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The Singularity: what to expect when machines get smarter than us
Dick Pelletier   Dec 25, 2012   Ethical Technology  

What can we expect when machines surpass humans in intelligence; a point in time that futurists predict could become reality by 2045. Though it’s impossible to forecast this far in advance with 100% accuracy, by combining predicted technology breakthroughs with present-day knowledge, we can make plausible guesses about how tomorrow’s super-intelligent machines might affect our lives.

The concept for the Singularity goes something like this: as computers become faster with increased memory capabilities, they will eventually develop intelligence comparable to humans. These machines will not only defeat us in chess and games like Jeopardy, but will also drive cars, write books and replace humans in customer service; and one day, they may even emulate consciousness. 5-min video explains.

With today's manufacturers adding more speed and memory into computers each year, by 2030, these silicon creations will become efficient enough to build their own new models, increasing intelligence with each succeeding generation. This will evolve into what many describe as an intelligence explosion.

These machines could then keep on developing until they surpass human levels of intelligence, a phase many predict will happen by 2045. This event will also speed other technology breakthroughs; in fact, the future may advance quicker than biological brains can understand. This defines the Singularity: "A point in time when artificial intelligence drives technologies forward faster than we can comprehend."

Some worry that it may be impossible to predict the behavior of these future super-intelligent machines. Will they be dangerous and want to take over our world; or will they be eager to help solve problems that have forever plagued society, such as crime, violence, wars, disease, and unequal distribution of wealth.

 J. Storrs Hall, in his book Beyond AI, believes that as computer/robots advance, technologies will allow us to strengthen our brains with non-biological materials and interface with these creations to share their intelligence. In this way, we will always remain smarter than our machines, and will not need to fear them.

Other forward thinkers predict that in the coming decades, we will merge with our silicon cousins. Robotics expert Rodney Brooks envisions a time when tomorrow's machines will become more human-like. And humans, by swapping their biology for non-biological parts to acquire conveniences such as automatic self-repair when damaged, will develop stronger bodies and become more machine-like.

This trend will enable society to view the merger of humans with their machines, as simply the next natural phase of evolution. Though the idea may seem extreme, most experts believe this is our future.

I am simply amazed at how fast the world is changing. Just thinking about how technologies have progressed during my 82-year lifetime is overwhelming. Jet travel did not exist when I grew up in the 1930s; a five-day ocean trip was the main way to go from America to Europe, and 'wireless' meant the wood-paneled Zenith radio in the living room. TV arrived in 1950, providing moving pictures in our home.

In other advances, humans have walked on the moon, created the Internet, mapped the genome, and outfitted half the world with net-connected wireless phones, which has empowered common citizens to overthrow unwelcome dictators, as is happening in Syria and other mid-eastern countries today.

As we move closer to the Singularity, other breakthroughs will appear. Experts predict that over the next three decades, research in stem cells, genetic engineering, human-like robots, and nano-replicators that provide household essentials at little or no cost; will make life more pleasurable for all of us.

A positive post-Singularity world could include affordable healthcare, providing most world citizens with indefinite lifespans, and a global economy strong enough to erase today's gap between the rich and poor.

And here's the best part; most people alive today have an excellent chance to benefit from these miracles. Futurist Ray Kurzweil in his book Fantastic Voyage, Live Long Enough to Live Forever, says that advances in stem cells, genetics, and nanomedicine expected during the next couple of decades, could stave off deadly diseases; bridging many of us into this high-tech wonderworld of tomorrow.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


Why do you list “unequal distribution of wealth” as a problem????  Wealth should be earned not distributed.


Ever hear of egalitarianism? or maybe stats on world poverty?

- About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations.
- 925 million hungry people in 2010
- ILO estimates there were 153 million child labourers aged 5–14 worldwide in 2008
- 85% of sweatshop workers are young women between the ages of 15-25
- Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
- At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day

Unfortunately we still live in a world where an economy is based on “slave labor”. Corporations simply move factories (and people) all around the world at the blink of an eye to keep 80% of the entire human species making under 10 dollars a day.

It is this writer’s opinion that society must substantially reduce the rich-poor gap if we are to evolve into a peaceful ‘global village’ and aggressively spread our populations to the stars by the end of this century.

