World English Dictionary
singularity – n , pl -ties
- the state, fact, or quality of being singular
- something distinguishing a person or thing from others
- something remarkable or unusual
a. See also pole, a point at which a function is not differentiable although it is differentiable in a neighborhood of that point
b. another word for discontinuity
- astronomy a hypothetical point in space-time at which matter is infinitely compressed to infinitesimal volume
Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
A generalized form of Singularity has become common parlance in Tech circles, especially futurist minded tech folks like me. A black hole is called a singularity because we can predict everything about the universe up to the surface, the event horizon of the black hole, beyond that event horizon the universe we know ceases to be and we cannot predict what lies beyond.
I sometimes make the mistake of equating this with ‘the futurists dilemma.’ Which In general terms is about extrapolation. When you extrapolate what we have now into the future you can say that tomorrow is pretty much identical to today, next week not much different, next month, next year even are not going to be in any general sense ‘different’ from today (baring nuclear war, asteroid splashdown, alien invasion etc.) In fact when thinking about the future five years is generally seen as a reasonable horizon to which you can see and say baring catastrophe things are likely (though not certainly) going to be pretty similar to today, except that things we have today will get better, things we built today will get older, our total store of knowledge will grow deeper but not necessarily much wider or more immediately useful. But if you continue this process you rapidly find that the number of potential outcomes and interactions is so huge that beyond that five year horizon is a universe of maybes. Now in ten years things will not look vastly different from today, look back ten years, and if you can put yourself back ten years and look ten years back from there, the physical trappings of the world were not much different, but the world of today would be both banal and amazing to someone who time traveled those ten or twenty years. Twenty year, forty years, in many ways the same thing holds true the physical trappings change only gradually, building don’t rot away in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years, roads are still new at ten years. But the details of those future selves are utterly beyond our ability to predict.
Then, when you take all the ongoing changes and roll them up you quickly reach a point where you’re head (or at least mine) has a very hard time getting around the number of variables and possible inputs and outcomes over even a small number of years. It looks like the world will have to change very radically under the impact of that oncoming tidal wave of possibilities.
But while I see that as a singularity of a sort, that’s not really what many mean by the singularity. They have a much more tightly wrapped definition and term.
From Wikipedia: The Technological Singularity, sometimes snidely refered to as the “Rapture of the Nerds”
The technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of superintelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the technological singularity is seen as an occurrence beyond which events cannot be predicted.
Proponents of the singularity typically postulate an “intelligence explosion”, where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent’s cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human.
That vision can be pretty disturbing if taken without a large grain of salt and some realization that unless we get Skynet and the Terminator (you know Arnold with a Mingun?) the pure inertia of the real world will prevent the change from appearing as a singularly.
Then of course you have the more constrained but pure dystopian viewpoint.
The Internet is Growing More Dangerous. But Does Anyone Care? Bruce Schneier says “we as a society are heading down a dangerous path.”
From Bruce Schneier: What I’ve Been Thinking About:
I have been thinking about the Internet and power: how the Internet affects power, and how power affects the Internet. Increasingly, those in power are using information technology to increase their power. This has many facets, including the following:
1. Ubiquitous surveillance for both government and corporate purposes – aided by cloud computing, social networking, and Internet-enabled everything – resulting in a world without any real privacy.
2. The rise of nationalism on the Internet and a cyberwar arms race, both of which play on our fears and which are resulting in increased military involvement in our information infrastructure.
3. Ill-conceived laws and regulations on behalf of either government or corporate power, either to prop up their business models (copyright protections), enable more surveillance (increased police access to data), or control our actions in cyberspace.
4. A feudal model of security that leaves users with little control over their data or computing platforms, forcing them to trust the companies that sell the hardware, software, and systems.
On the one hand, we need new regimes of trust in the information age. (I wrote about the extensively in my most recent book, Liars and Outliers.) On the other hand, the risks associated with increasing technology might mean that the fear of catastrophic attack will make us unable to create those new regimes.
It is clear to me that we as a society are headed down a dangerous path, and that we need to make some hard choices about what sort of world we want to live in. It’s not clear if we have the social or political will to address those choices, or even have the conversations necessary to make them. But I believe we need to try.
Well, that doesn’t sound good, but the truth is that most of the time when you peer into the future it’s at best a mixed bag. Remember the early nuclear age? (I don’t but if you go back and look it was atomic everything as far as the eye could see and who knew there was a down side?) Then came the Russian Hydrogen bomb, and it was doom and gloom, rather red than dead, or dead than red, and hiding under your desk, flower power, peace will find a way, the commies are among us, etc, etc.
Well it’s all kinda overblow to me.
I think that if you look carefully, we’ve been in the technological singularity now for something like two hundred years! Nothing we have today would have been predicted two centuries ago, whereas most of what they had then was little different from what it had been two hundred, even two thousand (counting Rome, China etc. as the basis) years before. Yes the details were different across that span of time but if you had the base knowledge you could make a good stab at what it would be like in ten, fifty, even a hundred years.
Our now is like being that lone spaceperson who’s gone beyond the event horizon of a black hole? Because, from what I understand if the passage does not tear you apart you probably don’t have a clue that you’re inside. You will be patiently waiting (or impatiently) for the end of times, which never comes, for you, whereas to all your loved ones (or despised ones) back in the ‘old universe’ who have seen you cross over and pass beyond their perception, you are in the singularity. In Nerd Nirvana as it were.
Pardon me for being a bit skeptical, most of what I hear is the inability to figure out all the potential puts and takes that will result in the real future we will all experience. I think the limitations of the human mind, the human will, human society, human law, human economics, human emotions, and the fact that we are all living it together, will create a world that is…..just…..well…..a lot more banal than many would really like to think.
Do I think the future will be better or worse than today?
- Better, that’s the lesson of the long view, things have been getting better and better across the decades and centuries, despite disasters real and predicted, that have come and gone, again and again. (not to say your or my life will be better, we’re all getting older and baring a rapture of one kind or another we are all destined to die like the biological machines we are…we can hope for an afterlife of some sort to make the travails of those last years, months, weeks, days, hours, moments, worth it but I have no profound knowledge and unfortunately not a lot of faith other than in my friends and loved ones to carry on making the world a better place.)
Do I think the future will be like today?
- Well, yeah, at least it won’t feel much different when it comes, partly because its unlikely that change will come everywhere all at once. It will arrive piecemeal, drip, drip, drip, drip, day, week, month, quarter, half, year, year in, year out. It will creep up on you and you’ll never really understand the change till you get a chance to look back. Just like it has changed all around you in the last, week, month, year, decade, etc.
So, get out and look around, you are in the singularity already.