Documenting the Coming Singularity

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

How AI Could Destroy Us

Aeon (by Ross Andersen)

There are good reasons for any species to think darkly of its own extinction.

Sometimes, when you dig into the Earth, past its surface and into the crustal layers, omens appear. In 1676, Oxford professor Robert Plot was putting the final touches on his masterwork, The Natural History of Oxfordshire, when he received a strange gift from a friend. The gift was a fossil, a chipped-off section of bone dug from a local quarry of limestone. Plot recognised it as a femur at once, but he was puzzled by its extraordinary size. The fossil was only a fragment, the knobby end of the original thigh bone, but it weighed more than 20 lbs (nine kilos). It was so massive that Plot thought it belonged to a giant human, a victim of the Biblical flood. He was wrong, of course, but he had the conceptual contours nailed. The bone did come from a species lost to time; a species vanished by a prehistoric catastrophe. Only it wasn’t a giant. It was a Megalosaurus, a feathered carnivore from the Middle Jurassic.

Plot’s fossil was the first dinosaur bone to appear in the scientific literature, but many have followed it, out of the rocky depths and onto museum pedestals, where today they stand erect, symbols of a radical and haunting notion: a set of wildly different creatures once ruled this Earth, until something mysterious ripped them clean out of existence.

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Anonymous said...

The term “Singularity” was coined by astrophysicists to refer to the zero-volume, infinitely dense center of a black hole where matter apparently disappears from our universe. It is a singular event that is so profoundly unique because it defies our laws of physics and nothing else like it (that we know of) occurs in the cosmos. We know that matter can change from one state to another, e.g., water, steam, or ice—gas, liquid, solid, or plasma—and mass can change into energy or vice versa; we can burn coal and make heat, ash, and smoke—but nowhere in our universe other than a black hole does matter 100 percent cease to exist—as far as we know.

Ray Kurzweil has written about an anticipated major shift in human history, an event so revolutionary as to make everything that has gone before it relatively insignificant. Many pundits agree that a paradigm shift in human history of a similar ultra-transcendental nature will occur sometime during the middle of this century but not all agree on its nature—or how it will play out. Scientists and nearly all religionists profess that it will not alter their irreconcilable viewpoints but may suggest points on which they can agree.

Futurists believe the Singularity must occur because knowledge is not only growing exponentially, but at an exponential rate so that a veritable explosion in technological progress must occur at some point. They suggest that the tipping point will come by 2020 when quantum computing enables artificial intelligence (AI) to begin improving its own source code faster than humans can. In that Singular Moment, AI will begin outperforming human intelligence and facilitate the determination of the function of all genes and the process of protein splicing. By this theory, it will be possible to transcend biology by reprogramming our bodies to a more youthful age, perfect health, an IQ of 165-plus and a PhD in any specialized human knowledge of our choice. That means that science will be able to perfect human “nature,” overcome all human shortcomings and problems—and defy aging and death—literally forever.

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