A technological singularity
is a hypothetical event occurring when technological progress
becomes so rapid and the growth of super-human intelligence is so great that the future after the singularity becomes qualitatively different and harder to predict.
Many of the most recognized writers on the singularity, such as Vernor Vinge
and Ray Kurzweil
, define the concept in terms of the technological creation of superintelligence
, and argue that it is difficult or impossible for present-day humans to predict what a post-singularity world would be like, due to the difficulty of imagining the intentions and capabilities of superintelligent entities.
The term “technological singularity” was originally coined by Vinge, who made an analogy between the breakdown in our ability to predict what would happen after the development of superintelligence and the breakdown of the predictive ability of modern physics
at the space-time singularity
beyond the event horizon
of a black hole
Some writers use “the singularity” in a broader way to refer to any radical changes in our society brought about by new technologies such as molecular nanotechnology
although Vinge and other prominent writers specifically state that without superintelligence, such changes would not qualify as a true singularity.
Many writers also tie the singularity to observations of exponential growth in various technologies (with Moore’s Law
being the most prominent example), using such observations as a basis for predicting that the singularity is likely to happen sometime within the 21st century.
A technological singularity includes the concept of an intelligence explosion, a term coined in 1965 by I. J. Good
Although technological progress has been accelerating, it has been limited by the basic intelligence of the human brain, which has not, according to Paul R. Ehrlich
, changed significantly for millennia.
However with the increasing power of computers and other technologies, it might eventually be possible to build a machine that is more intelligent than humanity.
If superhuman intelligences were invented, either through the amplification of human intelligence
or artificial intelligence
, it would bring to bear greater problem-solving and inventive skills than humans, then it could design a yet more capable machine, or re-write its source code to become more intelligent. This more capable machine then could design a machine of even greater capability. These iterations could accelerate, leading to recursive self improvement
, potentially allowing enormous qualitative change before any upper limits imposed by the laws of physics or theoretical computation set in.
The notion of the exponential growth in computing technology suggested by Moore’s Law
is commonly cited as a reason to expect a singularity in the relatively near future, and a number of authors have proposed generalizations of Moore’s Law, such as computer scientist and futurist Hans Moravec
who in a 1998 book proposed that the exponential growth curve could be extended back through earlier computing technologies prior to the integrated circuit
. Futurist Ray Kurzweil
postulates a law of accelerating returns
in which the speed of technological change (and more generally, all evolutionary processes
) increases exponentially, generalizing Moore’s Law in the same manner as Moravec’s proposal, and also including material technology (especially as applied to nanotechnology
), medical technology and others.
Like other authors, though, he reserves the term “Singularity” for a rapid increase in intelligence
(as opposed to other technologies), writing for example that “The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains … There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine”.
He also defines his predicted date of the singularity (2045) in terms of when he expects computer-based intelligences to significantly exceed the sum total of human brainpower, writing that advances in computing before that date “will not represent the Singularity” because they do “not yet correspond to a profound expansion of our intelligence.”
History of the idea
In 1847, R. Thornton, the editor of the Primitive Expounder,
wrote (more than half in jest) about the recent invention of a four function mechanical calculator:
…such machines, by which the scholar may, by turning a crank, grind out the solution of a problem without the fatigue of mental application, would by its introduction into schools, do incalculable injury. But who knows that such machines when brought to greater perfection, may not think of a plan to remedy all their own defects and then grind out ideas beyond the ken of mortal mind!
In 1951 Alan Turing spoke of machines outstripping humans intellectually
once the machine thinking method has started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers. … At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control, in the way that is mentioned in Samuel Butler
One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which 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.
In 1965, I. J. Good
first wrote of an “intelligence explosion”, suggesting that if machines could even slightly surpass human intellect, they could improve their own designs in ways unforeseen by their designers, and thus recursively
augment themselves into far greater intelligences. The first such improvements might be small, but as the machine became more intelligent it would become better at becoming more intelligent, which could lead to a cascade of self-improvements and a sudden surge to superintelligence
(or a singularity).
Mathematician and author Vernor Vinge
greatly popularized Good’s notion of an intelligence explosion in a number of writings, first addressing the topic in print in the January 1983 issue of Omni
magazine. In this op-ed piece, Vinge seems to have been the first to use the term “singularity” in a way that was specifically tied to the creation of intelligent machines,
We will soon create intelligences greater than our own. When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity, an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding. This singularity, I believe, already haunts a number of science-fiction writers. It makes realistic extrapolation to an interstellar future impossible. To write a story set more than a century hence, one needs a nuclear war in between … so that the world remains intelligible.
In 1985 Ray Solomonoff
introduced the notion of “infinity point”
in the time scale of artificial intelligence, analyzed the magnitude of the “future shock” that “we can expect from our AI expanded scientific community” and on social effects. Estimates were made “for when these milestones would occur, followed by some suggestions for the more effective utilization of the extremely rapid technological growth that is expected.”
A 1993 article by Vinge, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”,
was widely disseminated on the World Wide Web
and helped to popularize the idea.
This article contains the oft-quoted statement, “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” Vinge refines his estimate of the time scales involved, adding, “I’ll be surprised if this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030.”
