Documenting the Coming Singularity

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Intel CTO acknowledges the approach of the Singularity

Editor's Note: It is interesting to follow the mainstreaming of the Singularity. Most people still have no idea what you're talking about, but, baby-step by baby-step, as tech luminaries begin to discuss it, humans are beginning to get a clue.

EDN - June 25, 2009

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.—Vernor Vinge

You are to be forgiven if you have yet to hear of the coming singularity. It’s a science fiction premise espoused by SF author Vernor Vinge back in 1993. Boy genius Ray Kurzweil put meat on the bones of the idea by writing multiple tomes on the topic. The premise of The Singularity is that soon, perhaps within one to four decades, we will be able to build machines with something rivaling human intelligence. Shortly after that happens, the age of humans will end as machines evolve like...well machines, and leave us to choke in their dust. Of course, that’s not how Vinge and Kurzweil see it. They’re optimistic that the machines will serve us. Or at least tolerate us. Apparently, they haven’t seen the Terminator or Matrix movies.

In any case, I attended a lunch-time interview with Intel’s CTO Justin Rattner at the Computer History Museum today. The interview is part of a year-long series of events at the museum, which is celebrating the 50th year of the Integrated Circuit. (That’s a big thing here in Silicon Valley.) During the interview, Kate Greene, Information Technology Editor at the MIT Technology Review gently tossed softball questions at Rattner. Most of the questions at the beginning focused on the singularity.

Greene’s first question concerned when we’d know that the singularity had arrived. Rattner replied that we’d know it was here when we saw a robot emptying our dishwasher. In other words, when we’ve handed routine tasks over to machines, then we should know.

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