Did Singularity Already Happen

Technological singularity: a hypothetical event occurring when technological progress becomes so rapid that it makes the future after the singularity qualitatively different and nearly impossible to predict. Most of us assume that this moment in time is still ahead of us. But is it really? Could it be that we have already experienced this magical event, and simply failed to notice it? After all, it is sometimes difficult to notice life changing events when they happen right under your nose – you end up taking them for granted.

Consider this for a second though: in 1969, ARPANET went live for the fist time. It was the first packet switched computer network which allowed for electronic communication on the large scale. It was the birth of the internet – the moment that changed everything. Since then we have been living in a world that was almost impossible to predict from events prior to that time.

Think about it. We gave up on space exploration and extraterrestrial colonization and turned inward creating a global network that changed the way we live, and the way we perceive things. It reduced works of art, books, movies and music to mere bytes – data that can be copied and transmitted freely by anyone with connection to the net. It challenged the very idea of copyright, and ownership of ideas. It revolutionized how we write software, allowing people to collaborate and publish their work for free, allowing individuals to compete on even footing with mega corporations. It became a tool for democracy: one that that gave oppressed nations a free speech outlet, and venue where they could organize themselves.

Could anyone in the 40’s or the 50’s predict that every child and teenager living in 2011 would have complete, uninhibited access to the entirety of combined human knowledge and culture via their phone from almost anywhere in the world? Most likely not. And isn’t that what singularity is supposed to be about?

Perhaps it has already happened and we missed it? We are currently living on the steep slope of exponential change riding the wave of new into an unknown future. Perhaps there is another singularity moment awaiting us there.

I guess it is a matter of how you define it. Does any paradigm-shifting, life changing technological revolution count as technological singularity? Or do we need to pick a specific one? And if we do, how do we know when it has happened? Will we even notice?

I have this funny notion that few hundred years from now we will all reconvene as virtual uploads in some vast simulated space running inside the massive Matrioshka brain that will now exist where our solar system used to be. We will sit around as immortal, vastly more intelligent software ghosts and have this exact same conversation – still waiting for the god-damned singularity to happen and whisk us away into the super-future.

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17 Responses to Did Singularity Already Happen

  1. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Singularity without self-conscious self-improving AI …? That’s pushing the common definition a little bit further than I thought it could. Your definition, actually Wikipedia’s first line, is intentionally vague and the next few lines help answer your question, particularly this one :

    A technological singularity includes the concept of an intelligence explosion, a term coined in 1965 by I. J. Good. Although technological progress has been accelerating, it has been limited by the basic intelligence of the human brain, which has not, according to Paul R. Ehrlich, changed significantly for millennia.

    Computers and networks look like the greatest invention ever because they’re still relatively new and we’re only beginning to realize their full potential. Other discoveries have had at least as big an impact (electricity, heat engines, etc) on everyday life and I doubt you’d qualify them as singularity now.

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  2. I always thought singularity was when machines can build themselves better than we can and technology keeps itself going, but I stand corrected (via Wikipedia).

    I think humans have successfully managed to transform the world outside themselves, but not yet the inside of themselves (their psyches). That is, humans haven’t improved yet: Political unrest, corruption, environmental pollution (the dark side of technology), crime, wars, etc. This is what needs to happen next, IMHO, but nobody knows how to do it, yet.

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Zel:

    Ah, but we could argue that the basic intelligence of the human brain has been augmented by the ubiquitous high bandwidth access to the internet. And this process will only continue. :P

    Think about it – we already have a basic framework in place. Now we just need to figure out a way to interface it with our minds better. How long until we will be able to dump raw stream of consciousness and memories to offsite storage (doubleplus encrypted of course)? Tag, index and categorize memories and store them in silico in addition to flaky and mutable gray matter.

    Also, the internet was also a stepping stone towards the development of a true self improving AI. Without it we wouldn’t have the open source movement and young aspiring computer geeks would have much more trouble learning programming at an early age. The industry would be in a very different place without the internet.

    But yeah, I agree. It’s probably not the singularity. I was trying to put myself in the shoes of a future, post singularity historian though – trying to trace it all back to some single monumental event where it all started.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:

    The pollution thing we can fix. We still seem to be partly in a post-industrial transitory stage where we burn fossil fuels for energy. Eventually though I suspect we will be able to switch to clean energy, and get a grip on the amount of waste byproducts we dump into the environment.

    The other stuff though – crime, corruption, ideological conflicts – I think that will never really go away. But we can make these things much less of a pain in the ass.

    Think about it. Eventually most of us will have a robust consciousness backup scheme so getting murdered or dying in a war will merely be an inconvenience. Or if we migrate into simulated environments we can abolish the experience of death completely.

    Similarly, we are heading for post-scarcity economy territory. When most of us are uploads and and no longer have physical needs (save for server maintenance) violent crime will likely subside. Stuff like scams, identity theft, etc will still be around.

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  5. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Unfortunately, the future is still not evenly distributed – where I live, only 55% of 15+ old people have internet at home, and Internet enabled smartphones are far from ubiquitous.

