Jewish Journal


March 7, 2011

Waiting for the Singularity


It’s 2011, and the Singularity still hasn’t arrived. But Time magazine seems to see Watson, the IBM supercomputer and “Jeopardy!” champion, as a sign of the human end times. I wrote a bit a few years ago about some of the ideas behind the Singularity—that point in time when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence and sets into motion an unpredictable future. Among those would be the ability to live forever by downloading your personality into an AI computer.

Time touches on some of those theories in this article:

Maybe we’ll merge with them to become super-intelligent cyborgs, using computers to extend our intellectual abilities the same way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old age and prolong our life spans indefinitely. Maybe we’ll scan our consciousnesses into computers and live inside them as software, forever, virtually. Maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate us. The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity.

The difficult thing to keep sight of when you’re talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn’t, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It’s not a fringe idea; it’s a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There’s an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it’s an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.

Why, yes, this is a way to manufacture immortality.

It’s an expensive, uncertain endeavor. And Time has a lot more about it, including Ray Kurzweil’s prediction for S-Year (2045), here.

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