The Technological Singularity – In Response to Charles Stross

Charlie Stross* wrote an well reasoned argument against the Technological Singularity.  While I agree with most of his article, he is following almost a fundamental aspect of The Technological Singularity.  What he, and IMO, other post-humanists and those of similar thoughts, is missing is that technological singularities have already occurred and will continue to occur at as massively increasing pace as Kurzweil suggests.

Stross’ statements about there never being a true human-like super intelligence or human uploading into computers is perfectly reasonable and I agree with it.

But when speaking of a singularity, what I think most people are talking about is an event that revolutionizes the way people live their lives.  The ones before such an event could not have seen it coming and the ones that live after the event wonder how anything could have been done before it.

True, something like super-intelligent AI or true nanotechnology or consciousness uploading might represent a true singularity event, but I don’t really think so.

If you think about it for a minute, what would change if we created a strong AI?  Not a lot as that entity would be restricted to a hypercomputer.  Sure it could get on the internet (if the researchers let it), but other than manipulate data, what could it do?  Without advanced machine controlled robots, then it can only manipulate data.  It would probably result in the death of the internet as company computers where pulled off the net.  But that’s about it.

Same thing with nanotech and consciousness uploading.  When these processes first become available, they will be massively expensive.  Only the rich will have access and the rest of the world will continue on just as it has for all of its existence so far.

But what do we see in the world now?

Cell phones use world wide is on a massive upswing Broadband mobile subscriptions are the same.  It makes sense, it’s easier to build one tower than run lines to every house in the area.  Developing countries will probably skip the entire phones in the house phase that developed countries have gone through.  My company is involved in using cell phones for educational purposes because in certain areas (much of Africa for example), you can’t get computers, DSL, cable, or whatever, but you can get broadband cellular service.

Smart phones and the like represent a technological singularity.  Our children, heck most everyone born after 1985, will have no clue what it was like with constant communication and instant access to everything.  Even I have trouble remembering what life was like with smartphones and I’ve only had one for about two years.  I mean how did I travel without google maps and their traffic updates?

Arguable the internet represents another singularity.  Computers do not, because they didn’t really change the way we lived, until the internet came out.

There are some really impressive technologies on the way in right now.  Many companies are examining enhanced reality.  Imagine your cell phone as your own private tour guide through a museum.  Every time you hold the camera up to a painting or display, you can get details, a vocal description, and links to more resources.  And that’s just one way to use enhanced reality (also called augmented reality).

To keep from going on and on, I will say that mini-singularities are happening all the time and I suspect, like the original purveyors of The Technological Singularity suggested, these mini-singularities will increase in number and frequency.


* Stross is a science fiction author and while not one of my favorites, he’s certainly better than most.  His work is pretty epic (in the classical sense of the word) and very well reasoned.♦

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4 Responses to The Technological Singularity – In Response to Charles Stross

  1. al brady says:

    “Computers do not, because they didn’t really change the way we lived, until the internet came out.”

    what about things and tools, and movies designed using computers?

  2. OgreMkV says:

    Hi Al,
    The point isn’t so much what you can do with it. A movie (for example) is still a movie, regardless if you make it with film and scotch tape or a couple hundred HP servers. However, if you made a movie that took the collective thoughts of everyone in the audience to alter the action/plot in real-time, then we’re looking at a fundamental change in the ‘movie’ experience.

    That’s what I mean by a singularity, something that becomes fundamentally different in how humans function. Computers, are tools for processing data. Sure, you can play games and such. But the introduction of the internet has fundamentally changed how we do everything from talk to others, research anything, purchase, entertain ourselves, etc.

    Does that help?

  3. al brady says:

    Im not sure I agree. The internet hasnt fundamentally changed how we talk to others, its just made talking to others easier at remote distances etc. I dont share my brain waves with others, I compose my thoughts into words, same as before..

  4. OgreMkV says:

    I can agree with that. But the internet has fundamentally altered how we work, play, engage with other people, etc. In addition to having instant access to consumer systems.

    Can you even imagine going back to a time without ubiquitous internet access? I can imagine it and it would fundamentally alter everything, not for the better. I may be a little more technically inclined than most, but there are even schools in Africa that use the internet on a daily basis for education. I use it for work (I work with people in 4 cities, 3 different states, and clients in 6 different states), I use it for consumer goods (comparing prices, reviews, etc), I use it for entertainment (no cable or satellite here, this include X-box), learning (instant access to peer-reviewed papers, forums, etc) and to talk to my friends, some of whom I’ve never met, in dozens of states and at least 6 countries.

    Without the internet, none of that would be possible.

    Most people wouldn’t consider the internet a singularity event either, and I admit it’s only roughly so.

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