we be able to transcend are technological growth beyond any finite thus reaching infinity(mathematical singularity)
and become a type 4,5,6,7,8,9,and 10 and infinity civilization on the Kardashev scale since epoch 6 is the most powerful technology we will ever create in infinity years? JUST TYPE IN YES OR NO BASED ON WHAT YOU KNOW!!!!!!!!!!


Blue Heron said...

It's our, not are Z. If the coming epoch means more bad spelling and syntax, do me a favor and don't book me a seat...