The Singularity: There Can Be Only One

Goooood evening ladies and gentlemen! So, this isn’t going to be a full post, because my internet is down. However, today was the one year anniversary of this blog!

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So, I set up my phone as a hot-spot to get this out to you, my dear readers. I know I wasn’t always a gaming blog, and I know I tend to jump around a lot with what I talk about, but I appreciate your time and your support. I didn’t have a net connection; I didn’t get a chance to sift through my blog-roll for interesting articles to spotlight, so we’re going to have to skip that this week. However, if I could be a bit self-indulgent, I’d like to direct you to my new YouTube segment:

 

How does the incantation go? Like, comment and subscribe! 😀 haha Check out an ad, or follow a link. Maybe, make a day of it? Oh, and the audio gets better once the background stops hammering away at your speakers.

Anyways, enough of that business. Today, we’re talking about an interesting idea that has arisen in the public consciousness recently: the Singularity. Now, this is a pretty dispersed idea, because the Singularity can mean many different things to many different people. However, the recent Deus Ex game talked about what would happen were we to begin up-grading people. More to my point, up-grading their capabilities from a neurotypical stand-point. The basic idea behind the Singularity that I’m talking about is the emergence of an intelligence with the ability to augment itself. This creates a point of no-return past which we are unable to predict the results, because we can’t possibly imagine the things a hyper-intelligence might produce, especially considering that its enhanced intelligence will be able to find new ways to enhance itself further. There’s just no way to see past it; it’s going to get away from us. That’s why it’s called the Singularity. It leads to a point of acceleration past which we can’t glimpse. If you think about how space-time stretches around a “physical” singularity and our inability to sense past the event-horizon, then you’ll get what I’m talking about. If you can’t visualize it, then think of rolling a marble down a trampoline that has been stretched towards the center of the Earth. There’s a vanishing point past which you are unable to see.

I’m not a physics major, so my analogy might be pretty poor. So, forgive any inaccuracies, and let’s just hope I got my point across. With that in hand, let’s talk about the Singularity itself. There have been many, many guesses about when the Singularity will occur. However, I’d like to posit something and suggest another way to look at this idea. First, I believe that the Singularity has already begun. Nothing starts all at once; there’s a building of inertia towards the point-of-no-return I talked about. This is occurring on multiple levels.

First, there’s the introduction of computers. From a historical perspective, there’s no way that someone in the early 20th Century could possibly have predicted the incredible advances that we’ve made as a species in both science and literature. Even the introduction of the much-maligned internet has given voice and literary experience to thousands of hither-to, and otherwise, unread individuals. The YouTube comment sections may be some kind of bee colony of wastrels and no-gooders, but there are gleams of pure brilliance there, and there are a thousand-thousand other forums of communication besides that. Our level of global cultural knowledge is almost unmatched in terms of general history. That’s not to say it’s all good, but it has started something. We’ve made troughs of information available for the gluttonous among us, and you can’t imagine that they’ll keep themselves starving for long. Besides pezzing information, computers are machines of incredible computational power. In fact, computers can be used to run simulations, analyse patterns and do research in ways that we never could before. We’re using computers to produce better computers every day. Sound familiar?

If I were you, by now, I’d be saying, “But Trivia, computers aren’t conscious or sentient, so how can they be intelligent? How can augmenting them really help create the Singularity?” Well, besides the Skynet-hypothesis, there’s another portion of computers that is often over-looked: the User. I’m not talking about Dot Matrix, Enzo, Nullification type-stuff, I mean the brain and body that are using it: the person. Brains are incredible organs. They are parallel processing machines of dazzling complexity and insane adaptation. Brains are essentially computers that program themselves. Based on some of the latest research in neural-plasticity, we now know that brains alter themselves in both form and function on a daily basis. Mind you, they don’t make incredibly radical changes all the time, and they’re still bound by the parameters within which they operate, but they can be expanded and modified to a startling degree. Think about something as banal and amazing as the introduction of the Smart-Phone.

Smart-phones provide, among other things, a near-constant connection to a massive data-stream of information. At any given point, you can click-access a Wiki Data-bank of facts and figures that you might otherwise have had to waste cortex-space memorizing. I say waste, because the brain is constantly warring with itself for cortical space and mnemonic primacy. You know how some memories and thoughts fade more quickly with time than others? According to our best understanding, that’s because the brain hasn’t undergone the physical change necessary to properly preserve that information. Instead, the neuronal connections have only been chemically sensitized, not altered. Even given a physical alteration, there’s no partial guarantee, besides periodic reference, that the information won’t be over-written, over-ruled or mis-remembered. Spending the time to make the physical changes necessary to have a permanent working knowledge of the number of things I talk about on a daily basis would be nearly impossible. I have to look large swathes of it up to confirm half-remembered theories and ideas, but I’ve sacrificed that permanent knowledge for greater processing power. This wasn’t a conscious choice until much later in life; it was the result of how I am able to engage with information now. Granted, you need some permanent knowledge, and it’s the luck of my trade that I can approach things that way (you wouldn’t want a doctor consulting WebMD), but it’s a physical, behavioral manifestation of our current reality. There’s no way I would be able to work with the speed I do at any other time in history. I would have to sit in a massive library with a wealth of servants with incredible organizational skills (Google), a projector or some kind of skilled artists (YouTube) and a printing press (WordPress) to make even this article a reality.