Vinge continues by predicting that superhuman intelligences will be able to enhance their own minds faster than the humans that created them. “When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress,” Vinge writes, “that progress will be much more rapid.” This feedback loop
of self-improving intelligence, he predicts, will cause large amounts of technological progress within a short period, and that the creation of superhuman intelligence represented a breakdown in humans’ ability to model their future. His argument was that authors cannot write realistic characters who surpass the human intellect, as the thoughts of such an intellect would be beyond the ability of humans to express. Vinge named this event “the Singularity”. In 1993, Vernor Vinge associated the Singularity more explicitly with I. J. Good’s intelligence explosion, and tried to project the arrival time of artificial intelligence
(AI) using Moore’s law
, which thereafter came to be associated with the “Singularity” concept.
Vinge also popularized the concept in SF novels such as Marooned in Realtime
(1986) and A Fire Upon the Deep
(1992). The former is set in a world of rapidly accelerating change
leading to the emergence of more and more sophisticated technologies separated by shorter and shorter time intervals, until a point beyond human comprehension is reached. The latter starts with an imaginative description of the evolution of a superintelligence
passing through exponentially accelerating developmental stages ending in a transcendent
, almost omnipotent
power unfathomable by mere humans.
In his 1988 book Mind Children
, computer scientist and futurist Hans Moravec
generalizes Moore’s law
to make predictions about the future of artificial life. Moravec outlines a timeline and a scenario in this regard,
in that the robots will evolve into a new series of artificial species, starting around 2030-2040.
In Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind
, published in 1998, Moravec further considers the implications of evolving robot intelligence
, generalizing Moore’s law
to technologies predating the integrated circuit
, and speculating about a coming “mind fire” of rapidly expanding superintelligence
, similar to Vinge’s ideas.
, taking “singularity” to refer to sharp increases in the exponent of economic growth, lists the agricultural
and industrial revolutions
as past “singularities”. Extrapolating from such past events, Hanson proposes that the next economic singularity should increase economic growth
between 60 and 250 times. An innovation that allowed for the replacement of virtually all human labor could trigger this event.
that many of the different definitions that have been assigned to singularity
are mutually incompatible rather than mutually supporting. For example, Kurzweil extrapolates current technological trajectories past
the arrival of self-improving AI or superhuman intelligence, which Yudkowsky argues represents a tension with both I. J. Good’s proposed discontinuous upswing in intelligence and Vinge’s thesis on unpredictability.
In 2005, Ray Kurzweil
published The Singularity is Near
, which brought the idea of the singularity to the popular media both through the book’s accessibility and a publicity campaign that included an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
The book stirred intense controversy, in part because Kurzweil’s utopian predictions contrasted starkly with other, darker visions of the possibilities of the singularity. Kurzweil, his theories, and the controversies surrounding it were the subject of Barry Ptolemy
‘s documentary Transcendent Man
In 2009, Kurzweil and X-Prize
founder Peter Diamandis
announced the establishment of Singularity University
, whose stated mission is “to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies in order to address humanity’s grand challenges.”
Funded by Google
, ePlanet Ventures
, and a group of technology industry leaders, Singularity University is based at NASA
‘s Ames Research Center
in Mountain View
. The not-for-profit organization runs an annual ten-week graduate program during the summer that covers ten different technology and allied tracks, and a series of executive programs throughout the year. Program faculty include experts in technology, finance, and future studies, and a number of videos of Singularity University sessions have been posted online.
Some prominent technologists such as Bill Joy
, founder of Sun Microsystems
, have voiced concern over the potential dangers of the Singularity.
The notion of an “intelligence explosion” is key to the singularity. It was first described thus by Good (1965)
, who speculated on the effects of superhuman machines:
||Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.
Despite the numerous speculated means for amplifying human intelligence, non-human artificial intelligence (specifically seed AI
) is the most popular option for organizations trying to advance the singularity. Hanson (1998)
is also skeptical of human intelligence augmentation, writing that once one has exhausted the “low-hanging fruit” of easy methods for increasing human intelligence, further improvements will become increasingly difficult to find.
Whether or not an intelligence explosion occurs depends on three factors.
The first, accelerating factor, is the new intelligence enhancements made possible by each previous improvement. Contrawise, as the intelligences become more advanced, further advances will become more and more complicated, possibly overcoming the advantage of increased intelligence. Each improvement must be able to beget at least one more improvement, on average, for the singularity to continue. Finally, there is the issue of a hard upper limit. AbsentQuantum Computing
, eventually the laws of physics will prevent any further improvements.
There are two logically independent, but mutually reinforcing, accelerating effects: increases in the speed of computation, and improvements to the algorithms used.
The former is predicted by Moore’s Law
and the forecast improvements in hardware,
and is comparatively similar to previous technological advance. On the other hand, most AI researchers believe that software is more important than hardware. There is little reason to expect evolution to have optimised human brains for intelligence,
suggesting there are low-hanging fruit on the software side.
The first is the improvements to the speed at which minds can be run. Whether human or AI, better hardware increases the rate of future hardware improvements. Simplistically, Moore’s Law
suggests that if the first doubling of speed took 18 months, the second would take 18 subjective months; or 9 external months, whereafter, four months, two months, and so on towards a speed singularity.
An upper limit on speed may eventually be reached, though it is unclear how high this would be. Hawkins (2008)
, responding to Good, argued that the upper limit is relatively low;
||Belief in this idea is based on a naive understanding of what intelligence is. As an analogy, imagine we had a computer that could design new computers (chips, systems, and software) faster than itself. Would such a computer lead to infinitely fast computers or even computers that were faster than anything humans could ever build? No. It might accelerate the rate of improvements for a while, but in the end there are limits to how big and fast computers can run. We would end up in the same place; we’d just get there a bit faster. There would be no singularity.
