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Technological singularity

The technology singularity is a speculative time at which technological progress accelerates beyond the ability of current-day human beings to understand.

The concept was first mentioned in the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. It is based on the true fact that projections of speed of travel, human intelligence, social communication, population, and many other trend lines showed logarithmically increasing trend lines up until about 1995. At this point, many of them became linear, or inflected and began to flatten into limited growth curves.

Belief in the singularity was reinforced by Moore's Law in the computer industry. It was introduced as a science fiction theme by Vernor Vinge in 1993, with the essay Singularity (http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~phoenix/vinge/vinge-sing). Since then, it has been the subject of several futurist writings.

Vinge claims that:

"Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly thereafter, the human era will be ended."

Vinge's technological singularity is commonly misunderstood to mean technological progress rising to "infinity." Actually, he refers to the pace of technological change increasing to such a degree that a person who doesn't keep pace with it will rapidly find civilization to have become completely incomprehensible. This was one of the philosophical ideas that inspired the successful movie The Matrix.

It has been speculated that the key to such a rapid increase in technological sophistication will be the development of superhuman intelligence, either by directly enhancing existing human minds (perhaps with cybernetics), or by building artificial intelligences. These superhuman intelligences would presumably be capable of inventing ways to enhance themselves even more, leading to a feedback effect that would quickly surpass preexisting intelligences.

Whether such a process will actually occur is open to strong debate. To date, no artificial intelligence has approached human general ability, and there is no guarantee such a thing is possible. The claim that the rate of technological progress is increasing has also been questioned. The technological singularity is sometimes referred to as the "Rapture of the Nerds" by detractors of the idea.

Prominent theorists and speculators on the subject include:

Vernor Vinge
Hans Moravec[?]
Eliezer Yudkowsky
Ray Kurzweil
Marvin Minsky
Arthur T. Murray
Michael Anissimov[?]
Terence McKenna

See Also: extropy, artilect, Omega point, transhumanism


External links The full text of the Vinge article cited can be found at:

http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~phoenix/vinge/vinge-sing

See Eliezer Yudkowsky's extensive Singularity writings at:

http://www.sysopmind.com/beyond

Singularity Action Group : Working toward a positive Singularity through public education and direct action in the development of Singularity technologies.

http://www.SingularityActionGroup.com

Singularity Discussion Forum:

http://www.bjklein.com/sing/forum

Human Knowledge: Foundations and Limits includes

  • a survey (http://home.attbi.com/~brianholtz/Thoughts/Thoughts#MindAndLimits) of the theoretical and physical limits on minds, and
  • a forecast (http://home.attbi.com/~brianholtz/Thoughts/Thoughts#Singularity) in which the singularity does not happen.

The website of economist Robin Hanson has

  • a discussion (http://hanson.gmu.edu/vi) between Vinge and his critics; and
  • an economic analysis (http://hanson.gmu.edu/fastgrow) of the singularity concept.

Broderick, Damien[?]. The Spike: How Our Lives Are Being Transformed by Rapidly Advancing Technologies Forge; 2001. ISBN 0312877811.



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