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This hand sort of sums up where I’m going when I talk about neural plasticity, modification and how technology is changing us. The article it’s ripped from is pretty awesome, and you can check it out here. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of everything they say, because writers and scientists can tend to embellish a bit for the sake of a good story, but it’s not far off from things I know to be possible. I’ve seen people regain vestibular senses, and even sight, through the sensors on their tongue. We’re doing some truly amazing stuff. Basically, having these computers around us is changing how and what we think.

Not only that, but talking about a self-augmenting intelligence requires that we discuss intelligence for a second. We have metrics to define intelligence, but they’re not really a description of intelligence or consciousness. They’re useful and valid. However, talking about a group of beings that can augment themselves, what  is their improved intelligence going to manifest as? Improved productivity? Incredibly advanced scientific endeavours? Massive advances in any and all fields of study? Intelligence is a combination of many different factors. They’re related, and they coalesce into something that we have designed a metric to measure (although, what it measures is questionable at times), but we can never forget that it isn’t a single, easily-defined thing. In fact, you could view the entirety of humanity as a large, loosely-connected organism with its own combined intelligence. If you take humanity as an entity, and smush it together with the technology we’re busy spooning and whispering sweet-nothings to, then you’ll see where I’m going. We’re reaching places and ideas we never fathomed possible. This is the beginning. The Singularity is coming.

Okay, dramatic pause aside, what does that mean for us? Well, besides the fact that we’re going to be on the cusp of some massive changes (already are, in fact, did anyone from twenty years ago think their life would be linked to everyone they ever knew through Facebook someday), we get to have fun speculating. You see, if you take the perspective I’ve already out-lined, then there are groups of people who have experienced this sort of thing before. I like to call them “everyone who was alive before ten years ago.” Speculative fiction, even as recent as Back to the Future and Deus Ex, has looked at the changing of technology and how it would affect people. People have been predicting and predicting for many years, and I think we can learn from some of their experiences. Remember, prediction is a largely creative enterprise. We’ve had technological revolutions in the past (the introduction of paper, printing-presses, etc), but nothing has compared to computers in terms of rapidly changing the entire world. If we want a glimpse of what we’re looking at in terms of the Singularity to come, then we should look back at the world before computers, mark the paths of change and prediction, and apply that to our own thinking patterns. Maybe we can avoid some of their mistakes.

Of course, it’s impossible for anyone, besides Gene Roddenberry, to see past the Singularity. So, it’s still just the same kind of speculation. In fact, I could be wrong on all fronts here; the Singularity could come from the rise of the sentience of the computers themselves, but their intelligence will depend on our programming skills and conceptualizations of logic, reason and intelligence to begin with, so we’ll have a hand in it any ways. However, if we’ve got an inkling of its origins, then we can better predict its path, development and how it will change intelligence. Remember, there’s no well or stat that predicts intellect. It’s not a constant variable; it changes with time, hormones, clothing and BAC. Even so, we’ve seen bits and pieces of what intelligence is a manifestation of and how it might be improved. Psycho-pharmaceuticals have showed promise in creating increased memory fidelity and enhanced learning abilities. Computers let us do more than ever before; they will continue to improve.  Our understanding of neurobiology (nutrition, genetics, function, methodologies) have made it so that, overall, we can teach better and learn faster. Of course, that requires that we use those methods, but that educational argument is for another day. Basically, there are small changes being made every day. These small changes will culminate in big differences.

The question remains: With all that calculating power, information storage capacity, analytical power and adaptive creativity, what will we come up with? I don’t know; I’m entirely too ignorant, compared to who those people might be. Oh well, might as well break out the paste. That, or help make this frightening obsolescence strategy a terrible success.

I’ll probably approach this topic again; there’s so much more that needs to be said than I gave room for here. We are levelling up as a species, but it’s more of a Dark Souls/D&D progression than an Ogre Battle 64 class-swap. Still, one day, you’re a bright-eyed young species with only a spear and a silly hat to your name, and, the next, you’re a powerful force of unrivalled power tearing across the battle field. Those who are watching will see the changes, but, to the uninformed, it will seem like the most incredible, intangibly sublime sorcery. Let’s strap in, keep our eyes open, do our research and enjoy the ride! I call first hover-board!

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For more information on the Singularity, please refer to the Extra Credits video that started my rapid descent to the depths of video game obsession. See you on the other side! ;D

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5 Responses to “The Singularity: There Can Be Only One”

  1. A fascinating read as always. I’m going to have to come back to this when I have time to sit down and really digest it, but even from the quick read I’ve had now, you’ve certainly managed to catch my interest.

    Congrats on reaching a year with your blog! I hope it keeps going for a long time to come.

  2. WHOAH (sorry this is the only comment I ever make)

  3. Alternatively, bring it up to a laptop repair center.

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