Whereas if it were a lot higher than current human levels of intelligence, the effects of the singularity would be enormous enough as to be indistinguishable (to humans) from a singularity with an upper limit. For example, if the speed of thought could be increased a million-fold, a subjective year would pass in 30 physical seconds.
It is difficult to directly compare silicon
-based hardware with neurons
. But Berglas (2008)
notes that computer speech recognition
is approaching human capabilities, and that this capability seems to require 0.01% of the volume of the brain. This analogy suggests that modern computer hardware is within a few orders of magnitude of being as powerful as the human brain.
Some intelligence technologies, like seed AI, also have the potential to make themselves more intelligent, not just faster, by modifying their source code. These improvements would make further improvements possible, which would make further improvements possible, and so on.
This mechanism for an intelligence explosion differs from an increase in speed in two ways. Firstly, it does not require external effect: machines designing faster hardware still require humans to create the improved hardware, or to program factories appropriately. An AI which was re-writing its own source code, however, could do so while contained in an AI box
Secondly, as with Vernor Vinge’s conception of the singularity, it is much harder to predict the outcome. While speed increases seem to be only a quantitative difference from human intelligence, actual improvements in intelligence would be qualitatively different. Eliezer Yudkowsky
compares it to the changes that human intelligence brought: humans changed the world thousands of times more rapidly than evolution had done so, and in totally different ways. Similarly, the evolution of life had been a massive departure and acceleration from the previous geological rates of change, and improved intelligence could cause change to be as different again.
There are substantial dangers associated with an intelligence explosion singularity. Firstly, the goal structure of the AI may not be invariant under self-improvement, potentially causing the AI to optimise something other than was intended.
Secondly, AIs could have other uses for the scarce resources mankind uses to survive.
While not actively malicious, there is no reason to think that AIs would actively promote human goals unless they could be programmed as such, and if not, might use the resources currently used to support mankind to promote its own goals, causing human extinction.
Dramatic changes in the rate of economic growth have occurred in the past because of some technological advancement. Based on population growth, the economy doubled every 250,000 years from the Paleolithic
era until the Neolithic Revolution
. This new agricultural economy began to double every 900 years, a remarkable increase. In the current era, beginning with the Industrial Revolution
, the world’s economic output doubles every fifteen years, sixty times faster than during the agricultural era. If the rise of superhuman intelligences causes a similar revolution, argues Robin Hanson
, one would expect the economy to double at least quarterly and possibly on a weekly basis.
“The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.”
Superhuman intelligences may have goals inconsistent with human survival and prosperity. Berglas (2008)
notes that there is no direct evolutionary motivation for an AI to be friendly to humans. In the same way that evolution has no inherent tendency to produce outcomes valued by humans, so too there is little reason to expect an arbitrary optimisation process to promote an outcome desired by mankind, rather than inadvertently leading to an AI behaving in a way not intended by its creators (such as Nick Bostrom
‘s whimsical example of an AI which was originally programmed with the goal of manufacturing paper clips, such that when it achieves superintelligence it decides to convert the entire planet into a paper clip manufacturing facility; Anders Sandberg
has also elaborated on this scenario, addressing various common counter-arguments.
) AI researcher Hugo de Garis
suggests that artificial intelligences may simply eliminate the human race for access to scarce resources,
and humans would be powerless to stop them.
When we create the first superintelligent entity, we might make a mistake and give it goals that lead it to annihilate humankind, assuming its enormous intellectual advantage gives it the power to do so. For example, we could mistakenly elevate a subgoal to the status of a supergoal. We tell it to solve a mathematical problem, and it complies by turning all the matter in the solar system into a giant calculating device, in the process killing the person who asked the question.
Alternatively, AIs developed under evolutionary pressure to promote their own survival could out-compete humanity.
One approach to prevent a negative singularity is an AI box
, whereby the artificial intelligence is kept constrained inside a simulated world and not allowed to affect the external world. Such a box would have extremely proscribed inputs and outputs; maybe only a plaintext channel. However, a sufficient intelligent AI may simply be able to escape from any box we can create. For example, it might crack the protein folding problem and use nanotechnology to escape, or simply persuade its human ‘keepers’ to let it out.
A significant problem, however, is that unfriendly artificial intelligence is likely to be much easier to create than FAI: while both require large advances in recursive optimisation process design, friendly AI also requires the ability to make goal structures invariant under self-improvement (or the AI will transform itself into something unfriendly) and a goal structure that aligns with human values and doesn’t automatically destroy the human race. An unfriendly AI, on the other hand, can optimize for an arbitrary goal structure, which doesn’t need to be invariant under self-modification.
Implications for human society
In 2009, leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers, and roboticists met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds near Monterey Bay
in California. The goal was to discuss the potential impact of the hypothetical possibility that robots could become self-sufficient and able to make their own decisions. They discussed the extent to which computers and robots might be able to acquire autonomy, and to what degree they could use such abilities to pose threats or hazards. Some machines have acquired various forms of semi-autonomy, including the ability to locate their own power sources and choose targets to attack with weapons. Also, some computer viruses
can evade elimination and have achieved “cockroach intelligence.” The conference attendees noted that self-awareness as depicted in science-fiction is probably unlikely, but that other potential hazards and pitfalls exist.
Some experts and academics have questioned the use of robots for military combat, especially when such robots are given some degree of autonomous functions.
