An Idea to Change All Ideas

Ray Kurzweil is a prolific inventor and futurist that has been called ‘the ultimate thinking machine’ by Forbes, has been awarded the Arthur C. Clarkes ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ and has released three of the most influential books of the past two decades (i.e. The Age of Intelligent MachinesThe Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity Is Near) (e.g., Kurzweil, 1990; 1999; 2005).  I became aware of his work in 2005 when he released The Singularity Is Near and have been a ‘singultarian’ ever since.

What Is The Singularity?

Simply put the technological singularity is an intellectual event horizon beyond which nothing can be predicted because biological humans will no longer be the smartest, most capable life forms on the planet.  Either post-biological human cyborgs will be, some type of advanced A.I. robotic entities will be, or both.

Ray Kurzweil and other futurists believes that this event is easily predictable due to the Law of Accelerating Returns, which results in computer technology, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and material science technology to increase at an exponential rate (Kurzweil, 2005).  In the 1980s Kurzweil used the Law of Accelerating Returns to predict accurate dates for the explosive (exponential) growth of the World Wide Web, the completion of the human genome project, ubiquitous portable and ‘pocket-sized’ computers, wearable personal computer devices, digital media and software, stored virtual reality environments, wireless technologies, supercomputers with the hardware capacity of the human brain, etc. (Kurzweil, 1990, Kurzweil, 2010).  In October 2010 he released an analysis of his 109 past predictions and evaluated their current status: 89 were entirely correct, 13 were essentially correct, 5 are a few years off and 1 was completely wrong (Kurzweil, 2010).  However, the entirety of his predictions cannot yet be evaluated because they extend to the 2040s, when he believes ‘human-machine’ civilization will reach the technological singularity.

Leading up to the Event Horizon: 2045

Moving forward Kurzweil believes that the pace of technological exponential growth will continue and will follow a very predictable pattern, as it did in the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century.  The ramifications of continued technological exponential growth become slightly overwhelming (Kurzweil, 2005):

2010s

  • Computers will disappear as distinct physical objects and become embedded in clothing and in everyday objects
  • Displays built into our eyeglass will provide full-immersion audio-visual virtual reality
  • House cleaning robots will become common
  • High speed internet will become globally ubiquitous

2020s

  • Personal computers will have same processing power as the human brain
  • Nanomachines will be used for medical purposes
  • Virtual reality will become indistinguishable from reality
  • Strong A.I. (2029) will be as intelligent as a human (pass the Turing Test)
  • Most vehicles will be 100% computer controlled

2030s

  • Full-immersion virtual reality will be possible without external equipment
  • Nanomachines will re-wire human brain allowing for expansion of cognitive, memory and sensory capabilities
  • All technologically augmented humans will be able to interact telepathically via wireless networks

2040s

  • Human body 3.0 comes into existence.  It lacks a fixed, corporeal form and can later its shape and external appearance.  All organs are replaced by superior cybernetic implants.
  • Artificial intelligence and/or postbiological cyborgs will surpass human beings as the smartest most capable life forms.  Technological development completely overtaken by machines who think, act and communicate so quickly that unenhanced biological humans cannot even comprehend what is going on.

At this point Kurzweil believes that we cannot predict with a high degree of accuracy what will happen after the singularity because technological growth will be driven by a different form of intelligence and will be moving so quickly (Kurzweil, 2005).  However, this singularity will completely change the course of human history (or ‘human-machine’ history) and it can be reasonably asserted that post-singularity there will be a true radiation of intelligence from Earth into the rest of the universe.  If Kurzweil’s predictions about the coming decades are anywhere near as accurate as they were in the 1980s, this appears to be our destiny.

Incorporating Big History

It is important to note that the pace of exponential technological growth did not come out of a vacuum.  Almost all experts on big history (i.e. history from the big bang to the present) have understood for a while that levels of complexity in the universe appear to increase at an exponential rate.  Under this paradigm technological evolution and the singularity is the end product of an exponential trend that has characterized the basic structure of the universe for the past 13.7 billion years (Sagan, 1977; Christian, 2005):

  • Big Bang (13.7 billion years ago)
  • Development of first stars and galaxies (8-10 billion years ago)
  • Formation of the sun and our solar system (5 billion years ago)
  • First life (3.5 billion years ago)
  • First multicellular life (1 billion years ago)
  • Cambrian explosion (530 million years ago)
  • Mammals (200 million years ago)
  • Primates (70 million years ago)
  • Apes (20 million years ago)
  • Genus Homo/Technology (2 million years ago)
  • Domestication of fire (500 thousand years ago)
  • First modern humans (200 thousand years ago)
  • First art (100 thousand years ago)
  • Early cities/agriculture (10 thousand years ago)
  • Writing, wheel (5 thousand years ago)
  • Printing, experimental method (500 years ago)
  • Industrial Revolution (250 years ago)
  • Telephone, electricity, radio (100 years ago)
  • Computer (60 years ago)
  • Personal computer (30 years ago)

During the first stage of the universe the most complex structures were held in particles and atoms and significant change took billions of years.  With the formation of planets and stars (like Earth and the Sun) the universe entered a new stage of complexity with structures capable of growth and self-sustainment (i.e. organisms).  After the emergence of life change continued to occur exponentially.  Change occurred via biological evolution and took thousands of generations.  The next level of complexity was achieved with the development of technology, which has continued the exponential trend.  Now change is measured in decades and even years.  Will that culminate in a universe-altering technological singularity?  If history is any indication it may be unavoidable.

References

Christian, D.  2005.  Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History.  University of California Press

Kurzweil, 1990.  The Age of Intelligent Machines.  The MIT Press.

Kurzweil, 1999.  The Age of Spritual Machines.  Penguin Books.

Kurzweil, 2005.  The Singularity Is Near.  Penguin Books.

Kurzweil, R.  2010.  How My Predictions Are Faring.

Sagan, C.  1977.  The Dragon’s of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

 

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About Cadell Last
I am a science educator, freelance science writer, and founder of The Advanced Apes based in Toronto, Ontario. In the past my academic research focused on the evolution, ecology, and behaviour of non-human primates (i.e., chimpanzees, gorillas, ring-tailed lemurs). Currently, my official blog, The Ratchet, can be found via The Advanced Apes and Svbtle. I enjoy exploring recent research in human evolutionary sciences, as well as biology, ecology, astronomy, physics, and computer science. My work has been featured in Scientific American, American Humanist, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. I am also exploring science popularization in new mediums in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios with an animated YouTube channel. You can contact me on Twitter (@cadelllast) or via email: cadell.last@gmail.com

One Response to An Idea to Change All Ideas

  1. plasmaborne4rel says:

    It is obvious from this article and from Bill Joy’s "The Future Doesn’t Need Us" that my scientific theory of CyberInterNetics is on a roll toward it’s final solution in 2052. http://www.scoop.it/t/cyberinternetics/p/920943763/cyberinternetics-2052ce

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