Is Singularity Near?
Game theorist James Miller reviews a thought-provoking book by Ray Kurzweil entitled The Singularity Is Near today at Tech Central Station.
Most of us will become gods. And not one of those wimpy anthropomorphic gods from Greek myth, but gods trillions of times more intelligent than mere mortal men. Such is the thesis of Ray Kurzweil, who argues in The Singularity Is Near that humanity is inexorably headed towards the Singularity.
The singularity is a future period in which technological progress becomes so rapid that it radically transforms humankind. To picture the singularity imagine computers trillions of times smarter than Newton, Einstein and Edison inventing new technologies while continually enhancing their own abilities. Ray Kurzweil argues that the Singularity will occur around 2045.
Although godhood by 2045 seems like the conclusion of a lunatic, the genius of The Singularity is Near lies in showing that humanity already has tremendous technological momentum that almost has to carry us into the Singularity. And this momentum comes from the doubling every year of the power per dollar of information technology.
But the Singularity doesn’t appear near. This is because most of us are used to linear thinking and haven’t yet grasped the implications of the exponential growth of information technologies. For example, assume that the power of computers doubles every generation. Further assume that so far 100 generations have passed and our computers have but one-billionth of the power needed to achieve the Singularity. How many more doubling generations would be needed for humanity to reach this singularity? Well, linear thinking would say that since it took 100 generations to get one-billionth of the way there it will take a total of 100 billion generations to make it all the way. But if computer power doubles every generation, then it would take only 30 more generations for computer power to increase a billion fold.
The human brain is a much faster information processor than even the best of today’s computers. But the regular doubling of computing power means computers will quickly reach human equivalence. Kurzweil estimates this will happen by the early 2030s.
The ability to access and process information incredibly quickly is a great thing, to be sure, but the emergence of godlike intelligence would not necessarily follow. Indeed, it seems inordinately unlikely.
Still, Miller is likely right that, “The Singularity Is Near will be the most reviewed book in the Blogosphere this year. ” Fantastical ideas backed by solid research and analysis can be quite useful even if the predictions that follow are absurd. See all of Alvin Toffler’s books, for example.