Crazy Fascinating Theories About the Singularity
Our culture has reached the point where any reference to "Skynet" instantly rings familiar, even if one has never seen a Terminator film. The idea of self-aware artificial intelligence is equally fascinating and terrifying at the same time, which is why you've probably heard the phrase "the singularity is near," even if you don't know what it means.
Of course, in James Cameron's franchise, Skynet is the hyper-advanced robotics company that eventually causes the downfall of the entirety of humanity, all because someone thought it was a good idea to let the machines think for themselves. Thus, they realize how awful we are as a species, and set out to exterminate us in the worst ways possible.
Thankfully, that could only happen in the movies... right?
Actually, no. Which brings us back to the singularity.
What is the singularity? Simply put, it is when our machines begin to advance on their own so quickly (wait a minute...) that they eventually begin to think for themselves (this is sounding familiar...), ultimately surpassing the intelligence of their human designers (oh, God, no...) and causing a massive paradigm shift in mankind's place in the world (Skynet is real?!) which could theoretically mean the end of the human race as we know it.
The idea is certainly a scare one. But perhaps what's even more frightening about the singularity, is that, technically, it's already happening. In The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Ray Kurzweil explores the theory in depth. The 2006 book gave rise to a singularity movement and a yearly Singularity Summit.
Take a look at the singularity facts below and see how far you make it before you start frantically searching for nearby DeLoreans that might take you back to a simpler time.
Ray Kurzweil Estimates It Will Occur in 2045
Be sure to set an alarm on your phones now, because when 2045 rolls around, it might try to do it for you - while also relaying your exact location (and who knows what else) to millions of other systems without your consent.
That's because, according to futurism pioneer Ray Kurzweil, the singularity is estimated to occur sometime around 2045. Technological progress is going to begin to occur so rapidly that the human mind will no longer be able to comprehend it. At this point, Kurzweil says, "human life will be irreversibly transformed."
Kurzweil also estimates that, because of our inability to keep up with advancing technologies, this will also be the year man and machine will be forced to merge with one another as we embrace a "cyborg-like" existence.
A Superintelligence Will Emerge Among All Connected MachinesPhoto: Justin Ornellas / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0
Well, look at the time. It's January 1st, 2046, and there's a wave of super-intelligent, sentient machines who are vastly superior to us in every way moving in over the horizon. We should probably raise the white flag and welcome our new robot overlords, no?
Okay, so the singularity wouldn't necessarily happen all at once like this, but would rather start out in a seemingly innocuous way: that is, before any type of insane robot uprising, we would first see tomorrow's machines begin to sync with one another using a variation of artificial intelligence called Seed AI, a type of program that would (theoretically) allow all machines to not only develop their own sentient intelligence but also communicate with one another, allowing them to self-improve and develop at an exponential rate.
Again, we're already on our way, what with humans implementing WiFi into virtually every new device, vehicle, and functioning computer out there. The road is paved, now it's up to the machines to figure out how to drive it themselves...
And, of course, eventually litter it with our fragile human remains along the way.
There Will Be One Machine OverlordPhoto: CWCS Managed Hosting / via Flickr / CC BY 2.0
A series of interconnected machines operating at their peak possible intelligence is one thing, but, like every system in nature, there would eventually be an order that develops among the sentient machines.
In this case, a singleton.
To put it bluntly, a singleton is a pattern in software engineering in which a single object (hopefully not one that looks like this) is utilized to transmit multiple actions and bits of data (hopefully ones that don't look like these) across an entire system.
In the instance of advanced artificial intelligence, a singleton that finds itself in charge could eventually use all the connected systems for its own benefit which, sadly, also means that they would be used against the human race, as every other machine is subservient to the so-called "god AI."
We Will Eventually Merge with the MachinesPhoto: rsmithing / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0
So far, the singularity is not sounding so great. We're either at the mercy of a hyper-advanced sentient species that's only going to get more hyper-advanced, or there's one lunatic AI singleton out there who has a pretty severe superiority complex. Either way, we're in bad shape.
But there is some good news. With artificial intelligence escaping the grasp of our pathetic biological digits, we have a simple and familiar solution: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
That is, despite our existential conundrum, humanity will eventually take some of those steely bits and jam them into our under-developed brains in hopes of letting the machines know that, yes, we are cool with them completely taking over our world.
Like a killer trying to adopt the mannerisms of his or her potential victim, humanity could embrace the process of bio-hacking, the act of augmenting one's body with technological modifications. So, instead of injecting one's forehead with, say, saline bagels, one could inject their cochlea with a wireless device that will interact with their own brain's synapses, potentially heightening senses and mental capabilities.
Unfortunately, there's also bad news that goes along with this, because if that singleton gets a hold of your device, it could potentially reverse the signals back to your brain and eventually control your mind.
And, yes, it only gets worse from here.
We'll Have to Fight the Machines for ControlPhoto: ronymichaud / Pixabay / CC0 1.0
Out of all the potential apocalyptic disaster scenarios, perhaps waging war against an army of 1s and 0s might be the worst. In the event of a massive earthquake or impending asteroid collision, the threat could very well be described as an "act of God." That is, it's simply out of our hands, and there's not much hope in trying to fight it off. C'est la vie.
But fighting it out against a veritable army (or at least, an advanced system of controls) which we ourselves have created? That's just embarrassing. A real insult-to-injury type of mass extinction event.
But, according to Stephen Hawking, it is a very real possibility, one which we should be taking extreme caution with today. As Hawkins said recently:
"It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded."
So, hypothetically, while we're stuck wondering how to make bulletproof vests that protect against WiFi bullets, our robotic offspring will have already converted the Kevlar headquarters into their thousandth killbot factory.
The Machines Will Be Able to Contact Distant Civilizations - Or Let Them Contact UsPhoto: Indigo Skies Photography / via Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
At this point, you may be looking at your phone's Siri or Cortana assistant a little differently. You may even think they're looking back at you. Silently judging. Biding their time. Waiting for a singleton to tell them when to scramble all of your social media profiles and make your life a living hell just before a T-1000 shows up at your door.
Or, your existence may be so insignificant to advanced AI that they may be looking FAR beyond you to civilizations outside of our solar system.
Let's look at the Fermi paradox, which is (to be brief) the high-probability estimate that there is intelligent life in the rest of the universe.
And among it? The chances that intelligent life could also consist of machine intelligence.
In this case, given the estimated 14 billion years that our universe has been around, and with the distinct possibility of life elsewhere in it, therein lies the possibility that somewhere out there, another civilization has already gone through the singularity themselves, and could actively be trying to make contact as we speak.
In either case, humanity is now the small fish in the big (and potentially intergalactic) pond.