A United States Navy
report indicates that, as military robots become more complex, there should be greater attention to implications of their ability to make autonomous decisions.
consider nanotechnology to be one of the greatest dangers facing humanity. For this reason, they often believe that seed AI
(an AI capable of making itself smarter) should precede nanotechnology. Others, such as the Foresight Institute
, advocate the creation of molecular nanotechnology, which they claim can be made safe for pre-singularity use or expedite the arrival of a beneficial singularity
Some support the design of “friendly artificial intelligence
“, meaning that the advances which are already occurring with AI should also include an effort to make AI intrinsically friendly and humane.
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with either the First or Second Law.
Additional laws included in some stories were described as follows:
- Zeroth Law: A robot may not harm humanity, or through inaction allow humanity to come to harm.
- Minus-One Law: A robot may not harm sentience, or through inaction allow sentience to come to harm.
- Fourth Law: A robot must establish its identity as a robot in all cases.
- Alternate Fourth Law: A robot must reproduce, unless such reproduction would interfere with the First or Second or Third Law.
- Fifth Law: A robot must know it is a robot.
The laws are intended to prevent artificially intelligent robots from harming humans. In Asimov’s stories, any perceived problems with the laws tend to arise as a result of a misunderstanding on the part of some human operator; the robots themselves are merely acting to their best interpretation of their rules. In the 2004
film I, Robot
, loosely based onAsimov’s Robot stories
, an AI attempts to take complete control over humanity for the purpose of protecting humanity from itself due to an extrapolation of the Three Laws
. In 2004, the Singularity Institute launched an Internet campaign called 3 Laws Unsafe
to raise awareness of AI safety issues and the inadequacy of Asimov’s laws in particular. (Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence 2004
Some singularity proponents argue its inevitability through extrapolation of past trends, especially those pertaining to shortening gaps between improvements to technology. In one of the first uses of the term “singularity” in the context of technological progress, Stanislaw Ulam (1958)
tells of a conversation with John von Neumann
about accelerating change:
One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which 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.
writes that “mindsteps”, dramatic and irreversible changes to paradigms or world views, are accelerating in frequency as quantified in his mindstep equation. He cites the inventions of writing, mathematics, and the computer as examples of such changes.
‘s analysis of history concludes that technological progress follows a pattern of exponential growth
, following what he calls The Law of Accelerating Returns
. He generalizes Moore’s law, which describes geometric growth in integrated semiconductor complexity, to include technologies from far before the integrated circuit.
Whenever technology approaches a barrier, Kurzweil writes, new technologies will cross it. He predicts paradigm shifts
will become increasingly common, leading to “technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history”.(Kurzweil 2001
) Kurzweil believes that the singularity will occur before the end of the 21st century, setting the date at 2045
). His predictions differ from Vinge’s in that he predicts a gradual ascent to the singularity, rather than Vinge’s rapidly self-improving superhuman intelligence.
This leads to the conclusion that an artificial intelligence that is capable of improving on its own design is also faced with a singularity.
Self-augmentation or bootstrapping of intelligence is featured by Dan Simmons
in his novel Hyperion
, where a collection of artificial intelligences debate whether or not to make themselves obsolete by creating a new generation of “ultimate” intelligence.
Presumably, a technological singularity would lead to rapid development of a Kardashev Type I civilization
, where a Kardashev Type I civilization is one that has achieved mastery of the resources of its home planet, Type II of its planetary system
, and Type III of its galaxy
“(…) There is not the slightest reason to believe in a coming singularity. The fact that you can visualize a future in your imagination is not evidence that it is likely or even possible. Look at domed cities, jet-pack commuting, underwater cities, mile-high buildings, and nuclear-powered automobiles — all staples of futuristic fantasies when I was a child that have never arrived. Sheer processing power is not a pixie dust that magically solves all your problems. (…)”
Some critics assert that no computer or machine will ever achieve human intelligence, while others hold that the definition of intelligence is irrelevant if the net result is the same.
Martin Ford in The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future 
postulates a “technology paradox” in that before the Singularity could occur, most routine jobs in the economy would be automated since this would require a level of technology inferior to that of the Singularity. This would cause massive unemployment and plummeting consumer demand—which in turn would destroy the incentive to invest in the technologies that would be required to bring on the Singularity.
Criticism of the accelerating returns argument
and Jonathan Huebner
argue that the rate of technological innovation has not only ceased to rise, but is actually now declining (John Smart
, however, criticizes Huebner’s analysis.
) Some evidence for this decline is that the rise in computer clock speeds
is slowing, even while Moore’s prediction of exponentially increasing circuit density continues to hold. This is due to excessive heat build-up from the chip, which cannot be dissipated quickly enough to prevent the chip from melting when operating at higher speeds. Advancements in speed may be possible in the future by virtue of more power-efficient CPU designs and multi-cell processors.
While Kurzweil used Modis’ resources, and Modis’ work was around accelerating change, Modis’ distanced himself from Kurzweil’s thesis of there being a “technological singularity”, claiming that it lacks scientific rigor
In The Progress of Computing
, William Nordhaus
argued that, prior to 1940, computers followed the much slower growth of a traditional industrial economy, thus rejecting extrapolations of Moore’s law to 19th-century computers. Schmidhuber (2006)
suggests differences in memory of recent and distant events create an illusion of accelerating change, and that such phenomena may be responsible for past apocalyptic predictions.
