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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Singularity

I have just read something quite interesting about what could best be described as the future in technology. On page 291 in the future visionary Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Singularity Is Near, there is a drawing of a sweaty man sitting at a table and write down the qualities that distinguish humans from computers. He puts up his claims on the wall, but one by one they fall down as the computers are conquering new territories. "Only people can understand speech" and "Only people can compose by Bach" has already fallen. "Only people can play baseball" and "Only people holding press conferences" are, however, something that will stick on the list for a little longer. You understand that it is intended that the reader, like Kurzweil himself, will smile at the hopelessness of man's situation.

Ray Kurzweil is perhaps not known outside a limited circle but some have started to open up their eyes to who he is. He is a successful information technology pioneer with a series of technological breakthroughs on the merit list, among other things, he developed the first program that can scan text and read it with synthetic speech. 1990 he stated that a computer would defeat the world champion in chess before the decade was over, and got right (IBM's Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1997). Since then he has presented his technological visions in a number of books. Kurzweil is at the front among those who formulate our contemporary view of artificial intelligence and future technologies.

 The book he has written, The Singularity Is Near, is based on the idea that technological development follows an exponential curve that we have only seen the beginning of. Kurzweil presents the following scenario. To simulate all nerve impulses in the human brain a PC have to perform 10^19 calculations per second. With the current pace of development, Kurzweil says such computers could be common around 2020. 2030, a computer's capacity is supposed to meet all living human brains. In 2045, something will happen according to him that is called "the Singularity" - a big bang of artificial intelligence that will surpass everything we could ever imagine.

In, The Singularity Is Near, Kurzweil wants to show that research in computer science, genetics and nanotechnology is approaching the point where the exponential curve bend up and takes off. The next forty years of development in these areas will change the human condition more than it has over the last forty thousand years, he says. For Kurzweil all this is interesting for one reason only: the opportunities it gives us to build on the human body, and the rest of the world, as we want it. Kurzweil hope that genetic engineering will allow us to slow down the aging process and eventually abolish death. Millions of tiny nano-robots will circulate in the blood vessels and clean up cancer cells. And ultimately sees nanotechnology out to give us the ability to manipulate all matter atom by atom and molecule by molecule with the same ease as the pixels in a computer program, so that we can put together anything from a handful of loose atoms, a gold bar or a steak or whatever we are able to wish. Ultimately, we will end up becoming robots.


  1. I really like how you described the reading. I also had this class for English class for some reason but we came to conclusion that it wouldn't be singularity but rather the opposite of singularity where we wage a war against the machine and lose and the human would sieze to exist.

    Thank you for sharing
    Turbileg Janabazar

  2. Thanks. This stuff is super interesting and Kurzweil actually mentions this in a documentary that was done about him not too long ago. Check it out!

  3. An interesting thought, and a nice summary. Makes me think though, of the fact that humans have yet to finitely resolve death and what comes after, so in saying that "downloading our consciousness" to machines that live forever I wonder if that would really do that, or just serve as a whole lot of information that isn't really "alive".

  4. Thanks for the post Johanna. I like the questions brought up in Turbileg's and WIlliam's comments as well.

    I had no idea Kurzweil was assigned reading for English classes here.

    THough I've not read his stuff too closely, I've read and listened to several people who are influenced by notions of The Singularity and transhumanism. It seems so science fiction-ish to me.

    And then there are ethical and philosophical questions to be sorted out when imagining a human/machine cyborg type of existence.

    Fun to think about though...

  5. Thank you for your comments. I agree, there is nothing human about this at all but it is quite fascinating. In the documentary about Kurzweil all of this is explained. It's a very good documentary that also touches the subject that, you Turbileg, brought up- that we one day could be extinct by machines. Kurzweil says this is what we can expect from the future. All of a sudden terminator 2 seems very real..