I was reading an old article in Time magazine about the singularity and the author made the bold claim that the singularity is the biggest transition in human history since the invention of language. I thought this was kind of a funny thing to say, especially since language has no real beginning point, all life communicates (and I’m sure similar sliding scale arguments can be applied to the singularity).
So, what transition is as big a deal as the singularity? industrialism? agriculture? no, nothing that small. The singularity is a broader event even than human history. it belongs perhaps to a higher class of transitions, such as the transition from simple to complex cells, or cells to multicellular life. I would say it’s even more significant, on par with the beginning of life on this planet, or the beginning of the universe. Is that too far you think?
I’m reminded of the Low Energy Nuclear Reaction technology I talked a bit about. A few people complared such a discovery to the discovery of fire, saying it would bring about explosive possibilities (pun). Seemingly free limitless energy on a small cheap scale, massive amounts of intelligence to create and harness that energy, This situation is far beyond the way that life has worked on this planet for the last 4 billion years.
There is significance here far beyond life on our planet. This is an event of universal significance, this is the time that the universe begins to recognize itself as the universe. Our sense of individuality, our separateness from each other, is completely threatened by our urge to build intelligence and deconstruct our minds into basic replicatable parts, our incessant drive to share our thoughts, feelings, memories, and opinions. when we no longer own all of this information in our brains, when that information is free, your “self” can be distributed everywhere. Any matter can be turned into intelligence and perception, the entire universe is soil for the growth of intelligence. This is why I say this is the time of the universe recognizing itself as the universe. We are the universe, erupting exponentially with intelligence and consciousness, this is the transition toward that realization.
Google’s master plans aside, people are freaking out because of this policy change, and honestly I’m not quite sure why. Almost all of the comments on the article I found were to the effect of “I’m deleting everything Google related on my computer and using other search engines,” or “ this is the beginning of NAZI germany/the world is ending.” One lone woman put forth the idea that what you do on the internet is fundamentally not yours anymore, and in quick order she too was called a NAZI, or communist or something. Yet nowhere did people connect what was specifically happening in the policy change to any possible negative consequences. All I saw was fear: pure, irrational fear.
Here’s the thing: from the moment you leave your house, you will be watched, you will be listened to, and you will be examined. You will be videotaped and recorded, and everything that is observable about you will be observed. This is not a bad thing, and to understand this you must free yourself from the context of industrialism and nations. The truth is it is not “big brother” who is watching you; it is everyone, including you. We all are watching each other, just as nations watch each other with spy satellites. We allow ourselves to be spied on because there is no choice; you can’t control a man’s eyeball and you can’t control empty space. If we didn’t watch each other closely we couldn’t possibly form a cohesive unit.
This doesn’t mean you have to give away your social security number, or address, or any personal information you don’t want to. It means that you need to be more responsible with that information. It is entirely possible to use the internet with millions of people trying to steal your identity, and never let them get what they want; it’s completely up to you.
People interested in the singularity love fitting the singularity into some sweeping conception of time, and I am no exception. Many focus on the topic of information or energy and our growing mastery of it. Others do exactly what I am about to do: frame the evolution of life on earth in terms of convergence. Let us begin:
In the beginning the earth was a very hot rock. There is no point at which the earth took shape, it was a gradual convergence of dust into a large ball which trapped a lot of energy in its core. This is the case for all convergences: they are gradual, yet we talk of them as if they are a point (like finding the point on an exponential curve where the line looks vertical). keep this in mind as I talk about each convergence as if it was a point in time. anyway, we generally agree that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old.
4 billion years ago, the first cell appeared. The first “life” was probably free floating RNA, self replicating molecules in a simple string. Some of this RNA became DNA and found a home inside a sphere of phospholipids, which form a sphere naturally because one end of a phospholipid is hydrophobic and the other is hydrophilic. This was the nature of the first cell, our ancestor. It was simply code inside a membrane.
2 billion years after the first cells formed, eukaryotic cells formed. These cells came about from the convergence of simpler prokaryotic cells, which came to be the organalles of eukaryotic cells, little cells which perform specialized functions such as providing energy, handling waste, or producing proteins. Each small cell lost its identity and became a part of a whole.
1 billion years after eukaryotic cells first appeared on this planet, many eukaryotic cells converged and formed multicellular organisms. Once more, each individual began to perform specialized functions, losing identity and becoming part of a whole. At this point you may notice that “multicellular” does not have much meaning, as eukaryotic cells themselves are composed of multiple cells. The first multicellular life to appear were colonies of algae.
500 million years after the first simple multicellular life appeared, complex multicellular life exploded on this planet. This started with large, stationary filter feeders, and quickly gave way to animal life, amongst many other kinds of life. These organisms could do novel things such as produce shells and fur, turning dead matter into a valuable part of the organism.
After complex multicellular life erupted on this planet, things get, well, complicated. I can point out so-called “superorganisms,” such as bees, where each “individual” is not an individual at all, but rather a cell in a larger organism. each bee is an exact clone of most every other, with only the queen having reproductive power. I would prefer to skip forward to the next convergence which is significant to us.
500 million years after the first complex life formed on this planet, and about 40 years beyond the present time, one species, Homo sapiens (by the way, we aren’t one species, we are composed of many species of bacteria too) will consciously gain a mastery of the matter that composes its bodies and the information that composes its minds, and very, very quickly converge into one being, an intelligence with the power to rearrange matter into any imaginable state. Once more, each individual will lose its identity, perform a specialized function, and become a part of a whole. This is the end to our evolution as we know it: from then on we will be in control of our own code.
I hope you have noticed the exponential nature of this process. With each new convergence, life gets better at converging, and thus each subsequent convergence was met in about half the time of the previous process. The model isn’t perfect, and I’ve rounded off some numbers to fit into the scheme better, but there are many variables in a system as complicated as a planet. The general curve is apparent though, and it is certainly interesting to see where we fit in it.