Andrew Kennedy, in his 2006 paper for the British Interplanetary Society
discussing change and the growth in space travel velocities
stated that although long-term overall growth is inevitable, it is small, embodying both ups and downs, and noted, “New technologies follow known laws of power use and information spread and are obliged to connect with what already exists. Remarkable theoretical discoveries, if they end up being used at all, play their part in maintaining the growth rate: they do not make its plotted curve… redundant.” He stated that exponential growth is no predictor in itself, and illustrated this with examples such as quantum theory
. The quantum was conceived in 1900, and quantum theory was in existence and accepted approximately 25 years later. However, it took over 40 years for Richard Feynman
and others to produce meaningful numbers from the theory. Bethe
understood nuclear fusion in 1935, but 75 years later fusion reactors are still only used in experimental settings. Similarly, entanglement
was understood in 1935 but not at the point of being used in practice until the 21st century.
A study of patents per thousand persons shows that human creativity does not show accelerating returns, but in fact—as suggested by Joseph Tainter
in his seminal The Collapse of Complex Societies
—a law of diminishing returns. The number of patents per thousand peaked in the period from 1850–1900, and has been declining since.
The growth of complexity eventually becomes self-limiting, and leads to a wide spread “general systems collapse”. Thomas Homer Dixon
in The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
maintains that the declining energy returns on investment has led to the collapse of civilizations.
In addition to general criticisms of the singularity concept, several critics have raised issues with Kurzweil’s iconic chart. One line of criticism is that a log-log chart of this nature is inherently biased toward a straight-line result. Others identify selection bias in the points that Kurzweil chooses to use. For example, biologist PZ Myers
points out that many of the early evolutionary “events” were picked arbitrarily.
Kurzweil has rebutted this by charting evolutionary events from 15 neutral sources, and showing that they fit a straight line on a log-log chart
mocked the concept with a graph extrapolating that the number of blades on a razor, which has increased over the years from one to as many as five, will increase ever-faster to infinity.
In popular culture
James P. Hogan
‘s 1979 novel The Two Faces of Tomorrow
is an explicit description of what is now called the Singularity. An artificial intelligence system solves an excavation problem on the moon in a brilliant and novel way, but nearly kills a work crew in the process. Realizing that systems are becoming too sophisticated and complex to predict or manage, a scientific team sets out to teach a sophisticated computer network how to think more humanly. The story documents the rise of self-awareness in the computer system, the humans’ loss of control and failed attempts to shut down the experiment as the computer desperately defends itself, and the computer intelligence reaching maturity.
While discussing the singularity’s growing recognition, Vernor Vinge (1993)
writes that “it was the science-fiction writers who felt the first concrete impact.” In addition to his own short story “Bookworm, Run!”, whose protagonist is a chimpanzee with intelligence augmented by a government experiment, he cites Greg Bear
‘s novel Blood Music
(1983) as an example of the singularity in fiction. Vinge described surviving the singularity in his 1986 novel Marooned in Realtime
. Vinge later expanded the notion of the singularity to a galactic scale in A Fire Upon the Deep
(1992), a novel populated by transcendent beings, each the product of a different race and possessed of distinct agendas and overwhelming power.
In William Gibson
‘s 1984 novel Neuromancer
, artificial intelligences capable of improving their own programs are strictly regulated by special “Turing police” to ensure they never exceed a certain level of intelligence, and the plot centers on the efforts of one such AI to circumvent their control. The 1994 novel The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect
features an AI that augments itself so quickly as to gain low-level control of all matter in the universe in a matter of hours.
William Thomas Quick
‘s novels Dreams of Flesh and Sand
(1988), Dreams of Gods and Men
(1989), and Singularities
(1990) present an account of the transition through the singularity; in the latter novel, one of the characters states that mankind’s survival requires it to integrate with the emerging machine intelligences, or it will be crushed under the dominance of the machines – the greatest risk to the survival of a species reaching this point (and alluding to large numbers of other species that either survived or failed this test, although no actual contact with alien species occurs in the novels).
The singularity is sometimes addressed in fictional works to explain the event’s absence. Neal Asher
series features a future where humans living in the Polity are governed by AIs and while some are resentful, most believe that they are far better governors than any human. In the fourth novel, Polity Agent
, it is mentioned that the singularity is far overdue yet most AIs have decided not to partake in it for reasons that only they know. A flashback character in Ken MacLeod
‘s 1998 novel The Cassini Division
dismissively refers to the singularity as “the Rapture
for nerds”, though the singularity goes on to happen anyway.
expressed ideas similar to a post-Kurzweilian singularity in his short story The Last Question
. Asimov’s future envisions a reality where a combination of strong artificial intelligence
consume the cosmos, during a time Kurzweil describes as when “the universe wakes up”, the last of his six stages of cosmic evolution as described in The Singularity is Near
. Post-human entities throughout various time periods of the story inquire of the artificial intelligence within the story as to how entropy death
will be avoided. The AI responds that it lacks sufficient information to come to a conclusion, until the end of the story when the AI does indeed arrive at a solution. Notably, it does so in order to fulfill its duty
to answer the humans’ question.
St. Edward’s University
chemist Eamonn Healy
discusses accelerating change in the film Waking Life
. He divides history into increasingly shorter periods, estimating “two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, a hundred-thousand years for mankind as we know it”. He proceeds to human cultural evolution, giving time scales of ten thousand years for agriculture, four hundred years for the scientific revolution, and one hundred fifty years for the industrial revolution. Information is emphasized as providing the basis for the new evolutionary paradigm, with artificial intelligence its culmination. He concludes we will eventually create “neohumans” which will usurp humanity’s present role in scientific and technological progress and allow the exponential trend of accelerating change to continue past the limits of human ability.
