by: Idris Mootee

Remember what you've read about Singularity? The technological singularity is a theoretical future point of unprecedented technological progress, caused in part by the ability of machines to improve themselves using artificial intelligence. Remember Ray Kurzweil? Inventor. Entrepreneur. Artificial Intelligence. Futurist. Author: "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence" and "The Singularity is Near."

In 2045 the human race "breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress and longevity." Kurzweil's Law of "accelerating returns." Material progress faster than Moore's Law. The "Singularity" is that postulated point in time when technological progress, led by machine intelligences designing their own replacements at an ever-increasing rate, becomes so rapid that we mere humans can no longer comprehend or control it. It is no sci-fi,many think it is real.

Microsoft started early playing with the idea and the singularity project in now its 5th year. One focus of the project has been to throw away the past- the OS we have today (Linux, Windows) evolved from designs in the 60s and 70s when computers were limited in resources and not very networked. What could you get if you design for today’s CPU power?

Some believe that this point will eventually be reached in the real world. I think that those people are drastically underestimating the other limits to progress, such as bandwidth limits for data gathering, the difficulty of comprehension, and the inverse relationship of speed to reliability in data analysis. They're also confusing exponential growth curves (which lead to arbitrarily high growth rates) with S curves, which apply to real-world situations in which growth rates increase for a while as key limits are overcome, then slows again.

But while we're waiting for God to emerge from machines, some of the people promoting the concept of the Singularity are looking for practical ways to turn technological progress into social progress. The questions are when will artificial intelligence out-compete humans? Or when computers can have personalities? Or when I can transfer my knowledge as well as personality traits to a computer? Or will artificial intelligence eventually manifest themselves as brands and run all marketing activities (who needs an ad agency?) These are interesting questions. What other technologies and applications, which may take us to Singularity:

  • Computer software endowed with heuristic algorithms (heuristic is an algorithm that is able to produce an acceptable solution to a problem in many practical scenarios, but for which there is no formal proof of its correctness). It means computer can provide answers to right and wrong without formal logic. I can see computers become political.
  • Our real life is simulated by computers in a virtual world so if we die, our virtual self lives on. So if you are being murdered, they have to do it twice. It brings new meaning to what is defined as murder of the first degree. May be you can sue someone's virtual self and the real person as part of the collateral damage.
  • Artificial entities generated by evolution within computer systems, need some imagination to think about what are those entities? Stephen King loves this.
  • Integration of the human nervous system and computer and mobile connectivity and interfaces. You are your iPhone. Just hope it doesn't crash. Interface designers have a bright future ahead of them. Apple Care has new meanings.
  • Dynamically organizing social networks so the system help you to pick, manage and organize your social life. The next Facebook?

All these ideas are disruptive and scary in some cases. But we are moving towards that direction. Many are pushing that idea and they include Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis (X Prize Foundation), and Google co-founder Larry Page. They formed a Singularity University aimed at both students and executives in various technology disciplines (including Space & Physical Sciences, Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Nanotechnology, Neuroscience & Human Enhancement, AI, Robotics, & Cognitive Computing, Energy & Ecological Systems and Future Studies), the objective is to close the gap in understanding and applying fast-developing technologies to solve what they called humanity's grandest challenges...such as poverty, hunger, and pandemics. In another word, applying Singularity to safe the world.

I don’t think the answers to many of these problems will come from technologies alone. My biggest concern  whether the top-down, capital intensive management systems will dominate the thinking and cloud the visions of people who might make other choices if they only saw the potential for them. And technology is always a double-edged sword. Same as Singularity. The future is always dangerous…and exciting.

Have a great weekend.

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