The technological singularity is the concept that sees, in certain scientific advances, a coming explosion of human knowledge. Its revolutionary aspects are not so much epistemological, but rather lie in the political and social consequences of such a growth in knowledge.
This article is the first in a trilogy addressing the concept of the technological singularity and its possible impacts on our society.
This article is a translation of “La singularité technologique : en route vers le transhumain”, by Timothée Froelich.
The human is dead, long live the transhuman! Irrefutable words that give us pause, and eliminate our consciousness, shaped by centuries of long and painful dialectical tensions that constantly alternated between creating and deconstructing the human. And now here come a few outrageous people, daring to shake up that historic construction! The politicized heads of our old nations struggle to ignore these visions of chaos, and continue to think that the polis always comes up with dusty ideas, and ancient concepts that, nonetheless, have led us to a somewhat precarious social equilibrium. Yet, these bizarre and computer-addicted crowds, sometimes disdainfully called nerds, cyber-utopists, or apolitical geeks, who nourish their dreams with nothing but a bland science fiction, reflect on the world and build the future.
Humani Victus Instrumenta: Ars Coquinaria
Source: Wikimedia Commons
So what is this threat against the human that is growing within scientific thought? What is this singularity that predicts the end of the world? The singularity is no threat; it is a revolution that uses the knowledge explosion to open the way toward transcending the human. A new era appears before us, and science is there to shape the future. So let’s give technomancy a try!
A Singular Singularity
The strange word singularity refers to the advent of an exponential curve of knowledge evolution. Through a scientific discovery, human civilization will experience a major advance so shattering that it will no longer be possible to consider the foundations of our society in terms of their current value. Many consider that the technological singularity will be artificial intelligence. That concept is deeply rooted in the cybernetic thought from the beginning of the 20th Century, and is attributed to the mathematician John von Neumann. In the 50s, he calculated that the acceleration of human progress would lead to a singularity in human history.
Linear scale of the singularity: Time between events marking an evolution, as a function of time up to the present.
Source: Wikipedia Commons Courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.
The technological singularity refers to the gravitational singularity, a zone of space-time where the quantities used to measure the gravitational field become infinite and current scientific knowledge can no longer be applied. The technological singularity would represent an event like no other, whose historical reality would distort the analyses of all social sciences. This “black hole” of history was popularized by Vernor Vinge, notably in an article published in 1993 and widely diffused, The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era. He believes this era will begin with the emergence of a superhuman intelligence. It may result either from developing intelligent computers, notably through a network architecture, or from increasing human intelligence through biological advances.
When will it happen?
The forecasts vary between 2020 and 2050. In his book The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil, computer engineer, futurologist and transhumanist, expects the singularity to appear in 2045, whereas Vernor Vinge, in his article referred to above, mentions a date around 2030. To prepare for an exponential curve of the growth in knowledge, the fact of the matter is we need to find the number e of the exponential function of human evolution.
For this purpose, Moore’s law is particularly relevant. Gordon E. Moore, chemist and cofounder of Intel Corporation, explained with an empirical approach that the number of transistors on microprocessors doubles approximately every two years, which leads to an exponential growth in the calculating power of computers. Yet, Ray Kurzweil considers that this law could eventually stagnate when the limits of current microprocessors are reached, in 2019. However, these barriers would quickly be overcome by new technologies like the quantum computer, which will, undoubtedly, catalyze future research in computer science. By way of its theoretical law of accelerating returns, Ray Kurzweil expects Moore’s law to be generalized to other scientific fields linked to this calculating power. The exponential growth would keep on going until it reaches the singularity, that is, according to Kurzweil, a kind of superhuman intelligence. He argues that the progress that will take place over the course of the 21st Century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of human evolution. The engineer Robert Zubrin believes that the technological singularity will lead us to a civilization of Type I on the Kardashev scale, which measures the evolution of civilizations on the basis of the amount of energy that they are able to use. Nikolaï Kardashev considered that a Type I civilization would be powerful enough to use the equivalent of all the available energy of its planet; for Type II, of its star; for Type III, of its entire galaxy. According to Guillermo A. Lemarchand, the amount of energy for a Type I civilization corresponds to a value between 10^16 and 10^17 Watts.
Such a notion of acceleration of progress is alarming for the mind that tries to grapple with it. How will our society envision its own technological growth? To be continued…
To find out more:
Video Ray Kurzweil: The Coming Singularity, by BigThink
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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)
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