The Singularity

If you start scratching the surface of posthumanism as a paradigm, you’re bound to run into one of its most popular contexts: the Singularity.

“The Singularity” is what people like Ray Kurzweil like to call the point at which we– as intelligent beings– evolve beyond our current physical and intellectual capacity and become something “superhuman”. A number of transhumanists predict that the Singularity will happen within the next thirty years or so.

“The Singularity” is a phrase borrowed from the astrophysics of black holes. The phrase has varied meanings; as used by Vernor Vinge and Raymond Kurzweil, it refers to the idea that accelerating technology will lead to superhuman machine intelligence that will soon exceed human intelligence, probably by the year 2030. The results on the other side of the “event horizon,” they say, are unpredictable. We’ll try anyway.

KurzweilAI.net

SF Author Vernor Vinge first proposes the notion of the Singularity in his 1993 essay “The Technological Singularity“. Fourteen years later, Vinge published an article that explores scenarios in which the Singularity doesn’t happen– the article I ran across today.

It’s 2045 and nerds in old-folks homes are wandering around, scratching their heads, and asking plaintively, “But … but, where’s the Singularity?” Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge–who originated the concept of the technological Singularity–doesn’t think that will happen, but he explores three alternate scenarios, along with our “best hope for long-term survival”–self-sufficient, off-Earth settlements.

Definitely worth the read. Almost as interesting as the article itself are the comments in KurzweilAI.net forum. The following comment, for instance, really got me thinking about how so many of these notions about posthumanism are often packaged and presented (and the fact that this is on Kurzweil’s– a futurist who has quite skillfully done what futurists do best, presented potentiality as pure fact– own website is not lost on me):

Re: singularity is underway

posted on 03/17/2007 12:14 PM by Locutus

I’m deeply worried about the starry eyed optimism regarding the singularity, it strikes me that productive humans have found yet another topic that will take their minds off scarier issues.

Lest I become labelled a troll on my first post, I’d best clarify what don’t I mean.

I don’t mean that this forum is a waste of time or distraction, after all little technological os social development occurs if people don’t discuss ideas. But what worries me is that people are treating the singularity as though it were an inevitable phenomenon akin to entropy.

Physics/maths describes ultimate entropy occuring in our universe no matter what else happens, whereas the emergence of the singularity could be prevented at any point by a bloody great asteroid hitting the earth!

And there are many other scenarios that would lead to the failure of the singularity, just as there are many that would lead to it’s inception, but positive or negative all current scenarios exist only in potentia.

It behoves us to moderate our language in relation to theoretical developments of any kind, we too often forget that that the relationship between language and thought is a two way process, language is not just the physical manifestation of thought, but in it’s turn the nature of the language we use can alter the nature of our thought processes.

Locutus.

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    • Adam Mann
    • May 28th, 2009

    Just happened to come across this blog. I really loved this line you quoted:

    “But what worries me is that people are treating the singularity as though it were an inevitable phenomenon akin to entropy.”

    That’s exactly what worries me about the way that Singularity people talk. We can’t expect our problems to just be solved in a cloud of techno-magic from the future. We should be prepared for it not to happen and instead rely on our own selves to fix our current problems.

  1. May 24th, 2009

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