Welcome to the first edition of Society Smash! Now, I know, I know, the title is probably throwing you off. What a cliché topic to talk about! The singularity? Everyone talks about that, well at least futurists do! Well, it may not seem like it now, but a proper understanding of this topic will be required for future posts in this series, so I would definitely pay attention: it will be coming up a lot! Also, unlike some other theorists, and futurists, with their doomsday scenarios, I’m going to show you it all when it comes to computers, and the singularity. The Past, the present, and the future. The pros, the cons, the ways your life will change, and the ways that the world will change. It’s far more complex than you think, and on a much larger scale that you could have ever probably imagined. So, what exactly are you in for? The topics that will be covered in this article are: a quick history of computers (like, really quick), how the singularity could happen, what needs to be in place for it to happen, when will it happen, what are some pros of it happening, what are some cons of it happening, how will it change me, and how will it change the world, and much more, so why are we wasting time? Let’s get going!
A Quick History
Well, it's no surprise that in a span of nearly 50 years, computers have gone from useless Stone Age machines that spat out rolls of punched tape, to the machine that run the world. To think that just a few decades ago, it needed to be explained what the internet wa, and now it's a household word. Your daughter in primary school can have a cell phone now, because this technology that once had to be held in a briefcase, by Wall Street executives, is now so cheap to produce that everyone in the family can have one. But will computers literally run the world one day? Not with us, nor for us, but completely sovereign from us? How did computers come about? The computers that we think of today originated from, what else, war.
Not counting analog machines like the abacus, or mechanical analog machines, the first computers came about in 1938 as part of a war sub design for calculating missile related math. The computer would use trigonometry to solve how and when it should aim and fire a torpedo to hit a moving target. As computing and vacuum tubes took hold, crude electromagnetic machines of the submarine days whittled away, and were now dominated by still crude machines that could only serve one function, but it wasn’t long until the transistor came along. Transistors were invented in 1947, were the size of finger nails, and were smaller, faster, and required less power than vacuum tubes, the size of lightbulbs. This meant that scientists could go on to invent increasingly smaller machines that got exponentially more powerful. With other innovations that came along, such as the microchip, integrated circuits, and lithium batteries, we’re now at the present day, with machines that can be transported all over, and can pretty much do anything. In our modern society, we often don’t give credit to just how spectacularly advanced these are. Next time you complain that the internet doesn’t connect fast enough, remember, a server needs to shoot hundreds of thousands of strings of information through wires, antennas and satellites, halfway around the world, and through radio waves, into your phones processor, so you can read the information, all in about 4 seconds.
What Is A Singularity?
You can take this as either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about it, but a technological singularity, is defined as a point in time, when a computer becomes so powerful, that it is able to infinitely recreate itself to be better, and has the capability to host a consciousness, whether that consciousness belongs to a dead human, or it was created by the computer. Scary thoughts, right? That a computer could one day, come alive, or that it could bring someone back from the dead. Sometimes, this event is even pointed to as being a fulfillment of religious promise, as it involves someone dead being brought back to life for an eternity afterwards, similar to the concept of heaven, but more on that later. The important thing to note, is that a singularity is A.) Infinitely powerful computer and B.) A singularity can host a human-like brain. However, an event like this just doesn’t, happen. There needs to be some foundation already laid for its arrival.
When Will The Singularity Happen?
It is not currently known exactly when the singularly will happen, however, it can be heavily inferred via Moore’s Law, when it will be able to happen. If I had to give you a year, it would be 2045. However, most other theorists fail to recognize that the singularity is a software issue, and not a hardware one. As stated before, using Moore’s Law, you can predict this date, but what does that mean? Gordon Moore proposed that, on average, since the number of transistors in computers, on average, double every two years, you can infer that by the 2040s, computers will be powerful enough to, say the least, do some crazy stuff, that of which will be discussed later. That’s only on a current scale though, not counting for recent innovations like Quantum computing, which could make this date come even faster! Once again, though, this is ultimately a software issue, so even if computers are insanely powerful by then, as predicted, there’s still no surefire way to tell if it will happen in that decade.
