"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Technological Singularity

The high rate at which technology is progressing is anticipating a major milestone in the history of civilization: The Technological Singularity. Often referred simply as the Singularity, it represents the event of creating smarter-than-human intelligence. According to Vernor Vinge, “we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth”[1]. The arrival of such event is promoted by significant future advances in different sciences such as artificial intelligence, direct brain-computer interfaces and high resolution scans of the brain.

There are numerous researchers and organizations aware of the Singularity including Vernor Vinge, to whom the term is coined. Moreover, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence is a research institute based in Palo Alto, California, which is in charge of exploring opportunities and mitigating risks that could arise with the Singularity.

The implications of smarter-than-human intelligence are gigantic and it is believed that the world will thereafter change in a way that humans cannot even conceive. The basis for this belief is that technology is created by human intelligence; but if technology can become more intelligent than humans, then technology will be created by technology making it possible for it to rapidly improve itself, resulting in an exponential boom of technological progress and super-intelligence. Because of its advanced complexity and the inferiority of human intelligence, it is difficult to predict how the world will look like after this event; however, it is clear that the world will take a whole new meaning. Some consequences include the creation of direct human-brain interfaces making it possible to download human brains into machines, reproduce brains and upload artificial intelligence into a biological brain.

However, the Singularity is facing certain challenges and criticisms. For instance, some economists argue that the rate of technological innovations is slowing down and argue that the progress done in artificial intelligence is insignificant and far from achieving computers that “wake up” as a conscious entity or being.

The major reason why it is important to create awareness of the Singularity is because it is crucial to act promptly, to be prepared for its arrival and minimize its negative consequences and potential dangers. Some researchers argue that in the path of evolution there is no turnaround and because humanity is converging towards Singularity, there is no prospect to avoid it. Instead, one should focus on how to address artificial intelligence safely and morally to avoid the disappearance of humankind. Consequently, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence has is mission focused around the understanding of the implications Singularity will have on society, foster scientific research and encourage dialogue, symposia and events.

[1] "The Coming Technological Singularity" by Vernor Vinge, 1993.

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