Human World

2045: The coming singularity and full-blown, conscious machines

Right now we are getting our information in bits and pieces from everywhere. It can seem overwhelming, and scattered, but we are compelled (at least, I am) to consume multiple forms of information. We have TV and radio, Google and other search engines, email updates, tips of interest in direct mail, our cel phones and landlines, and input from social networking tools like MySpace and Facebook. There is a morphing global mind that has begun taking shape on Twitter, which is like a cyber tickertape, [here is an interesting Twitter story] and maybe we even still read a print newspaper or a paper magazine. We have an entire library at our fingertips with Kindle, and friends tell us about what they’re working on or about something they heard. The grapevine lives! I give anyone permission right now to create the next step in our progression to a singular mind and union of all information, machines and human spirits and to name it “Grapevine,” of course with 10% of all profits coming to me. Thank you.

Now, to the point of this post. Thanks to one of my email updates, I watched a 6:45 minute video interview with inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil, (who is in lots of videos) who predicts that by 2045 machines will acquire full-blown artificial intelligence. He names this moment ‘the singularity,’ a term usually referring to the point at which a mathematical object cannot be defined or, in astronomy, a region in space known as a black hole, from which nothing, not even light can escape. However, the term singularity in a technological context was first used by mathematician John von Neumann in 1950, who said technological advancement was moving at an ever-more-rapid pace, which suggested to him the history of the human race is approaching some essential singularity in the future “beyond which human affairs as we know them cannot continue.”

Verner Vinge, contemporary of Kurzweil and also a mathematician, as well as a computer scientist and science fiction writer, calls the future technological singularity “the Post-Human Era,” when machines will have superhuman intelligence, be completely conscious, and will be able to self-replicate. In his book, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era,” Vinge says humans will then be mere bystanders in history, and believes artificial intelligence (AI) will surpass human intelligence as early as 2020. Exponential growth in technology (as opposed to linear growth) will be responsible for an as-yet unfathomable explosion of consciousness in non-human forms that Vinge and Kurzweil are trying to fathom anyway. Relax, don’t panic yet. It’s not a Y2k or the scary side of the 2012 predictions, though they may turn out to have been very small potatoes (or not). He says he thinks the coming singularity is “the most likely non-catastrophic outcome of the next few decades.” There is an article in Computer World magazine about Vinge that is greatly worth reading.

Still, it sounds scary, this coming singularity, as if humans will not get to be here too. But Kurzweil says we most certainly will be here, and by 2045 progress in technology will have helped humans conquer disease, aging, and maybe even death itself. Living forever may not be just a fantasy.

At 61, Kurzweil is popping vitamins and staying healthy in every way he can because he wants to be here to experience the great moment when the singularity arrives. In a great article, writer Gary Wolf of Wired Magazine sums up Kurzweil’s reasoning, and I agree: “If the singularity is going to render humans immortal by the middle of the century, it would be a shame to die in the interim.”

Kurzweil says being a singularitarian is lonely because it’s such a strange idea. In my opinion, living forever amongst machines who render us useless might indeed be more lonely than just having a weird idea, especially if your buddies don’t make it to the finish line. But, if given the chance, I believe I would opt in. And really, would we be useless? Actually, I’m already pretty useless in the conventional sense, and find the more useless I get, the more hours in the day I wish there were. Living forever would at least eliminate time constraints.

So, I have to stop writing now and go take some vitamins.

July 9, 2009
Human World

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Beverly Spicer

View All