What is the Singularity?
A “Singularity” in physics is, roughly speaking, a point. Singularities exist in the universe as black holes, infinitely dense points of mass which have a gravitational field so strong that not even light can escape it. The universe is thought by many to have been a singularity prior to exploding in the big bang.
That ring around that black hole, where light meets darkness, that is what we are talking about when we apply the notion of a physical singularity to technological progress. It is a point when the exponential progress of something (such as gravity or technology) becomes so great that we cannot possibly know the properties of what lies beyond. it is the point on a graph of an exponential curve when the line becomes practically vertical.
There is of course no one point at which an exponential curve looks vertical, but there are certainly milestones which we can identify with this vertical takeoff. For the purposes of the technological singularity, perhaps the most important milestone is the development by humans of a superhuman intelligence, a computer which surpasses us in our processing power. The implications of this are staggering. The natural unknowability of this intelligence causes intense fear in some people and intense excitement in others. While opinions are divided somewhat on the existential risk artificial intelligence poses, the consensus is that it will be significant.
Very soon our technology will design our technology. I would say “make” instead of “design,” but we’ve always used technology to make more technology. Computers will be caught in a positive reinforcing loop of self improvement, getting better at designing computers smarter the smarter it designs computers, just as our technologies have been caught in a self reinforcing loop as we are capable of creating more with them.
In an attempt to predict the unpredictable, people have drawn many conclusions and conjectures about the nature of the post-singularity era. I feel as though I can roughly divide these into a pros and cons list, but I hope to show you eventually how meaningless such a list is for this event:
- human “immortality”
- unprecedented standard of living for all humans
- solutions to all of our energy problems (post-scarcity)
- unprecedented worldwide cooperation and cohesion
- everything that humankind has ever wanted
- extinction of the human species
- loss of individuality, identity, free will, humanness
- mountains of ethical problems
- everything that humankind has ever feared
My task and undertaking in this blog is to sort these predictions out, expound upon them, and offer my own vision of what the singularity means for life, the universe, and everything.