Accelerating progress features in some science fiction works, and is a central theme in Charles Stross
. Other notable authors that address singularity-related issues include Karl Schroeder
, Greg Egan
, Ken MacLeod
, Rudy Rucker
, David Brin
, Iain M. Banks
, Neal Stephenson
, Tony Ballantyne
, Bruce Sterling
, Dan Simmons
, Damien Broderick
, Jacek Dukaj
, Stanislav Lem
, Nagaru Tanigawa
, Douglas Adams
and Ian McDonald
The feature-length documentary film Transcendent Man
is based on Ray Kurzweil and his book The Singularity Is Near
. The film documents Kurzweil’s quest to reveal what he believes to be mankind’s destiny. Another documentary, Plug & Pray
, focuses on the promise, problems and ethics of artificial intelligence and robotics, with Joseph Weizenbaum
and Raymond Kurzweil
as the main subjects of the film.
In 2009, scientists at Aberystwyth University in Wales and the U.K’s University of Cambridge designed a robot called Adam that they believe to be the first machine to independently discover new scientific findings.
Also in 2009, researchers at Cornell
developed a computer program that extrapolated the laws of motion from a pendulum’s swings.
The web comic Dresden Codak
deals with trans-humanistic themes and the singularity.
The plot of an episode of the TV program The Big Bang Theory
(season 4, episode 2, “The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification”) revolves around the anticipated date of the coming Singularity.
- ^ a b c Vinge, Vernor. “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”
- ^ Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, pp. 135-136. Penguin Group, 2005.
- ^ a b c d http://singinst.org/overview/whatisthesingularity
- ^ http://www.hplusmagazine.com/articles/nano/singularity-nanotech-or-ai
- ^ a b c Yudkowsky, Eliezer. The Singularity: Three Major Schools
- ^ Sandberg, Anders. An overview of models of technological singularity
- ^ a b http://www.kurzweilai.net/max-more-and-ray-kurzweil-on-the-singularity-2
- ^ Good, I. J. “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine”, Advances in Computers, vol. 6, 1965.
- ^ Ehrlich, Paul. The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment
- ^ Superbrains born of silicon will change everything.
- ^ Good, I. J., “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine”, Franz L. Alt and Morris Rubinoff, ed., Advances in Computers (Academic Press) 6: 31–88, 1965.
- ^ The Human Importance of the Intelligence Explosion
- ^ Good, I. J. 1965 Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine. Pp 31-88 in Advances in Computers, 6, F. L. Alt and M Rubinoff, eds. New York: Academic Press.
- ^ Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Viking, 1999, p. 30 and p. 32
- ^ Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, Penguin Group, 2005
- ^ Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, p. 9. Penguin Group, 2005
- ^ Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, pp. 135-136. Penguin Group, 2005. The context for this statement is as follows: “we will be producing about 1026 to 1029 cps of nonbiological computation per year in the early 2030s. This is roughly equal to our estimate for the capacity of all living biological human intelligence … This state of computation in the early 2030s will not represent the Singularity, however, because it does not yet correspond to a profound expansion of our intelligence. By the mid-2040s, however, that one thousand dollars’ worth of computation will be equal to 1026 cps, so the intelligence created per year (at a total cost of about $1012) will be about one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today. That will indeed represent a profound change, and it is for that reason that I set the date for the Singularity—representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability—as 2045.”
- ^ a b c d Yudkowsky, Eliezer (2008), Bostrom, Nick; Cirkovic, Milan, eds., “Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk”, Global Catastrophic Risks (Oxford University Press), Bibcode 2008gcr..book..303Y, ISBN 978-0-19-857050-9
- ^ The Uncertain Future; a future technology and world-modeling project
- ^ GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISKS SURVEY (2008) Technical Report 2008/1 Published by Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University. Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom
- ^ Existential Risks; Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards, Nick Bostrom
- ^ a b http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/tech-luminaries-address-singularity
- ^ http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/whos-who-in-the-singularity
- ^ Thornton, Richard (1847), The Expounder of Primitive Christianity, 4, Ann Arbor, Michigan, p. 281
- ^ A M Turing, Intelligent Machinery, A Heretical Theory, 1951, reprinted Philosophia Mathematica (1996) 4(3): 256-260 doi:10.1093/philmat/4.3.256 
- ^ Ulam, S., Tribute to John von Neumann, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, vol 64, nr 3, part 2, May, 1958, p1-49.
- ^ Dooling, Richard. Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ (2008), p. 88
- ^ Vinge did not actually use the phrase “technological singularity” in the Omni op-ed, but he did use this phrase in the short story collection Threats and Other Promises from 1988, writing in the introduction to his story “The Whirligig of Time” (p. 72): Barring a worldwide catastrophe, I believe that technology will achieve our wildest dreams, and soon. When we raise our own intelligence and that of our creations, we are no longer in a world of human-sized characters. At that point we have fallen into a technological “black hole,” a technological singularity.
- ^ Solomonoff, R.J. “The Time Scale of Artificial Intelligence: Reflections on Social Effects,” Human Systems Management, Vol 5, pp. 149-153, 1985,http://world.std.com/~rjs/timesc.pdf.
- ^ Dooling, Richard. Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ (2008), p. 89
- ^ Moravec, Hans (1998). “When will computer hardware match the human brain?”.Journal of Evolution and Technology 1. Retrieved 2006-06-23.
- ^ Moravec, Hans (June 1993). “The Age of Robots”. Retrieved 2006-06-23.
