Singularity: the Rise of Superhuman Intelligence Essay

Predictions have been made since the early 1960’s that the day would come when humans would intentionally or perhaps inadvertently create a superhuman intelligence. The term singularity was coined to describe this creation of superhuman intelligence. In most regards superhuman intelligence is referring to the technology of creating Artificial Intelligence or the ability to interface the human brain with a computer all with the goal of creating not only smarter intelligence but faster processing capabilities. Behind the theory of creating superhuman intelligence is the idea that the human brain has a limit to its overall capacity.

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While modern computer chip technology continues to advance with processing speeds and capacity increasing dramatically. This could lead one to surmise that by using Artificial Intelligence to design new Artificial Intelligence, the result would then be an evolution of the design each time the practice was invoked. It would then be at that point time that Singularity would be achieved has the human mind would be incapable of understanding the processes and functions of the Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial Intelligence technology although newly developed in recent years, is already widely in use throughout our daily lives.

Voice-recognition programs provide the capability to dial stored numbers on a cellular phone, or control your home PC. Computer-controlled machines and robots are deployed widely in the automotive and other manufacturing environments. These advancements perhaps are the beginning of obtaining Singularity. The Origin of the Singularity Concept Although the term singularity is regularly credited to Vernor Vinge, the concept of a technological Singularity was originally proposed by John von Neumann in 1958, a Hungarian immigrant who held a doctorate in both mathematics and chemistry (Vinge, 1993).

According to Vinge, von Neumann applied the term to the normal progress in technological advances similar to those we have seen over the past several decades. Vinge is a science fiction writer as well as a mathematician and computer scientist who teaches at San Diego State University. It is Vinge, who at a 1993 symposium sponsored by NASA entitled Vision-21, put forth the idea that within 30 years from that time, the creation of a super human intelligence would be possible thus leading to the end of humanity as we know it.

Vinge’s presentation of his concept centered around four main ideas, based on technological advances in the late 20th century. The first being the idea that the creation of a computer that would be superhumanly intelligent and aware of its own self being. Secondly the ability to converge large computer networks into one entity. Third, the development of a physical interface that would exist between human and machine that could lead to superhuman intelligence. The fourth concept Vinge alludes to, was the ability to improve human intellect through the use of biological science.

Vinge’s essay focuses primarily on what he perceives to be the negative results of reaching a singularity. The adverse effects he refers to are centered on what a “typical” human mind would envision. A computer and or machine achieving such a high level of self being and intelligence that within a matter of a very short period of hours would make the determination that it was much better suited to make decisions than humans. Vernor Vinge’s vision of the technological future is comparative to the themes of movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Terminator.

Vinge goes on to discuss possible methods of avoiding reaching Singularity such as; laws and legislation preventing the construction or creation of machines in the likeness of human beings, or the creation of rules through computer programming that would limit the device in some form or fashion. A programmable “conscience” one would assume. Vernor Vinge concludes his essay offering an alternative path. He suggests tailoring any achievement of singularity into not Artificial Intelligence but in fact Intelligence Amplification.

This he proposes would prevent the technological apocalypse and provide a method of human control over the future of humanity. Embracing Singularity Ray Kurzweil is an inventor, author and what many would call a futurist. Kurzweil is probably the best-known for his musical instrument company specializing in synthesizers that re-create the sound of acoustic instruments including grand pianos and other orchestral instruments. Kurzweil was a pioneer in the field of text-to-speech for the blind, and developed the first commercially marketed speech recognition program.

Kurzweil can also claim another title one of the leading proponents of Singularity. Kurzweil’s view of Singularity strikes much the same tone as that of Vernor Vinge, an achievement of tremendous technological advancement and an increase in the level of intelligence beyond anything previously imagined. Like Vinge, Kurzweil focuses on intelligence amplification and the advancement of the human level of intelligence. The primary difference between the views of these two writers is that Kurzweil wholly embraces the idea of enhanced human intelligence.

Kurzweil in his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology provides his definition of what is the Singularity. Kurzweil describes it as a time when human intelligence will be matched by what he terms non-biological intelligence. He goes on to point out that this non-biological intelligence would have the capability to completely redesign itself through multiple iterations reaching a point where the technology is so advanced that human intelligence cannot comprehend it. This Kurzweil states is Singularity (Kurzweil, 2011).

Kurzweil describes part of this vision of the Singularity as the use of Intelligent Nanorobots to combat issues such as poverty, pollution, and the environment. He foresees those same Intelligent Nanorobots being embedded in our brains and throughout our bodies to help fight disease and increase life longevity. Kurzweil in fact is such a believer that he has cofounded Singularity University with support from Google. The University’s website states its mission as”… assemble, educate, and inspire leaders who understand and develop exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges” (Singularity University, 2010).

