Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Emergent Complexity and Biological Engineering: 21st Century Science

I have decided to add two fields of scientific research and development to my roster of subjects to keep up with on my Singularity Blog. As we have established a beachhead on the shores of the 21st century, these two fields have become, as some would put it, the new new things. As I continue to comb through large quantities of articles on current developments in order to bring to my readers relevant and interesting news, I will be including these two topics: Emergent Complexity and Biological Engineering.

Whereas, not too long ago, creationists were able to convince many that the complexity of life could not be explained by science and must therefore remain the province of a Creator, this realm alas has joined so many others in falling to the advancing armies of scientific investigation. Emergent complexity is now understood to show that complex systems do emerge naturally out of a large number of simple interactions, with no need for a controlling entity. With a few very simple rules for each ant to follow, the complex behavior of the colony emerges. The complex shapes of snowflakes emerge out of the simple interactions of water molecules. A flock of birds moves and shifts in the sky in highly complex and coordinated fashion, using only the simple rules followed by each bird. These are examples of emergent complexity. What does this have to do with Singularity?

As we build computers that approach the level of complexity of the human brain, the question arises: Is consciousness the natural result of complexity? When we are able to build systems with as many connections between transistors as there are synapses in the brain, will the first sentient machine be born? No matter what anyone thinks is the answer, we will all find out soon enough.

Bioengineering is coming to the forefront of science only recently, since we are approaching a degree of understanding and technological wizardry wherein we can engineer and transform our own biology. Of course a nightmare scenario will immediately come to mind, thanks to Mary Shelley, but we hope for better things, such as the eradication of genetic disease and even death itself.

So onward we go, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.

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