The Singularity: A peek into an unfathomable future

A mistake we all make is to think of the future as a simple extrapolation of the progress we’ve had in the past. We disregard the ever increasing pace of human progress; and hence fail to realize that our futures 100 years from now is just a decade away.

It’s hard to imagine, and even harder to believe.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘Singularity’ being used in science fiction and TV shows. Most generalize it as an advanced point in artificial intelligence (AI). But you can look at it from many different aspects. Technological singularity refers to a time where computers with AI are advanced enough to be theoretically able to redesign and build computers which are technically more advanced than themselves.

The truth is; we’re imprisoned by our biology. A post-singularity world could mean not being bound by the shackles of knowledge and the limits of intelligence; leading to the ultimate freedom. Where what we can accomplish is limited only by our imagination.

“… 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. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.”— The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil

It’s not unthinkable. On our way towards the singularity we’d have to master nanotechnology, unravel the fabric of time, fully map our brains and fathom its every function and even build unlimited power sources.
Mastering nano-tech could essentially mean the end to our food crisis — we’d be able to create nutrients straight off of their molecular elements; in whichever taste and quantity you prefer. We already have 3D printers printing food — now we make it much much smaller.

Like so, each and everyone of these small steps would cascade towards the dawn of the singularity.

It’s hypothetical of course. But we’re getting there as you read. According to Moore’s Law the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits has doubled every year since it was invented. Effectively what we should see is an exponential growth in technology, and everyday we close in on that point where human intelligence meets machine intelligence.

Once artificial intelligence exceeds human intelligence, we surpass the so called knee of the curve and step into a much accelerated and exponential pace of innovation that would quickly transcend our imagination. AI infact would become responsible for human evolution.

Singularity graph

But this development in AI could also lead to a period of time that could become unpredictable and unfavorable to us humans.

Something capable of thinking beyond us might just decide that humans are in fact a threat to it’s existence and you know… the rest is history. Forget those three precious “laws of robotics”.

“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.” — John von Neumann

Growth is never easy. Some people embrace pushing the boundaries, while others fear it. The same applies to technological innovation. One mistake while piloting a plane could mean the end of your life, yet still some veteran pilots admit they feel safer flying than when driving a car. It’s a matter of perspective and how much we want to risk for the sake of progress.

Most people believe all this to be a distant future, but like I said earlier they’re making the mistake of looking at the next 50 years of progress under the shadow of the past 50. Instead think of it like compound interest. Exponential growth essentially means that we’ll have about 1000 times more innovation in the coming century compared to the one we just passed.

Whether you like it or not we’ll reach the singularity at some point in the future, we might even be lucky (or very unlucky) to see it happen in our lifetime. But in either case over the next few decades we’re going to see new inventions and innovations that will change the way we look at the universe, life and the future — hopefully it’ll prepare us and future generations for the inevitable utopian or dystopian era.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I write regularly about design, science, tech and all things I find interesting. Get my essays delivered right to your inbox by subscribing.