Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, June 15, 2007

Reflections on "Human 2.0: Creating Gods"

I hope many of my readers took the time to watch the entire BBC presentation of "Human 2.0: Creating Gods," if only to gain an understanding of the fantastic possibilities and existential dangers that are approaching with the singularity. I watched it yesterday, and today I will post some of the thoughts that occurred to me as I reflected on what I saw.

The Singularity is Almost Certainly Inevitable

Anyone who watches the videos will probably come away with this feeling. Barring something like an ELE (extinction-level event) in the next two decades, computers will achieve and quickly thereafter exceed human intelligence by 2025; and the human brain will be simulated successfully in a computer.

Serious people (and serious money) are toiling away at various aspects of this goal, and they are making incredible headway. As Ray Kurzweil points out, computers became a billion times more powerful in the last 25 years, and they will become another billion times more powerful in the next 25 years, which will put them at and beyond human intelligence.

Within a year, a supercomputer that has been painstakingly fed, neuron by neuron, the circuitry and workings of a section of mouse brain, will be turned on. Once that occurs, it will not be very long before an entire animal brain, and then a human brain, will be simulated on a computer.

It Has Never Happened Before

Obviously the technology is new, that's not really what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about the singularity, which can be defined as a point of "technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history." We think of history as being cyclical: nations rise and fall, great men and women come and go, boom and bust, over and over. There have been amazing inventions: fire, the wheel, writing, the printing press, the airplane. But this has never happened before, and it has never even been anticipated before except in science fiction. We can speculate all we want about the results and consequences of it, but no one can predict what will come next.

The Downsides Must Be Mitigated

It cannot be stopped, and it will present existential dangers, that is, dangers that threaten the continued existence of the human species. What must be done then, and what is being done, is to develop safeguards and defensive measures against the inevitable downsides. Just as the Internet age brought viruses and Trojans, and just as responsible people have continued to develop the means to stay steps ahead of those who use it for nefarious purposes, so we must stay ahead of the dangers that will come with the singularity.

Please feel free to share your own reflections in a comment.

If you haven't
yet seen the videos, you can watch them be going to yesterday's post. And by so doing, you will be staying tuned.

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