December 12, 2014

The Singularity: Power of Technology Increasing at Exponential Rate



By Justin H.

Parents raise their children from birth and encourage them to become all that they can be. They instill values in them that will ideally help their kids become exceedingly successful members of society, as well as caring and loving people. One of a parent’s proudest moments is when a child grows up, learns to grab life by the horns, and learns to fend for themselves. That child works through adversity by embracing what it takes to be a self-sufficient adult. However, few moments can top that proud feeling when a son or daughter finally beats a parent at a game of chess, monopoly, or 1-on-1 basketball.

Well, what happens when technology goes through this phase?
The singularity is a prediction that, over time, the barrier between human and machine will cease to exist. The line between reality and fantasy will erode completely. Humans will continue to make technological advances that allow computers and machines to think for themselves, which could eventually lead us to the point where they won’t need us anymore. At that juncture, technology will have its own state of consciousness and be able to improve on its own, relegating humans to the back seat of the knowledge bus. Once technology realizes its own power, many believe it will rise up against us.


The possible circumstances that could cause the singularity are nearly unfathomable, but the result would surely be a radically-altered world where civilization becomes a shell of its former self. There is plenty of debate as to whether this societal shift will be a gradual changing of the guard, or a swift one, but the possibility of the singularity happening is much more concrete than an average conspiracy theory.

Computers that were once the size of a small house have now been condensed to fit between our thumbs and index fingers. Even as recently as 1995, PCs contained hard drives around 400 megabytes, whereas now you can buy a computer with a terabyte (1 million megabytes) for a similar price. This just goes to show the mind-blowing rate of progression when it comes to technology.
We even have a supercomputer that simply decimates people at the lovable game show of Jeopardy! I’ll take “I’m scared half to death” for $800, Alex.


However, it is certainly not all bad. Facets of the singularity may sound rather caliginous, and even downright depressing, but these are exciting times we are living in!

Stephen Hawking, arguably the world’s most renowned scientist, recently spoke with BBC in early December and decreed, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” This came in response to a question concerning the improvement of speaking machines for disabled people like Hawking, who has ALS. He communicates through a machine created by Intel that learns how he thinks in order to form educated guesses on the words he might use.

Hawking’s outlook is obviously very dark, but his stature as one of the greatest astrophysicists of our time gives his statements merit. Many other scientists have a more positive outlook, claiming that we are a long way from anything like the singularity, and that we cannot assume that technology would ever try to stand alone.

One short term problem that artificial intelligence may continue to create is the loss of jobs. Bloomberg.com detailed the efficiency of new-age computers, which are able to replicate human judgment and utilize algorithms that allow them to learn from past examples. It also states how jobs such as cab drivers, real estate agents, loan officers, and even many jobs at law firms could easily be automated in the future. Look at the bright side, at least you won’t have to worry about a robot eating your lunch, right?

We don’t necessarily need to be looking over our shoulders for the “techpocalypse,” but it is certainly worth reflecting on how far we have come on the technology front. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, raised an interesting proposition when he declared artificial intelligence, “the biggest existential threat” to mankind, but suggested implementing international regulatory framework to oversee all advances made in technology. This would ensure that instead of continuing to poke at the beast, everyone can continue on to live happily ever after!

The singularity is not an inevitability, but technology’s power in this world cannot be understated. A father may let his son win a game or two of 1-on-1 basketball, but never will he allow that kid to forget who runs the show. He may grow up to be the president, but with good morals and values, he will always have love and respect for his father. Stay golden, technology.

What is your opinion on the singularity? Is technology becoming too powerful? Let’s talk it out in the comments!

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