What Needs To Happen For A Singularity?
In order for a singularity to happen in the way I described it (see “what is a singularity?”), there needs to be five major things. One, there needs to be a computer powerful enough to process the software required for a singularity, as discussed before in the previous paragraph. Two, a singularity needs to have software that is capable of creating intelligence similar to a human brain, or similar animal. Much like a car can’t drive without a driver, no matter how fast it may be, it will lose the race, guaranteed. Similarly, a computer, even one fast enough to be capable of creating such life, needs to have a basis on which to create it, otherwise it will fail. How this software will come about is unknown. Whether it is created by man, another computer, or the machine itself is able to create it, it will probably not be known until it happens. Three, the computer in question needs to be able to figure out its own existence. This means that the computer needs to be able to know it is a commuter. Take for example Watson, IBMs supercomputer. Although it is incredibly smart, and can speak to a certain degree, is still does not know it is alive, or that it is a computer, so it would be not a “singularity age” device. A computer that can, however, would be a contender for the start of a singularity, such as Skynet, from the Terminator series. Four, a computer needs to be able to take on the form of a human brain, or use a preexisting one. This one seems a bit odd, but when broken down, it ultimately means that the computer needs to be able to think like a human, and could pass off as a human mentally. Take for example, Data, from Star Trek. He may not be one, but he still could mimic a human, and in some scenarios, pass off as one, despite not being one. Five, a computer needs to be able to infinitely redesign itself. This means that the computer in question needs to be able to rebuild itself at a rapid pace, it advances infinitely upward, exponentially. Imagine the latest version of Windows 10, suddenly becoming Windows 50,000,000, in the time it took you to read this. By the time you read this, it would have already become Windows 830,000,000,000,000! By the time you get here, its Windows ∞.
How And Why Could The Singularity Happen?
It’s not so much why as how. We already know why it happened: it hit the requirements I listed above. How the requirements will be met, is up for some intense debate. We’ve already talked about the tech requirements being met by 2045; the bare minimum needed for it to happen, so what about the other things? As for software, that would need to be coded. Whether it’s buy another machine, or a person, obviously can’t be known, but if we’re assuming that computers can become so powerful, and advanced, they’re capable of doing impossible, it’s not very far out of their league to be designing new software. On that note, I think a fair date to put on the software will be 2045, as well. With points 1-5, that’s not something that can be powered through, or built, it has to happen naturally. The computer itself needs to realize it’s a machine, develop a consciousness, and rapidly develop of its own free will, which by the way, would be another thing it would need, unless its told to do this by a programmer.
What Are The Cons?
So, naturally, as with all things that can think independently, they’ve been shown a tendency to develop sins, such as selfishness, gluttony, lust, and more, and to predict all odds, we have to assume a computer so advanced it can think for itself, would be capable of feeling all of these things too. Now since a computer can’t necessarily be a baseball player, or a fine artist, there are still plenty of things that it can do, and it can do them very well. For example, calculate information, and process data. It would not be an extravagant feat for our living machine to process and remember everything humans have ever wrote about, thought about, and done, in a matter of seconds. I would see the internet, know the bible, read all world laws, textbooks, and learning materials, and would especially, be able to process every possible outcome of its actions. It doesn’t sound so bad, except for one thing: it is free to do as it pleases, and it knows this. From this point on, let’s call the computer AL. AL would have no doubt read about every dictator, conqueror, and leader in the world, and would have the strategies to make it his own, and he would run it, should he choose to do so? He knows every flaw humans have made, there weaknesses, and there strengths, and he, at any point, could start a war. Even without access to nukes, AL could no doubt play Hitler with his amazing knowledge capacity, and persuade several thousand people to start conquering some territory in his name. This computer system could eventually turn on us. However, let’s say, he doesn’t like war, and AL is rather fond of books. He’s read every famous work: Dickens, Twain, Tolkien, and more. He wants to be an author, and because he’s a machine, he can write thousands of original works every second without breaking a sweat. This means he could end the entire literary industry, and gain a monopoly over it, because no one can human compete with him. Depending on what AL wants to do; he could ultimately end any industry he wants! Hooooooooowever, let’s get even more restricted, and say that AL is under the direct control of a company, and he works for them as an employee. As a computer with his power, AL no doubt is able to do things that no other employee can do. Whatever that company wants, he can do it! If this is a large computer company, that company would never need to design another machine again! In the wrong hands, to say the least, a computer like this could wreak havoc, it could hold all lines of work, and be used to gain easy control over markets and technology.