- ^ Moravec, Hans (April 2004). “Robot Predictions Evolution”. Retrieved 2006-06-23.
- ^ de Grey, Aubrey. The singularity and the Methuselarity: similarities and differences
- ^ a b Robin Hanson, “Economics Of The Singularity”, IEEE Spectrum Special Report: The Singularity, retrieved 2008-09-11
- ^ Episode dated 23 August 2006 at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ About Singularity University at its official website
- ^ Joy, Bill (April 2000), “Why the future doesn’t need us”, Wired Magazine (Viking Adult) (8.04), ISBN 0670032492, retrieved 2007-08-07
- ^  David Chalmers John Locke Lecture, 10 May, Exam Schools, Oxford, presenting a philosophical analysis of the possibility of a technological singularity or “intelligence explosion” resulting from recursively self-improving AI.
- ^ a b The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis, David J. Chalmers
- ^ http://www.itrs.net/Links/2007ITRS/ExecSum2007.pdf
- ^ a b c http://singinst.org/riskintro/index.html
- ^ Eliezer Yudkowsky, 1996 “Staring at the Singularity
- ^ http://yudkowsky.net/singularity/power
- ^ Omohundro, Stephen M., “The Basic AI Drives.” Artificial General Intelligence, 2008 proceedings of the First AGI Conference, eds. Pei Wang, Ben Goertzel, and Stan Franklin. Vol. 171. Amsterdam: IOS, 2008
- ^ http://www.kurzweilai.net/artificial-general-intelligence-now-is-the-time
- ^ a b Omohundro, Stephen M., “The Nature of Self-Improving Artificial Intelligence.” Self-Aware Systems. 21 Jan. 2008. Web. 07 Jan. 2010.
- ^ Bostrom, Nick, The Future of Human Evolution, Death and Anti-Death: Two Hundred Years After Kant, Fifty Years After Turing, ed. Charles Tandy, p. 339–371, 2004, Ria University Press.
- ^ Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence, Nick Bostrom, in Cognitive, Emotive and Ethical Aspects of Decision Making in Humans and in Artificial Intelligence, Vol. 2, ed. I. Smit et al., Int. Institute of Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, 2003, pp. 12-17
- ^ http://singinst.org/upload/artificial-intelligence-risk.pdf
- ^ The Stamp Collecting Device, Nick Hay
- ^ ‘Why we should fear the Paperclipper’, 2011-02-14 entry of Sandberg’s blog ‘Andart’
- ^ Omohundro, Stephen M., “The Basic AI Drives.” Artificial General Intelligence, 2008 proceedings of the First AGI Conference, eds. Pei Wang, Ben Goertzel, and Stan Franklin. Vol. 171. Amsterdam: IOS, 2008.
- ^ de Garis, Hugo. “The Coming Artilect War”, Forbes.com, 22 June 2009.
- ^ Nick, The Future of Human Evolution, Death and Anti-Death: Two Hundred Years After Kant, Fifty Years After Turing, ed. Charles Tandy, p. 339–371, 2004, Ria University Press.
- ^ Artificial Intelligence Will Kill Our Grandchildren (Singularity), Dr Anthony Berglas
- ^ The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis David J. Chalmers
- ^ Coherent Extrapolated Volition, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, May 2004
- ^ Scientists Worry Machines May Outsmart Man By JOHN MARKOFF, NY Times, July 26, 2009.
- ^ Call for debate on killer robots, By Jason Palmer, Science and technology reporter, BBC News, 8/3/09.
- ^ Mick, Jason. New Navy-funded Report Warns of War Robots Going “Terminator”, Blog, dailytech.com, February 17, 2009.
- ^ Flatley, Joseph L. Navy report warns of robot uprising, suggests a strong moral compass, engadget.com, 18 February 2009.
- ^ AAAI Presidential Panel on Long-Term AI Futures 2008-2009 Study, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Accessed 7/26/09.
- ^ Article at Asimovlaws.com, July 2004, accessed 7/27/2009.
- ^ Zubrin, Robert. 1999, Entering Space – Creating a Spacefaring Civilization
- ^ Dreyfus & Dreyfus 2000, p. xiv:
“(…) The truth is that human intelligence can never be replaced with machine intelligence simply because we are not ourselves “thinking machines” in the sense in which that term is commonly understood.Hawking (1998)
Some people say that computers can never show true intelligence whatever that may be. But it seems to me that if very complicated chemical molecules can operate in humans to make them intelligent then equally complicated electronic circuits can also make computers act in an intelligent way. And if they are intelligent they can presumably design computers that have even greater complexity and intelligence.
- ^ Ford, Martin, The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, Acculant Publishing, 2009, ISBN 978-1448659814
- ^ Theodore Modis, Forecasting the Growth of Complexity and Change, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 69, No 4, 2002
- ^ a b Modis, Theodore. The Singularity Myth. 
- ^ Huebner, Jonathan (2005) A Possible Declining Trend for Worldwide Innovation,Technological Forecasting & Social Change, October 2005, pp. 980-6
- ^ Smart, John (September 2005), On Huebner Innovation, Acceleration Studies Foundation, http://accelerating.org/articles/huebnerinnovation.html, retrieved on 2007-08-07
- ^ Krazit, Tom. Intel pledges 80 cores in five years, CNET News, 26 September 2006.
- ^ See, e.g., Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D. Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Compact Macromodels of the World System Growth. Moscow: URSS Publishers, 2006; Korotayev A. V. A Compact Macromodel of World System Evolution // Journal of World-Systems Research 11/1 (2005): 79–93.