Drawing attention to the benefits of Singularity, Kurzweil is not shy about pointing out the possible consequences of reaching such a high plateau of technological capability. Although he did downplays what many would think of as the “Terminator” worst case scenario, he does express concern in regard to applications of genetic, biotechnology and nanotechnology. The Threat of Achieving Singularity Others who are intimately familiar with the growth rate of technology disagree wholeheartedly with Kurzweil and others involved with the Singularity movement.

The co-founder of Sun Microsystems William Joy relates in a 2002 essay in Wired Magazine how he became an easy about the dangers of new technology in the 21st century. “I can date the onset of my unease to the day I met Ray Kurzweil” (Joy, 2002). In the article Joy goes on to point out the fact that the same three technologies that Ray Kurzweil proposes to be the saving grace of mankind are the three technologies that pose the greatest risk. The three technologies are Robotics, Genetic Engineering, and Nanotechnology all of which share a common factor, the ability to self-replicate.

Kurzweil himself in fact refers to Nanorobots as the “killer app” of nanotechnology, going on to describe them as blood cell sized robots able to destroy pathogens, change DNA, and reversing the aging process while traversing the bloodstream of human body (KurzweilAINetwork, 2010). Vernon Vinge offered another point of view in the 2008 New York Times article entitled Technology That out Thinks Us: A Partner or a Master? , in which he states if super intelligent machines are created the idea that they would be content to serve humans and remain locked away in a lab somewhere is preposterous (Tierney, 2008).

When Will We Reach Singularity? According to Ray Kurzweil, Singularity will be achieved in the year 2045. Most would not be so bold as to commit to predicting an exact year when Singularity will occur, but do in fact agree that it will. Gordon Moore co-founder of the chip maker Intel is one such person. Moore sites exponential technological change which with each new generation of technology increasing the power of computing. A computer scientist at Stanford University by the name of John McCarthy first coined the phrase “Artificial Intelligence” in 1956.

Backed by the Pentagon, the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory was established in 1964 and estimated it would take up to a decade to develop an artificially intelligent machine. Several companies were formed in the Silicon Valley area of California but by 1984 the lack of progress I contributed to their demise known as “the A. I. Winter” (The New York Times, 2009). Boston Dynamics located in Waltham, MA is an engineering company specializing in robotics that emulates human movement. The company has developed an anthropic robot for the U. S.

Army called PETMAN to be used for testing chemical protection clothing. What is so unique about PETMAN is the fact that its movements are dynamically humanlike. PETMAN even has the capability to sweat like a human which was part of the necessary design in order to realistically test the protective clothing’s durability. Boston Dynamics has also developed a four-legged robot referred to as Big Dog that emulates what best can be described as a pack mule. In its current version the robot can carry as much as 340 pounds while traversing snow, ice, and treacherous mountain terrain.

To this point PETMAN and Big Dog are controlled by humans, but perhaps the robots Boston Dynamics have created are the precursors to the self-reliant, super intelligent machines yet to come (Boston Dynamics, 2009). Achieving Singularity Balance In 2004 the Singularity Institute was founded. The Institutes stated Mission reads in part “…rational analysis and rational strategy to the challenges facing humanity as we develop cognitive technologies that will exceed the current upper bounds on human intelligence” (Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Inc. 2010). The Singularity Institute was cofounded by Ray Kurzweil and employs a staff with such diverse backgrounds has Business, Mathematics, Computer Science, Biology, and Business Administration. The materials on the Singularity Institute’s website indicate their primary goal is to reduce the risk of catastrophic events should singularity be achieved. Their stated intent is to achieve this through research, education, and conferences which are held yearly.

These conferences include attendees such as scientist, college students as well as regular individuals who are simply interested in the topic. Although Vernon Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have greatly contrasting views on what the singularity could bring to the world, it appears they have found common ground within the realm of the Singularity Institute. Conclusion Whether one falls into the category of opponent or proponent, skeptic or believer it is easy to see based on the rate and intensity of technological dvancement in the past two decades there will most likely, time when machines will be smart enough to reinvent themselves.

As developers work to make computer chips and software perform faster and more accurately than ever before, and engineers continue to perfect robots that can accurately emulate the human body is a logical next step to combine those advancements into one singular creation. No one can accurately predict the day that Singularity can or will be achieved, but let there be no doubt it is a certain fact that day will come.

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