The rich-poor gap could be blamed for much of humanity’s problems today.

This along with our life extension struggles must be overcome before we can achieve what many describe as a ‘magical future’; as we establish our presence in the cosmos.

Comments welcome.

I’m kinda with Pas on this one.  If you just “distribute” you just end up with everyone relativity poor and prevent any of them from becoming successful.  As the saying goes, you don’t bring a man up by bringing another one down.  Also, here’s a couple of things to think about.  First a question: Are you willing to sacrifice prosperity (not just for the super rich) for equality?  Second a statement: Happiness is not given, it is earned.  I’ll let you guys muse over that for a while.

@Christian Corralejo

I don’t think that good education, health care, and food is something that should be “earned”. Like Bertrand Russell once said, a garbage person should make more money then a doctor…? now do you think that is true? will everyone become garbage people in that case? BR thought people should follow their dreams, their passions. And saying that a “man” should do such and such is old patriarchal thinking.

We must look to the future, in fact we must look at an economy based on AI taking over many jobs, meaning a post-work economy with a minimum income for everyone. This is, as you know, a think thank about the future, not a forum about how great capitalism is. (hope i wasn’t too harsh…. I appreciate your input!)

for the here and now check out: and based on that page alone, please tell me how people in that situation will find good health care, food, housing, and education?

@ Kris Notaro

Sense you gave your interpretation of the quote I guess I should clarify what I mean.  But first, it is one thing to help out people who are in desperate situation.  However, if all you do is just give them stuff they’ll never get out of there situation or even want to.  They should receive the education, training, and rehab if needed to enable them to make a better life for them selves.  But if you are constantly taking from the people who are successful and worked hard for there success and give to the people who didn’t do anything and don’t try to do anything, then you prevent anyone from being able to have a better life (sense you keep taking their money and resources) and the “garbage people” who live off welfare just become parasites and a burden to society.  This is where I clarify what the statement about happiness means.  A person is happier if they earned something or achieve a personal goal such as receiving a paycheck after working hard for a given time or losing the desired amount of weight after putting a lot of effort in working out.  This happiness comes from the feeling of self worth and from knowing that you “did” something for a desired result.  For the sake of argument, if everyone received a championship ring it would mean nothing because they didn’t do anything to earn it.  Are “garbage people” who are living off welfare happier?  More than likely they feel useless and incapable of doing anything?  This is why I find AI taking over all our jobs problematic.  If AI can do all of our jobs and do it much more efficiently than any of us can, then you might as well wipe out the human race because we would have no reason to exist.  How could anybody feel any self worth if they don’t do anything.  It would be just like the situation in Wall-E where everyone is just a blob on a floating chair and bored out of their wits because robots do everything for them, even leisure activities.  Again, I’m for helping people who are struggling but it would be a better help to them if we enable them to be independent, successful members of society.

@Christian Corralejo:  I agree that it’s best not to bring someone up by bringing someone else down.  I think the point of the Singularity is partly to allow those on the upper level to stay where they are and prop or pull those on the lower level up to meet them.  Then they can continue upward together.

@Christian + Pas: The article said that unequal distribution of wealth hurts society (not that “wealth should be distributed”), and empirical and historical facts bear this plain fact out. Look at the world today: the most prosperous societies, i.e. those highest on the human development index, are the most egalitarian. Look at history: the US’s period of greatest prosperity, the “golden age of capitalism” that peaked in the 50s was also when taxes and egalitarianism were highest. These are not accidents.

I suggest you deprogram yourselves of propaganda that has skillfully channeled your frustrations away from the plutocrats hoarding the wealth and strangling prosperity from reaching its potential, towards any hint of the words “distribution” or “socialism” or other signifiers of the progressivism that has brought us the unprecedented bounty we enjoy today.

@Dick: “Though the idea may seem extreme, most experts believe this is our future.”
Either this claim is false or you mean a very specific thing when you speak of “most experts.” Singularitarianism remains a fringe idea, though decreasingly so.

AGI (artificial general intelligence - as opposed to just AI which surpasses humans in many specific areas already) will coincide with emergence of augmented human intelligence.  The consequences of both will be far-reaching, and impossible to judge as the consequences of Einstein’s theories were impossible to imagine before they emerged.

