You may have heard of it. “The Singularity” is gaining momentum in the press and in sci-fi entertainment. The basic theory is based upon the observation that technological advancement is not a linear process. Instead, it builds upon itself and accelerates. You can look at just about any technology and see this, from light bulbs to cell phones.
One often-referenced example of this is “Moore's Law,” which is the tendency for computing power to double every 18 months. Ever since it was suggested in the early days of CPU fabrication, competition has been encouraging CPU manufacturers to keep up with this prediction. So far, they have been able to do it. Likewise, attempts to get ahead of this trend have so far failed to do so. For example, quantum computing has a long way to go before it escapes the laboratory.
Theoretically, a singularity is a point in a mathematical progression where one value escapes to infinity, which breaks the formula and makes the outcome unknowable. Since technological advancement is an accelerating process, there will come a point where it terminates with infinite capability. “Technology” becomes a thing of the past, and what comes after is anybody's guess. This point is currently predicted to occur in the year 2045.
Infinite? Really? 2045? We are nowhere near that! This is what you may be thinking right now. Remember, accelerating. What looks like a golf cart pace (10 kph) now will become a highway drive (100 kph) sooner than later, then a ride on a jet plane (1,000 kph) shortly after. There will come a time where we will have trouble keeping track of the pace of technological change. Have you noticed that the “Apple Tax” is now paid twice a year?
Tongue-in-cheek aside, one big aspect of this advancement is artificial intelligence. This is a tool that will eventually start to help itself. The point that this happens will be the point where the acceleration takes off past the bend up the “vertical” part of the graph. Current estimates place the point where the machines become as smart as us in the year 2029.
This will be a big turning point. Some suggest that we call this point the singularity, as we don't know what society will be like past it. AI will advance past us, becoming smarter and smarter. Face it, humanity will no longer be in power, and we'll be at the mercy of our creation. Sounds like science fiction? How much SciFi of the past are we now living with? Think about it as you read this on your smart phone that is connected to a distributed wireless network.
Good question. We can't stop it. Progress drives itself. This will be a major shakeup in our civilization and we will have to adapt. We need to guide it toward beneficial ends. Many high-profile tech experts are already thinking about it and are working on it. The top tech companies are already realizing the power and pitfalls of AI. Distributed networks (the “cloud”) are collecting our data. We have a responsibility to mold this data as much as we can before the network “wakes up.”
There are a few big technologies involved that will eventually merge and become indistinguishable from each other. We've already touched on Artificial Intelligence, where computers are taught to think on their own, eventually coming to their own conclusions and becoming self-aware and self-improving.
Nanotechnology is basically research on machines built on the molecular scale. These machines are invisible without a microscope, and could potentially work on the level of biological cells. Swarms of nano machines could coordinate their activity as an active network.
Biotechnology is the manipulation of biological processes through technology. We are learning the programming of DNA, the complex chemical processes of life, and the nature of neural networks. Science in learning how to change and even create biology.
You can probably see the connection between nanotechnology and biotechnology, sending little machines into our bodies to perform cellular-level repairs and maintenance, as well as combat disease. Other spectres rise such as DNA modification and performance enhancement. We will have to deal with these issues.
Something will have to run these machines, which is where AI comes in. A smart network of nano machines can coordinate their activities. The possibilities are amazing and frightening, which brings us to...
Who needs a cell phone? An augmented human will always be connected with the technology network integrated with their biology. This technology will keep the body in top shape, eliminate aging, increase performance and strength, and enhance intelligence. Communication and control will be simply a matter of thought and will. Your wish is its command.
Sounds good? Transcendence could come with a price.
This could get out of hand. It could also keep track of our location and our thinking, control financial transactions, and even keep our actions in check. The built-in firmware will be in constant communication with the intelligent cloud, which will have ultimate authority over its actions, down to the neural and cellular level. No sickness, but no crime, and an instant army on-demand. Welcome to the zombie apocalypse! We're it!
Well, that's the worst-case scenario if we let it get the best of us. We have a lot of work ahead of us to keep this under control. Best of all, you always have the option of not participating. Remember that. To practice, turn off your cell phone, take a walk, and enjoy the breeze.