Saturday, February 04, 2006

** The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil

What is the singularity, and why will it happen?
It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed… The key idea underlying the Singularity is that the pace of change of our human-created technology is accelerating and its powers are expanding at an exponential pace… The singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology [cyborgs?], resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality. p7-9

Once a planet yields a technology creating species and that species createscomputation, it is only a matter of a few centuries before its intelligencesaturates the matter and energy in its vicinity, and it begins to expand atthe near the speed of light. Such a civilization will then overcome gravityand other cosomological forces - or it will maneuver and control them - andengineer the universe it wants. This is the goal of the singularity. p364 [The Fermi paradox implies that we are the only intelligent species in our galaxy precisely because anything that came before us would have rapidly grown to make their presence known.]

The task of creating human level intelligence in a non-biological entity will involve creating not a massive expert system comprising billions of rules or lines of code, but rather a learning, chaotic, self organizing system, one that is ultimately biologically inspired. p444 [See Jeff Hawkin's 'On Intelligence' to learn more about this possibility]

Each example of information technology starts out with early adoption version that don't work very well and that are unaffordable except by the very elite. Subsequently the technology works a bit better and becomes merely expensive. Then it works quite well and becomes inexpensive. Finally it works extremely well and is almost free. The cell phone is somewhere between these last 2 stages… This lag from the very expensive to very inexpensive now takes about a decade. But in keeping with the doubling paradigm shift rate each decade, this lag will be only 5 years a decade from now. In 20 years, the lag will be only 2 to 3 years. p469

In the end I think there are several issues with Kurweil's hypothetical Singularity. Eventually, over a longer timeframe, many of these speculations may come to pass, but his hope of having these trends become ubiquitous by 2030 to the point that he can transform his mortal coil with an upgraded version in order to gain a form of immortality seems to be far fetched on several fronts. First, as he discusses, society and government may impede and halt such progress necessary for such change (think of the stem cell research impasse in the US). Second, many of his futuristic visions rely not only on information technology (storage, processing, and networking which are governed by Moore's law, and will continue to grow exponentially for another couple of decades before the current technologies slam into some physical limits), but he relies heavily on something that is frankly totally unproven, and may in fact not be possible at all - nanomachines. Such machines do not exist today, even in workable simulations or designs, let alone as prototypes. If we look at the progress of the semiconductor industry from Shockley's first solid state transistor to the latest Intel Pentium series in 2005, it took 1/2 a century to follow that exponential curve. Nanomachines have not even attained the primitive state of the Shockley device, and once they do, it might be 25 to 50 years hence that they make the impact that Kurzweil is counting on. So my belief is that information technology will become pervasive, cheap and far faster than we can imagine, spanning new applications and industries. Our bodies, I'm afraid will not keep pace. And finally, I'll read Ray's obituary, and you'll read mine one day - on a retinal image projected by the latest in image/information technology via a wireless, high bandwidth connection.

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