The technological singularity is a concept based on an eventual acceleration of scientific progress. Most of the time, this refers to the emergence of a superhuman intelligence. Understanding the singularity too often comes with an uneasy feeling that distorts our predictions of the possible consequences of such a growth in human knowledge. Our society has to properly evaluate the technological future ― without giving in to fantasy ― if it does not want to be overwhelmed by its own discoveries.
This article is the second in a trilogy addressing the concept of the technological singularity and its possible impacts on our society.
This article is a translation of “Nébuleuse appréhension de la singularité technologique” by Timothée Froelich.
Humans will be the first robots
Clouded by fiction, the collective psyche is gripped by fear when it comes to the idea of superhuman intelligence. Robots, computers controlling living things, and merciless machines stifling the tangible, such is the apocalyptic vision of these scientific discoveries. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand artificial intelligence as a technology able to reproduce the mechanisms of human intelligence through phenomena like perception, learning, social interactions, memory, or critical thinking that can lead to creation. But it has to be grasped as a kind of artificial intelligence shaped by human intelligence.
The predictions of possible dystopias that never cease to see in science the origin of evil likely confuse means with causes. The condemnations drawn by the technological singularity are merely the reflections of unconscious judgment of today’s society. Strangely enough, in fiction, this vision of horror easily corresponds to a shift from a neoliberal society to a technotyranny.
This kind of conventional wisdom also crystalizes in the form of a destructive duality where humans are threatened by their own creations. The shadow of Frankenstein’s monster looms over scientific discoveries, but the creature has become technological. Such thinking does not take into account the very transcendence of humans and of their principles, which scientific progress could actually bring forth. The fear of a superhuman intelligence dominating and annihilating the human is quite absurd if you consider, on the one hand, that the artificial behaviors result from the decisions of their creators, and on the other hand, that maybe the superhuman intelligence will not belong to computers, but to the human brain itself, for instance through brain implants.
It seems completely wrong to deliver an opinion on a scientific advance without evaluating the evolution of every element that gave birth to this progress. The technological singularity amounts to a total questioning of the traditional epistemology, which will stimulate a major transformation of the human environment.
Scorning the future
Scientific discoveries are considered as they appear, with no real intention of understanding the political scope of their future evolution. Scientific progress is still viewed as the result of the social and political evolutions of the collective, without anyone wanting to take the risk of seeing it as the actual source of social transformations. The invention of the movable type system by Gutenberg during the 15th century made it possible to spread knowledge widely, but wasn’t it also the start of the societal transformation of the 16th century, of Protestantism and of the modern economy?
The technological singularity (Source: MyScienceWork)
Foresight is based on the currently available information in order to make predictions about the future. With an historic event such as the singularity, it becomes difficult to make any forecasts with the available data, since the very context that makes them calculable is now thrown into question. A theoretical slide from foresight to futurology is needed. What was once considered an irrational divination is today a divinatory rationality. Some fields of speculative reason with strong scientificity will doubtlessly bring up hypotheses that experience will prove. The analysis of these hypotheses emerges as a necessity for understanding any social transformations and for handling a change of era. We cannot help but remember the historic impact of atomic energy, whose use has shaped contemporary society.
Understanding the reactions of a superhuman artificial intelligence is among the great interdisciplinary questions that should be tackled. Many consider it a threat to the human race, like Hugo de Garis, who even imagines the eventuality of a devastating war revolving around artificial intelligence. But this appears to be another mistake that could not have been made by futurology, but by foresight, which reflects on the future on the basis of current data without considering the transformation of the structures in which such intelligence would appear.
All of this casts doubt on the possibility of controling the behavior of the artificial intelligence by establishing first principles and laws protecting humans, like the three laws of robotics established by the author Isaac Asimov. It is also necessary to remember that humans will remain at the heart of their own creations. The development of superhuman intelligence, motivated by humans’ desire for transcendence, will particularly focus on the enhancement of brain capacities. Projects like the Blue Brain project of the EPFL suggest the virtualization of the human brain and potentially of cognitive phenomena. Even affective computing becomes imaginable. Humans would become virtual, and computers human; the artificial and biological would come together in one entity.
"It is also necessary to remember that humans will remain at the heart of their own creations." (Credit: DeviantArt/Bergie81)
Beyond these vague forecasts, current scientific research points to the first signs of an early development. Articulated arms controled through nerve impulses have been developed to give tetraplegic people the chance to move again. Subdermal implants have been proposed as a way to carry out live physical exams. The project to produce organs has become more and more concrete. On a more practical basis, some augmented reality interfaces, such as the Sixth Sense Project, the Google Glass Project or the bionic contact lens, have now become reality.
These technological evolutions imply potential political and social transformations. In the final article of this series on the technological singularity, we will sound out the possible scope of this impact. To be continued…
To find out more:
A very brief history of artificial intelligence, Bruce G. Buchanan
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About the author:
After attending law school, Rodhlann Jornod is now focusing on studying practical philosophy. He is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Criminology in Paris, and is currently writing his dissertation, addressing the structures of morality related to the phenomenon of criminal justice. His interest for new technologies also led him to study the impact of sciences on notions of practical philosophy, such as moral and politics.
Articles by the same author:
Un neurodroit pour une neurojustice (in French)