- ^ Interstellar Travel: The Wait Calculation and the Incentive Trap of Progress, JBIS Vol 59, N.7 July 2006
- ^ Tainter, Joseph (1988) “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (Cambridge University Press)
- ^ Myers, PZ, Singularly Silly Singularity, retrieved 2009-04-13
- ^ Anonymous (18 March 2006), “More blades good”, The Economist (London) 378(8469): 85
- ^ Plug & Pray Documentary film (2010) about the promise, problems and ethics of artificial intelligence and robotics
- ^ Robo-scientist makes gene discovery-on its own | Crave – CNET
- ^ Computer Program Self-Discovers Laws of Physics | Wired Science | Wired.com
- ^ Cornell Chronicle: Computer derives natural laws
- ^ Michael Anissimov. “Interview with Dr. Steel”. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Retrieved 2009-08-29.
- ^ Dr. Steel (Spring 2005). “Multi-Media Symbiosis and the Evolution of Electronic Life”. Paranoia: The Conspiracy Reader, Issue 38 (back issue). Retrieved 2010-04-16.
- ^ Dr. Steel (Spring 2005). “Multi-Media Symbiosis and the Evolution of Electronic Life”.World Domination Toys (clipping from Paranoia: The Conspiracy Reader). Retrieved 2010-04-16.
- Acceleration Studies Foundation (2007), ASF: About the Foundation, retrieved 2007-11-13
- Anonymous (18 March 2006), “More blades good”, The Economist (London) 378 (8469): 85
- Bell, James John (2002), Technotopia and the Death of Nature: Clones, Supercomputers, and Robots, Earth Island Journal, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Bell, James John (1 May 2003), “Exploring The “Singularity”", The Futurist (World Future Society (mindfully.org)), retrieved 2007-08-07
- Berglas, Anthony (2008), Artificial Intelligence will Kill our Grandchildren, retrieved 2008-06-13
- Broderick, Damien (2001), The Spike: How Our Lives Are Being Transformed by Rapidly Advancing Technologies, New York: Forge, ISBN 0312877811, ISBN 0-312-87781-1
- Bostrom, Nick (2002), “Existential Risks”, Journal of Evolution and Technology 9, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Bostrom, Nick (2003), “Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence”, Cognitive, Emotive and Ethical Aspects of Decision Making in Humans and in Artificial Intelligence 2: 12–17, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Dreyfus, Hubert L.; Dreyfus, Stuart E. (1 March 2000), Mind over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer (1 ed.), New York: Free Press,ISBN 0743205510
- Ford, Martin (2009), The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, CreateSpace, ISBN 978-1448659814.
- Good, I. J. (1965), Franz L. Alt and Morris Rubinoff, ed., “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine”, Advances in Computers (Academic Press) 6: 31–88, archived from the original on 2001-05-27, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Hanson, Robin (1998), Some Skepticism, Robin Hanson, retrieved 2009-06-19[dead link]
- Hanson, Robin (June 2008), “Economics of the Singularity”, IEEE Spectrum
- Hawking, Stephen (1998), Science in the Next Millennium: Remarks by Stephen Hawking, retrieved 2007-11-13
- Hawkins, Gerald S. (August 1983), Mindsteps to the Cosmos, HarperCollins,ISBN 0060151560
- Heylighen, Francis (2007), “Accelerating Socio-Technological Evolution: from ephemeralization and stigmergy to the global brain”, in Modelski, G.; Devezas, T.; Thompson, W., Globalization as an Evolutionary Process: Modeling Global Change, London: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-77361-4
- Johansen, Anders; Sornette, Didier (25 January 2001), “Finite-time singularity in the dynamics of the world population, economic and financial indices” (PDF), Physica A 294: 465–502,doi:10.1016/S0378-4371(01)00105-4, retrieved 2007-10-30
- Joy, Bill (April 2000), “Why the future doesn’t need us”, Wired Magazine (Viking Adult) (8.04),ISBN 0670032492, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Kurzweil, Raymond (2001), The Law of Accelerating Returns, Lifeboat Foundation, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Kurzweil, Raymond (2005), The Singularity Is Near, New York: Viking, ISBN 0-670-03384-7
- Moravec, Hans (January 1992), “Pigs in Cyberspace”, On the Cosmology and Ecology of Cyberspace, retrieved 2007-11-21
- Schmidhuber, Jürgen (29 June 2006). “New Millennium AI and the Convergence of History”.arXiv:cs/0606081.
- Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (2002), Why Artificial Intelligence? ArchivedOctober 4, 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
- Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (2004), 3 Laws Unsafe, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (2007), What is the Singularity?, retrieved 2008-01-04
- Smart, John (September 2005), On Huebner Innovation, Acceleration Studies Foundation, retrieved 2007-08-07
- Ulam, Stanislaw (May 1958), “Tribute to John von Neumann”, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 64 (nr 3, part 2): 1–49
- Vinge, Vernor (30–31 March 1993), “The Coming Technological Singularity”, Vision-21: Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering in the Era of CyberSpace, proceedings of a Symposium held at NASA Lewis Research Center (NASA Conference Publication CP-10129), retrieved 2007-08-07. See also this HTML version, retrieved on 2009-03-29.
- Warwick, Kevin (2004), March of The Machines, University of Illinois Press, ISBN 978-0252072239
This audio file was created from a revision of Technological singularitydated 2010-04-03, and does not reflect subsequent edits to the article. (Audio help
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