Technological Singularity: Is such a thing possible?
No doubt all of you have come across people who think not, but what does it actually mean to say technological singularities are impossible?
Well, what do we mean by the term? A technological singularity is defined as ‘the creation, by technology, of greater-than-human intelligence’. Technology works in close collaboration with science, in that the latter creates increasingly fine-tuned explanations of natural phenomena, which are exploited by appropriate combinations of matter and energy in order to harness these natural phenomena in order to do useful work for individuals, groups, societies and civilization. Among other things, technologies include instruments for yet finer observations of natural phenomenon, leading to yet-more powerful technology.
A technological Singularity is based on the premise that general intelligence is an example of a natural phenomenon that can be studied, and understood sufficiently well for technologies to be built that can amplify it beyond the levels reached by natural selection of biological brains. To say it is impossible can mean one of two things. One is that the human brain is optimal. No artificial brain can ever improve upon it, or if it can be improved the advantage is not noticable enough to qualify. The other is that, yes, forms of general intelligence above and beyond human levels do exist conceptually, but we shall never achieve a level of science and technology required to harness this natural phenomenon and perform useful work with it.
It is worth remembering that the technological singularity need not be a nearterm event. Although it is often talked about as being something we should expect within decades, it could happen in a million year’s time, or a billion..in fact, at any time from now until when the universe can no longer perform information processing (about 10^117 years from now). It might well be the case that we have not created a singularity within a few decades, but is it really plausible that greater-than-human intelligence will remain forever a fantasy? It seems likely that computers will exceed the computational and memory capacity of the human brain, and projects like Blue Brain and Ted Berger’s hippocampus chip are providing proofs of concept that brainlike computers and software can be built (although when a fully brainlike computer will be completed is not something I would like to estimate). Taken together, these suggest that ‘the singularity is impossible’ is an absurdly unlikely suggestion.