The Singularity: when machines become smarter than humans
By Dick Pelletier
What can we expect when machines surpass humans in
intelligence, a point in time that futurists predict will happen
by mid-2030s to mid-2040s? Though it's impossible to forecast
this far in advance with 100% accuracy, by combining predicted
technology breakthroughs with present-day knowledge, we can make
plausible guesses about how tomorrow's super-intelligent
machines might affect our lives.
The concept for the Singularity goes something like this: As
computers become faster with increased memory capabilities, they
will eventually develop intelligence comparable to humans. These
machines will not only defeat us in chess and quiz games like
Jeopardy, but also will drive cars, write books, make decisions,
and replace humans in customer service; and one day, they may
even emulate consciousness.
With today's manufacturers adding more speed and memory into
computers each year, by 2030, these silicon creations could
become efficient enough to manufacture their own new models,
adding more intelligence into each generation and shortening the
timeframe between generations.
Our computer wonders could then keep on developing until they
reach higher-than-human levels of intelligence, a phase
predicted to happen between 2035 and 2045. This event will also
speed other technology developments; in fact, the future could
advance faster than our 2011 brains can understand. This defines
the 'Singularity,' a point in time when technologies evolve
faster than we can comprehend.
Some worry that it may be impossible to predict the behavior
of these future super-intelligent machines. Will they be
dangerous and want to take over our world; or will they be eager
to help solve problems that have forever plagued society, such
as crime, violence, wars, and health issues.
J. Storrs Hall, in his book Beyond AI, believes that
as computer/robots advance, technologies will allow us to
interface our brains with these creations and share their vast
intelligence. In this way, Hall says, humans will always remain
smarter than their machines, and will not need to fear them.
Other forward thinkers predict that in the coming decades, we
will merge with our silicon cousins. Celebrated entrepreneurial
future watchers Hans Moravec and Ray Kurzweil envision a time
when tomorrow's robots will become more and more human-like; and
humans, by swapping much of their biology for non-biological
'immortal' parts, will develop stronger bodies, becoming more
This trend will enable society to view the merger of humans
with their machines, as simply the next natural phase of
evolution. However, naysayers wonder, "Are we ready to become
This writer is amazed at how fast the future is advancing.
Just thinking about how far technologies have progressed during
my 80-year lifetime is overwhelming. Jet travel did not exist in
1930; a five-day ocean trip was the main way to go from America
to Europe, and 'wireless' meant the wood-paneled Zenith
radio in the living room. TV finally arrived in 1950, providing
the magic of moving pictures in our homes.
TV represented a new dimension in communications. For the
first time, healthcare and medical products were presented to
the public through programs and commercials. People became more
health-conscious, which was an important factor in the rise of
life expectancy from 55 in 1930 to nearly 80 today.
In other advances, we've walked on the moon, created the
Internet, mapped the genome, and outfitted half the world with
net-connected wireless phones, which have empowered common
citizens to overthrow unwelcome dictators, as is happening in
some mid-eastern countries today.
As we move closer to the Singularity, other breakthroughs
will appear. Experts predict that over the next three decades,
stem cells, genetic engineering, human-like robots, and nano-replicators
that provide household essentials at little or no cost, will
create a remarkable future.
A positive post-Singularity world could include affordable
healthcare that would provide most of the world's citizens with
indefinite lifespans, and a strong global economy powerful
enough to erase today's gap between the rich and poor.
Could this sci-fi-like "magical future" happen in just 3
decades? Positive futurists believe that it can.
This article appeared in various print publications and on-line blogs. Comments