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What is the Technological Singularity, and will you live to see it?

The Future is coming much faster than we think. Technologies are getting more advanced, faster than ever before. If you read any science fiction or futurism, you have probably heard the term “Singularity”.  There are a large number of loyal backers of this theory, and an even larger number dismissing the theory as ridiculous. Some people declare the Singularity as imminent, while others deem it impossible. But what exactly does the term Singularity mean? And is the theory plausible? Lets take a look…

Generally, a singularity is considered to be a point in time, when a civilisation changes so much that its rules and technologies seem incomprehensible to the previous generations. One can consider it as a point-of-no-return in history. Consider the following example:  You have to explain the internet to somebody living in the year 1200. However the task is impossible. Your frames of references will be so different that it will be impossible for you to convey how the internet works, let alone its importance. However, the essence of the singularity is of rapid change – in contrast to evolution, which is slow-paced. If the Singularity theory is true, a person living in 2016 will not be able to understand the technology of 2030.

Proponents of the singularity theory state that when mankind crosses the technological singularity, computers and artificial intelligence will be so advanced that they will be able to surpass the sheer intellect of the human being.

The theory of singularity was first proposed by Science fiction writer, Vernor Vinge. He described the singularity in the following way: “It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace. Yet when it finally happens it may still be a great surprise and a greater unknown”. People have predicted that humans will become one with computers, making an altogether new, artificial species.  The concept of singularity states that a point in time will come when computers will become so advanced, that they will be able to improve themselves, ushering us in an era of incomprehensible, exponential growth.

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Backers of the singularity say that the singularity seems unrealistic to the ordinary person due to basic human behaviour.  A reason most people fail to understand that revolutionary technological advances are right on our doorstep, is because they instinctively don’t see growth as being exponential. We are on the ‘knee of the curve’, and exponential growth is about to sky-rocket our technological advances.

Just take the example of the evolution of the smart phone. The telephone was first invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. The touchscreen was manufactured by CERN in 1973.  IBM developed “Simon”, the first smartphone in 1993. Notice the rapid advance in technology? Of course Alexander Graham Bell would not have predicted that his 7-pound telephone box will one day be reduced to a 0.28 pound slab of glass. Just think about driverless cars. This is exponential growth. See the rapid advance in technology?

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Futurists say that we are very close to the singularity. In 2000, Vinge predicted that “in 30 years” we would have artificial intelligence. Some people estimate the time of singularity as near as 2035, some as far as 2100. Either way, they state that the singularity is inevitable and imminent.

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On the other side of the aisle, however, people categorically state that the concept of singularity is ridiculous and should be treated just as a pleasant daydream. Still other people say that it is difficult to predict the future, given the rate of technological advances.

There is good news for people longing to live in the distant future. Longevity scientists have started to say that it might be  possible to extend a human’s lifespan in the near future. Dr. De Gray from MIT says that our biotech is advanced enough that a child born in 2010 might live to be 150, or 200 years old. So you might live long enough to see the singularity!

So when will the singularity really happen? It depends on your perspective. But it always seem like it’s just a few decades off…

The lives of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as unrecognizable to us as our use of information technology in all its forms would be incomprehensible to someone from the dawn of the twentieth century.

Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.

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