Artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence after 2020, predicts Vernor Vinge, a world-renowned pioneer in AI, who has warned about the risks and opportunities that an electronic super-intelligence would offer to mankind.
"It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future," says scifi legend Vernor Vinge, "create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension. Events beyond such an event -- such a singularity -- are as unimaginable to us as opera is to a flatworm."
"The Singularity" is seen by some as the end point of our current culture, when the ever-accelerating evolution of technology finally overtakes us and changes everything. It's been represented as everything from the end of all life to the beginning of a utopian age, which you might recognize as the endgames of most other religious beliefs.
While the definitions of the Singularity are as varied as people's fantasies of the future, with a very obvious reason, most agree that artificial intelligence will be the turning point. Once an AI is even the tiniest bit smarter than us, it'll be able to learn faster and we'll simply never be able to keep up. This will render us utterly obsolete in evolutionary terms, or at least in evolutionary terms as presented by people who view academic intelligence as the only possible factor. Because that's how people who imagine the future while talking online wish the world worked, ignoring things like "Hey, this is just a box" and "What does this power switch do?"
There's no question that technology is progressing at an ever-accelerating rate - we've generated more world-changing breakthroughs in the last fifty years than the entirety of previous human history combined. The issue is the zealous fervor with which some see the Singularity as the end of all previous civilization, a "get out of all previous problems" card which ignores the most powerful factor in the world: human stupidity.
We've already invented things which would have been apocalyptic agents of the devil by any previous age. We can talk with anyone all around the world, and we use it to try to sell insurance. We tamed light itself in a coherent beam utterly unseen in nature, and use it to throw very sharp, very complicated rocks into other people's heads. We built an insanely complex computer web spanning the planet, and use it to pretend to be Nigerian.
Of course we use it for good things as well but those who think the invention of artificial minds will end our idiocy are far overestimating their abilities. We turned production line processing, international economics, world-spanning transport and professional design tools into "Billy The Singing Sea Bass" statues at 19.99 retail. An AI would have to be Terminator Jesus to even begin to change our tune. If an AI ever does exist, it's going to wonder why it's being asked for new ways to try to sell Cialis without using the word "penis" or "Cialis".
Pretty much every prediction of when the so-called "Singularity" will come depend on constant increases - ignoring how, for the first time ever, we are actually reaching the limits of what can actually be done. This isn't the idiotic "the world is flat" limits that we sailed past (and back around again) once someone grew the balls to try it, these are actual factual "you can't build it any smaller because atoms are only so big". Of course we're going to overcome those, because we're awesome, but trying to timetable it is like writing a schedule for imagination.
So whatever you think the Singularity is, it's going to happen. No question. Entire international panels have been set up to study the potentially lethal effects of certain advances, but no-one would dream of stopping research - and even if they did they couldn't stop other people. But don't be surprised when the main result of artificial intelligence research isn't a utopian society or utterly authentic sex-bots, but the fact your spam filter doesn't work anymore.
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