Singu-Diddly-Doodly-larity: What it means for you and me?

Original article was published by Armin B. Puehringer on Artificial Intelligence on Medium


Singu-Diddly-Doodly-larity: What It Means for You and Me?

Artificial Super Intelligence will make Covid-19 look like a gentle breeze.

Robot vs. Human is a tempting, but too homocentric view of the future. Photo courtsey of Franz Steiner

Singular epiphany

Exactly five years ago I had my “singular” epiphany. Imagine a warm summer evening, palm trees, and a horizon pool. I was on a stopover from Europe and stayed at a friend’s place in Thousand Oaks, California. My host happened to be a great philosophical sparring partner. So, for hours we talked about God and the world.

I just grabbed another beer, when all of a sudden I heard him saying something about “when we will reach singularity “and “soon we will be able to upload our mind into the cloud”. Wait, Singu-Diddly-Doodly-larity, what? Uploading the mind? Honestly, I thought “he must have lost his one”!

In the end, I learned that corresponding scientific and popular discussions had been around for decades already. The subject just never crossed my path, not until that very moment! I got on the hook and wanted to know more about what exactly could change our lives in such a radical way.

A simple definition

Singularity or more precisely Technical Singularity is a bit of an abstract term. There are other, stronger labels: Human Transcendence, Artificial Super Intelligence / ASI (my personal favorite), or Super Humanity to mention just a few. All have one idea in common.

In simple words, they refer to a point in the future when computers will have become as smart respectively even smarter than human beings, with unpredictable changes for human civilization as a whole. “Smarter than human beings?” you must be kidding me! Aren’t we the climax of evolution, privileged to ride the wave of God-given, universal exclusivity until the very end of time?

Evolution is an ongoing process

Thanks to Darwin most of us know that humans did not happen to be around all of a sudden. We are the product of an evolution that started with a Big Bang … somehow. Since then it took 13.8 billion years of gradual development until all of a sudden (in universal terms), during the last centuries, decades, even years something changed. The biological and even more the technological part of evolution gained tremendously in speed. Right now, it is accelerating exponentially.

We are talking about an ongoing process tied to the concept of time that most likely will last until the latter might come to an end. At least for some decades, humans will still be riding this evolutionary wave. How the world will look thereafter, is restricted by the imaginary limitations of our mind.

Hollywood and Singularity

The movie industry has always been at least somehow inspirational on such occasions. Who doesn’t remember Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator? The computer system Skynet launched a fatal nuclear attack on mankind. In the end, war robots were fighting against a few human survivors, and surprisingly they lost. There was still hope for a happy end back in the 1980s.

Or take Star Trek, where the Borg were erasing the concept of the individuality and assimilated everyone into their technology-based collective. I, Robot, Minority Report, Her, Wall-e, Transcendence, Altered Carbon … I could go on and on. Every single production is a great inspiration of futuristic scenarios, some brighter others a bit dark.

They, however, have all one misconception in common. Once singularity will have been reached, there is not necessarily the need for a future with humans, at least not in a leading role. Intelligence will have detached itself from biological matter. Ultra-smart algorithms, not robots, will rule the world. A happy end with Homo sapiens still riding the big wave of evolution is difficult to imagine. Cut. This script definitely has become too dark. We need to start anew.

Poly-singular scenarios

Ok, let’s try to imagine a future where computers will be smarter than us. When will this be? The median expert predictions for such a time range from 2040 to 2060. This is just in 20 to 40 years! Comment number one: everything always takes a bit longer. Comment number two: Exponential acceleration might affect comment number one. Under the line, there is a very high probability that 9 out of 10 readers of this article will experience the impact of singularity still during their lifetime. It will be a massive impact, and it will make Covid-19 look like a gentle breeze.

With any form of Artificial Super Intelligence, there should be instant solutions for the biggest problems of mankind available. The only question is what role will we play in such a world? One scenario might be a friendly coexistence with an ASI or multiple ones. Who said that there will be only one? We could merge with computers, become cyborgs, or upload our minds into the cloud. By the way, that is Elon Musk’s dream of a singular future and he is already working on brain-computer interfaces in his company NeuraLink. Transcendence says hi-five. A worst-case scenario would be a SkyNet like extinction, i.e. erasing all humans from this planet or enslaving them.

As of today, there are still poly-singular scenarios possible. Nothing is coined in stone yet. We write the year 2020. Artificial intelligence (AI) is omnipresent. That is a fact, not fiction anymore. Technological development is sold to us as something good. Something that can cure cancer, stop hunger, could give us immortality and ultimate happiness. This part of evolution is important and positive (though not sure yet about the living forever part), but it comes with lots of responsibility.

The latter is not sufficiently taken care of. I rather see a combination of denial, lethargy, and dangerous lack of understanding, where a small group of people is currently leading us to.

So far, so good … be active now

In “The Magnificent Seven” Steve McQueen told a story about a fellow who fell off a ten-story building. As he was falling, people on each floor kept hearing him say, “So far, so good!” We are this fellow, and we can only hope that by the time we will reach the ground, a future Mr. Scotty (Star Trek) will have invented beaming, and is catching us just in time.

Or, we are finally learning more about Singularity, about Artificial Super Intelligence, starting a general public discussion, and engage ourselves. Leaving this development only to politicians and a small tech sector is not an option.

Singularity is a bit further away than our next summer vacation, but in reach within our lifetime. If we don’t want to risk that this process gets totally out of control, we must become more active, now! Change starts with you. It’s never too late to have your very own epiphany.