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  6. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:

    Ah, but we could argue that the basic intelligence of the human brain has been augmented by the ubiquitous high bandwidth access to the internet. And this process will only continue. :P

    I’d disagree with this argument :) Considering the average user’s searches, I’d say the Internet is very rarely used by said user as a tool for enlightenment. People seeking knowledge already had public libraries containing extensive encyclopedias and detailed books, long before Wikipedia emerged. It’s now easier than ever to access information, but that doesn’t mean people do it more often.

    What the Internet and computers did for researchers was speed up communication and accelerate tests involving massive calculations. It was not determinant in springing new ideas in our greatest minds, they would have come up with them anyway. Joint research efforts have existed for a long time, even long distance through letters. When computers come up with a revolutionary idea that no human ever considered before, then we can say Singularity isn’t far off.

    That the Internet is a stepping stone towards the development a true AI is probably true, but so is Electricity. So is Fire. How far do you want to trace back ? Storing human consciousness on computers is still pretty uncertain, the last time I checked we weren’t even sure how our brains worked…

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  7. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    For singularity to happen we need one of two things:
    1. A true AI that is capable of developing better AI.
    2. Complete redesign of our own brains, enhancing our own mental capacity.

    In short we need ability to upgrade consciousness using the knowledge that we acquired.
    Current process of learning is slow, but if we can do it instantly then scientific progress will be very quick.

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  8. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    P.S. It keeps bothering me. What does that icon by my name of a banana with an alt text saying “Terminalist” mean?

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  9. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    P.P.S. Now I’ve got Deja vu that I already asked that question in the past and somebody answered and now it’s bothering me even more. Screw this stupid thing I call brain!

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  10. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    It is an interesting thought. I agree that ‘human brain + Internet’ is qualitatively different from ‘bare human brain’, so perhaps the invention of the Internet counts as a “redesign” of our brains.

    But if we define the singularity merely as “it makes the future after the singularity qualitatively different and harder to predict.” it seems the human history if full of singularities. Couldn’t your argument be applied to the industrial revolution? For people living before the industrial revolution, life must surely look different afterwards. Who could imagine a world where obesity rather than starvation would be a problem among the lower classes?

    @ Liudvikas, @ IceBrain:
    The banana is exaplained in this link.

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  11. nitro2k01 SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    This guy argues that we were already past the singularity by 1918. In other words, he’s arguing that the singularity was the industrial revolution, plain and simple. I’d like to claim that the singularity stretches almost another century, to about the 1980s-1990s. It’s about that time, I think, you could sit down and for the first time imagine the 21st century (in terms of technology) somewhat accurately, given a sober analysis.

    Point is, I, too, think the singularity is behind us. I think, perhaps foolishly, that the rest of the 21st century won’t offer any major breakthroughs, quantum leaps, if you will. Progress, yes, but not breakthroughs. In other words, I think it’s fairly safe to predict that the coming 90 years will sort of be the same as the past 10 years.

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  12. nitro2k01 SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    PS, I got internal server error’d again. :(
    Perhaps some buggy WP plugin?

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  13. bronsoja UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Luke Maciak: With the talk of AI, singularity, and digitized consciousness.. have you ever read the Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K Morgan? They paint an interesting future with true AI and digitized minds, but they don’t really go as far as an incomprehensible post-singularity.

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  14. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ IceBrain:

    Damn, that sucks. I thought that Europe was supposed to be better about this stuff. My mom lives in Poland and her whole neighborhood is blanketed by free municipal wifi. Granted, the service sucks, keeps going down and the speeds suck so much she recently got a DSL line but still – at leas they are trying. And Poland has never really been a fore-runner when it comes to internet coverage.

    @ Liudvikas:

    Yeah, I kinda playing devils advocate trying to flip things around for the sake of conversation. I’m still hoping for the singularity in the future. :)

    @ Tino:

    Yeah, that’s what I was saying. We could count the taming of fire, the invention of the wheel, discovery of agriculture and industrial revolution as mini-singularities if we use the lax definition of the term. They all changed the world forever.

    Also, thanks for explaining the banana thing :)

    @ nitro2k01:

    Oh, nice link. This guy does a way better job of making this argument. Love it.

    nitro2k01 wrote:

    I think it’s fairly safe to predict that the coming 90 years will sort of be the same as the past 10 years.

    No, don’t say that. I’m really hoping some shit is gonna change. For example, I want neural implants, direct uplink to the net, universal high wifi bandwidth in urban areas, and wetware inteface that would allow me to have a HUD piped directly into my optical nerves. Please don’t tell me we are not getting that before I die.

    Speaking of which, I’m not very keen on dying. I was really hoping that they were gonna fix that stupid aging bullshit in the next like 40 years so. I’m still hoping for a singularity in the future. :)

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  15. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:

    Be calm, no one is going to die! That is unacceptable. We will have lab grown organs in the next decade or two. That should give us some extra time to wait for true immortality. Though I still hope some mad scientist is going for all that “synthetic organs” routine, replacing my current squishy things with more squishy things doesn’t seem awesome enough :)

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