The Singularity is Nigh

IEEE Spectrum: Special Report: The Singularity

I’ll post more when I get a second, but it’ll take some time to digest.

For what it’s worth, my present take on the Singularity is a cross of Vinge’s and something Stross said at a WorldCon party (or elsewhere), and Kurzweil, despite some inherent contradictions:

1. The future beyond a singularity is fundamentally unknowable. That’s the whole point. If we can accurately describe what’s past a so-called singularity, then it’s just your basic run-of-the-mill evolution, revolution or “disruptive” sea-change, which happen all the time.

2. People are good at extrapolating linearly, not exponentially. We can predict a few years out, but after that, reality diverges wildly from our naturally limited mental models.

3. We’ve already gone through multiple “singularities” throughout history, though perhaps increasing in frequency. Singularities are never the end of anything, but a new platform on which to complain about our current ways of life and ponder the color of the pasture on the far side of the next singularity.

Before their introduction, could people have predicted how the world would change with Writing? Or Computers? Or Corporations? Could they have even predicted the invention itself? If not, then these may also be singularities, points in history that we can only understand by looking back, not forward, like the approaching event horizon of a black hole.

That is not to say that some visionaries don’t imagine a world past that event horizon or see the event coming. But it’s all speculation, cautionary or wishful fiction at best.

Even the inventor of the mechanical computer, beyond genius for his day, could not have predicted word processors, virtual reality, AI, or even the CAD software that would have unquestionably helped design his mechanical computer.

One could argue that the One True Singularity will occur only when we (our heirs or errs) become smart enough to see through to the future beyond, i.e., the real Singularity is the last Singularity we will ever know.


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