Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Singularity Will Be a Global Phenomenon

Living in the U.S. as I do, and perhaps as most of my readers do, it is easy for us to have a restricted view of where the singularity will occur. We tend to be America-centric, and therefore imagine that the advances in the fields that will bring on the singularity are happening in our nation and can therefore be controlled by U.S. legislation and regulation. That is a mistaken assumption.

As I scour the web for news relating to it, I find that the singularity is being pursued from points all across the globe. Research is being done in many countries, in the fields of AI, nanotechnology, robotics, computer technology and life-extension, in many cases ahead of domestic research.

What are the implications of the global reach of all this research and development? One implication is that the singularity seems to be more inevitable than ever. There is no single, regulated and controlled center of operations that can be scaled back or even slowed down. The pace of research is being driven faster and faster by an organic and chaotic momentum that will very probably lead to strong AI and radical life-extension far sooner than most people could imagine.

Another implication is that, rather than wishing it wouldn't happen, a more useful pursuit would be to attempt to guide the form of its eventual advent as much as possible. Saying it won't happen just isn't a productive expenditure of one's time or effort.

Remember these predictions?
“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

“But what … is it good for?”
Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”
Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

“The bomb will never go off. I speak as an expert in explosives.”
Admiral William Leahy, US Atomic Bomb Project.

“Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances.”
Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the vacuum tube and father of television.

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.”
Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873

Source: Thought Mechanics
Seems to me some folks can't wait to be added to this list.

The following story is only one of countless examples that demonstrate the global reach of research that will hasten the coming technological singularity:
China sees soaring development in nanotechnology: According to the meeting, China has poured about 1.5 billion yuan (about $197 million) into the research and development of nanoscience and nanotechnology over the past 15 years, achieving encouraging advances in this regard. For instance, the number of research papers published by Chinese scientists at the international journals in 2006 were on a par with those contributed by their US or Japanese colleagues. The number of patents they have filed for has increased from less than 1,000 in 2001 to more than 4,600 in March 2005.
Stay tuned.

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Spaceman Spiff said...

I think you're right that it will be a global phenomenon, and in fact the US will have a hard time maintaining its technological advantage.

We are now at the point where we can export data processing type labor, and many other nations are doing much better at educating their top students, particularly with respect to technology since they don't educate the rest.

Seems to me that sooner or later, American workers won't be able to demand a higher standard of living than the rest of the world for much longer. It will not be an easy transition for the US, I don't think.