Are we ready for 'Singularity?'

There will be a confluence of computers, bio-technology, robotics, and medicine.

Ever since I read a cover-story in Time Magazine last year about an event termed ‘Singularity’ that humankind is hurtling towards; this amazing concept has gripped my interest.

The person to popularise this idea is - Raymond Kurzweil — a well-known American inventor, technologist and futurist.  He is the author of the best-selling book titled Singularity is Near. Kurzweil, along with British biologist Aubrey de Grey and science-fiction writer Vernon Vinge are amongst the great minds of our times who have written and spoken extensively on this fascinating subject.  

Kurzweil has articulated about this concept ‘Singularity’ to enable laymen understand the phenomenon.  The explanation of this idea lies in the galloping rate at which technology is developing, which we all see happening around us on a daily basis.

There has been tremendous advancement in every field and the rate at which these developments are taking place is growing exponentially. This, as we know, has been aided by the exponential growth in the computing power of computers, coupled with falling prices of these machines. Since Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine invented in 1900, we have come a long way. As a graduate student in the US during early 1970s, I shared an IBM computer along with thousands of other students. This massive machine occupied a large air-conditioned room and students had no direct access to it.

We had to ‘punch’ our programmes on punch-cards (obsolete now) and collect the results the following day as a print-out. The mobile smart-phones that we all carry now in our pockets are more than 1000 times faster in computing power than this behemoth! It is a fact that computing power is currently growing faster on an hourly basis than it did during 1900 to 1990.

Unmatched intelligence

Computers are still no match for organic intelligence. However, it has been extrapolated that by 2015 we will have computers with artificial intelligence that will equal the brain power of a mouse. Kurzweil and his associates have made an educated guess that by 2023 we will have computers surpassing the brainpower of humans!  

According to Singularitarians, as Kurzweil et al are known, it is in 2045 that there will be a mind-boggling event.  Their calculations have revealed that in about 30 years from now, humans would have developed ultra-intelligent computers which (hold your breath), will exceed the brainpower of all humans combined!

Once the first ultra-intelligent computer is developed, humans need not make any further inventions. It will be their last design. Ultra-intelligent computers will design even smarter and better machines and there will be an ‘intelligence super-nova’ in every field of science and technology.  According to Kurzweil, there will be such unimaginable transformation in the lives of human species that it will be unrecognisable from what we know today. This cathartic event is known as ‘Singularity’. Organic intelligence and artificial intelligence will merge and work in tandem. This event is similar to what astrophysicists refer to a point in black-hole where ordinary rules of physics cease to apply.  

After this technological singularity it is believed that new discoveries and inventions will take place at such rapid pace that any problem could be solved. One of the most dramatic assertions of the Singularitarians is that life expectancy of humans could be prolonged not only by several folds but also indefinitely.  Their argument is that aging is a disease, and a disease can be cured. There will be a spectacular confluence of computers, bio-technology, nano technology, robotics, medicine and other fields of science. It is postulated that it will even be possible to ‘live’ forever by scanning our consciousness into computers and exist in them as software! Singularity is for real; it’s not science-fiction.

Raymond Kurzweil has co-founded a university in partnership with NASA, named – ‘Singularity University’ – where their mission is:

“A number of exponentially growing technologies will massively increase human capability and fundamentally reshape our future. This warrants the creation of an academic institution whose students and faculty will study these technologies, with an emphasis on the interactions between different technologies. Our mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilise exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

Few months ago, Raymond Kurzweil was a speaker at a seminar in New Delhi. He had this to say at the conference: “Future computers will be 1 billion times more powerful and 1000 times smaller. People think linearly, not exponentially, but change happens exponentially. Exponential growth of computing power will sustain through new technology.”

With Singularity nearing, we can look forward to dramatically exciting times.  

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