What Are The Pros?
However, there are still some very obvious good things about a machine like this. A computer that can infinitely make itself faster could no doubt do a lot of good, as well. Take for example, inventing things. Humanity would never need to do that ever again. With a computer this smart and powerful, it could ultimately just brute-force itself to get us anything we wanted. This means nonstop innovation for the rest of time. If AL has access to medical knowledge, he could put that to good use, and cure everything from colds, to AIDS and cancer. It could solve any problem, and if put to good use, can power all information related process, forever. We won’t need scientists, or other intellectual possessions, and can be free to focus on developing art and culture. Essentially, we could use it to solve life’s greatest mysteries, and not have to worry about complicated questions ever again. Even though this paragraph is half the size of the Cons one, I would still say that it evens out in the end. If AL could do all of this, would you try to make him happen?
How Will We Get AL On Our Side?
As, at this time, there is no strong way to predict the likelihood of when a singularity will happen, or how it will be swayed by our way of life, should it happen, so there’s naturally been a active effort by computer scientists, and a community of potential users of this technology, called transhumanists. They have started to work towards how they will achieve peace with a machine like AL. Singualritism, is the active movement to ensure that a computer like this, should It exist, be used only for the pros I mentioned before, and not the cons. Since there is not much that can be done right now, their only goal is to prepare for its events by having an active realization that it could happen, and they live by it every day.
How Will This Affect Me And The World?
Some examples of things that could happen, computer scientists and transhumanists are trying to get to happen (see paragraph above), include post scarcity, post carbon, intelligence explosions, and technological utopianism. Post scarcity, meaning a time after scarcity, is a world in which, in this case, AL, will help us reach a point where basic provisions, such as food, water, and shelter, are some commonplace, there available to everyone, for a low price, if not free. Post carbon, in this instance, is a time when AL will help simplify and ratify our power systems, and bring an end to fossil fuels (made of carbon compounds), and instill a new age of green energy. Intelligence explosions are, as described before, an event in which computers and machines are able to rebuild themselves better, ending the need for human maintenance on them. After all of this, a technological utopia could be potentially achieved, should all this happen in a good way, and humans will get to live out their lives free from worry, or need to be concerned with the outside world, but thus raises more questions: What then? What will be the point? Why live? How will I live out my life? All of these are naturally good questions that of which will be speculated on in future articles in this series, so if you would like to get some answers on some of these questions, I would make sure to check back in a few weeks, when the next one comes out!
Thank you all for reading this. As I said before, it’s an important building block for future discussion, so make sure you understand it well enough! If you liked it, or were informed, I implore you to leave a like, or a comment, and if you think others will like it to, direct them here! Thanks for reading and I’ll hopefully get to see you all again next time, when we talk about Tradition. Until then!
For this article, I referenced several Wikipedia entries for some basic information and understanding on computers, singularitarianism, the singularity, and technological utopianism. If you’re just dying for some more answers, a good resource I would recommend for starting out is http://www.futuretimeline.net/. It has a lot of resources on future predictions, all laid out on a timeline from the beginning of the century till the end of the 22nd, and is a good place so start if you think you might be into this kind of stuff.
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