BTW, I think 2045 is a little pessimistic, since decades before then hardware will be at least as good as human wetware.  Furthermore, this angst about distributed vs earned resources will be mute, since the era of abundance will soon emerge when energy will be too cheap to meter (LENR), and the newest and largest frontier will become cosmopolitan (space).

Finally, for those skeptics I suggest studying LOAR and the exponential technology curve.  Most people simply don’t have the internal heuristics to accurately judge what is likely in the next couple of decades.  As an example, it is said in a couple of decades medical science will enable extreme longevity.  The rate of paradigm shift is occurring about twice as fast each decade - and some people simply can’t psychologically adapt.

I envision a positive future unfolding.

For example, AGI holds great promise to advance to levels beyond the wildest imaginings of science fiction as we trek through the decades between now and mid-century.

I believe that by unraveling the mysteries of consciousness, which a growing number of scientists believe could happen by 2050 or before, researchers will learn more about how neurons communicate with each other as we create thoughts, feelings, and physical actions.

Once this monumental feat is accomplished, AGI will leap forward with a myriad of breakthroughs including new ways of communication (say goodbye to language), a more thorough understanding of who we are and why we’re here, and how to exert more control over our world, the solar system, and as we maneuver through the centuries ahead, the galaxy.

A positive future can emerge.

SHaGGGz, Kennita,

Bertrand Russell did not talk about garbage people living off of welfare, he said they should make more money than doctors.

Passion and yearning to do something great with your life may be stronger than just the yearning for money.

If you mean by “bring people up” that everyone gets good healthcare, food, housing and education, then I am with you. But if you expect the absurd non-distribution of wealth, if your OK with people making way way more money than the average person, I cannot stand with you on that statement. It is not working today (see the stats and link to the videos above) why would we expect that all people who are super rich will make this world a better place?

Now I am against capitalism, poverty and inequality. I am not blaming capitalism 100 percent, but what I do want to see a democratic world, a radically democratic world – that is not the type of work we live in today. The rich do indeed buy the government. Having smaller government does not work, instead what we need to do is not allow the rich to buy the government and buy their place in the government. I would go so far as to say that the people of this world in the future will be the government through radical new ways of voting. Now we need the voting populous to be healthy and educated to make a future radical voting world a reality. Democracy should always win over money and capitalism.

@Kris: Not sure why you addressed me in that message, as I also just posted denouncing plutocracy. I would also be interested to see this supposed Russell quote, as it seems breathtakingly stupid and naive, which is not my understanding of who Russell was.

@SHaGGGz, that was meant for Christian Corralejo…. I am sorry!

Russell was a guild socialist who thought that if one does not want to work, and just sit home and do nothing at all with thier lives, they should be allowed to, paid for by the State! hehe. Ill try and dig up the text….

I can get behind the idea of a guaranteed income, though see little utility in paying the unproductive MORE than the productive.

What happens if we all become “unproductive”.... What happens if we don’t intergrate ourselves with machines that can do everything from coding to collecting trash better than us? All of us would have to rely on guaranteed income… in a post work society… that is, if the machines are not conscious of course - if they are conscious then they would be a new species and would have to have all the rights human’s strive for…..

I welcome such a development, and it doesn’t change the fact that it makes no sense to pay someone more to be unproductive than productive.

“All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.” - Bertrand Russell

“Academic institutions, therefore, useful as they are, are not adequate guardians of the interests of civilization in a world where everyone outside their walls is too busy for unutilitarian pursuits. ” - BR

“Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever. ” - BR

“First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising. ” - BR

In Praise of Idleness 1932

SHaGGz, he thought at a time in his life, perhaps till he was dead that the “garbage man/woman” did a job which deserved more money then a doctor…. if I can find the text I will post it…

the reason behind it was to make people think. Do doctors do it for the money, or for the passion of helping people? And imagine a modern world without garbarge men/women… We could not survive….

Some doctors do it solely for the passion, some solely for the money, most for some combination of both. Making it so that they are less able to provide for their families than jobs that require little training or education is a most curious way to encourage a prosperous society or show who “deserves” what.

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