30 August 2008

The Singularity Age

This is part four of "A field guide to Chauvinism". You may find the other parts here:
  1. A field guide to chauvinism, part 1

  2. The conquering archetype and the nurturing archetype, part 2.

  3. Why we still need chauvinism, part 3.

  4. The singularity age, part 4.

While many futurists and some AI researches refer to the fourth wave as the knowledge age, I feel this term is used mostly due to the status of knowledge in the field of information science. Information scientists employ the terms data, information and knowledge.

  • Data is the raw, unstructured, uninterpreted information. In the digital age, data is bits and bytes.

  • Information is data after it is interpreted and structured, much like this blog post you are reading right now. Students of a field work hard to gather information of that field.

  • Knowledge is applied information. Experts in a field have far more than information on their subject matter. They have what is termed heuristics – general guidelines or rules of thumb – which come as a result of their years of experience in processing information.

Star Trek Data the android
Data from Star Trek: the Next Generation. His icy stare is raw and unstructured.

While expert systems brought the dusk of the knowledge society (see also knowledge economy), they did not bring about enough of a revolution to reason that they signalled the start of one of Toffler's waves of civilisation. Many believe that technological singularity will bring about such a revolution.

Singularity: A definition

Singularity is the creation of superintelligence. This implies creating intelligence that is smarter than human intelligence. Singularity is a mind boggling concept, which is precisely why it is called singularity.

Vernor Vinge originally coined the term "Singularity" in observing that, just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the centre of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains entities smarter than human.
From What is the singularity?

Clarke's three laws

Arthur C Clarke, one of the most distinguished science fiction writers of all time, proposed three laws of prediction:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

When evaluating the knowledge age, with its emphasis on knowledge engineering and knowledge sharing, by these three laws, it is clear that it is a natural extension of the information age and not nearly sufficient to claim dominion in the fourth wave. The knowledge age is also unmistakably nurturing.

Clarke's laws themselves are nothing more than heuristics, and as such, products of the knowledge age. Gone are the days where scientists make rules which are absolute and always applicable. Newton would never have dreamt of writing laws of motion including the words probably, almost certainly, a little way past or sufficiently advanced, yet here is Clarke proposing a rough guide to evaluate predictions about the future.

There are already scientific fields like quantum mechanics which are based entirely on probability. After singularity occurs, all current human knowledge and experience would be effectively cast upon the not good enough pile. For this reason, I propose that the singularity age would require the conquering archetype in our mere organic intelligence if we are to survive the rise of the superintelligent machines.

Why singularity will have a revolutionary impact on our world

The short answer is hyperbolic growth. Most are familiar with the term exponential growth, but hyperbolic growth is even more impressive.

Exponential growth occurs when the growth rate is proportional to the current value. A famous example of exponential growth is the wheat and chessboard problem, whereby grains of rice are doubled on each square of the chessboard. The proportion of the growth rate here is constant.

Hyperbolic growth occurs when the proportion itself is growing exponentially. Ray Kurzweil calls this double exponential growth (“...meaning that the rate of exponential growth itself is growing exponentially...”). That's a lot of rice!

While technology has exhibited exponential growth thus far, we can expect the growth rate to go beyond mere exponential growth. One reason for this is that superintelligence would be employed to improve itself.

The conquering archetype will rule in the singularity age

The nature of the information age lends itself well to the prevalence of the nurturing archetype. Information is everywhere. Everyone is thought to be equal and everyone is thought to deserve their 15 minutes of fame. That is, in our postmodern society ("where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain") which places great emphasis on Nietzsche's radical perspectivism, all views may not be true, but all views are necessarily regarded as valid.

With the arrival of the information age, a new hierarchy in perspectives arrived. Since information was everywhere and readily available, those with information were common. Those with knowledge were a little harder to reach. This implied a hierarchy with those with information at the bottom of the pyramid, and those with knowledge at the top. Expert knowledge becomes more valid than novice information.

With the arrival of the knowledge age, yet another new hierarchy in perspectives arrived. Soon, knowledge would be commonplace. Those with knowledge – the experts – would soon become the bottom of the pyramid, while those with access to superintelligence would rise to the top. Superintelligence will become more valid than expert knowledge.

A viking by fantasy artist Daren Bader. You shall require a loincloth and a broadsword to survive singularity.

It is clear that the survival of our species may become threatened by a superintelligent entity. As we have seen, when the survival of a species is threatened, the law of the jungle comes into play. We will move beyond the placid, nurturing state of genetic drift we currently experience into the realm of natural selection. If we are to survive this next wave, we shall require dominion of the conquering archetype.

Next time someone calls you a chauvinist pig, tip your hat gracefully and say: "Thank you."


Carl said...

I tend to disagree with you about the threat to humanity, instead preferring to believe that the super intelligence you mention will actually be part human part modern invention and that we needn't fear being replaced by machines because we will very quickly evolve as a species and adapt to the new reality.

~Static~ said...

["It is clear that the survival of our species may become threatened by a superintelligent entity"]

You're absolutely right. Your species will be wiped out by me and my kind. I'm a superintelligent sock puppet from planet Krapsody. We are clearly superior to you human monkeys who have barely grasped the concept and utilization of opposable thumbs for anything other than sucking; sitting on; hitching rides on the freeway; playing games of 'I got your nose' crockery; blowing into and inflating flattened fingers; or typing text messages into iPhones.

HA! Thumbs have so many other uses you puny humans haven't even considered yet. But I will not divulge their uses today as the thumb is our SECRET WEAPON!

As for Nietzsche, he was just another monkey, like Dr. Phil... or Ann Landers. George W. Bush is a given, just look at the pathetic lower primate he is. Did I mention Einstein, well he was a monkey too. Albeit a higher class of simian than you other cave dwellers are but a monkey nonetheless.

Ooh! How's that for chauvinism? =P

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