Ditman Essay 2

The singularity today

The concept of the singularity is considered by most scientists as the era where technological progress will become so fast, that it will make the future unpredictable and qualitatively different from today. In concept, it seems so far-fetched that it could be in the plot of a science fiction movie. But unlike a movie, the event most likely will not occur in one single quantifiable event. Most likely, it will arise through a long series of gradual and almost unnoticeable occurrences. Has it already begun, are there signs present today which could amount to a “Singularity” scenario in the future?

At its heart, the hypothesis of the Singularity is that the underlying intelligence of humans will be upgraded through technology to an extent that progress becomes indefinitely increased from what it is today. I. J. Good, a prominent British Mathematician and former Virginia Tech professor describes the process as an "intelligence explosion" (http://www.novamente.net/bruce/?p=59). He further elaborates that it is quite different from normal technological progress because the underlying intelligence is increasing.

Technology is the key to the future success of a “Singularity”-like scenario. In The Singularity Institute’s own definition, they emphasize the importance of increased technological presence in a Singularity scenario (http://singinst.org/overview/whatisthesingularity). Today, computers have reached a status as vital instruments in daily life. At any given moment, a person may be surrounded by computer chips, and internet enabled devices, but even this will likely pale in comparison to what the future holds.

In the Laboratory

Since the brain is the center of human intelligence, it is at the heart of computer-human interaction research. Being able to understand it, and manipulate it has been the goal neuroscience (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience), Artificial Intelligence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence), and countless other fields in Neuropsychology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuropsychology). And though, the brain has been mapped and recorded to a large extent, many mysteries still allude scientists.

Currently, neuroscientists can determine which areas of the brain control various functions of the body and mind by recording which neurons fire during specific activities (http://health.howstuffworks.com/brain-mapping.htm). The method is crude, but it is successful at slowly and loosely determining what each parts of the brain actually accomplish. Through time, areas such as those which determine emotions, senses, and reactions have been discovered.

With this knowledge, scientists have been able to create simple human-computer interfaces. Some examples of successful utilizations are Dean Kamen’s robot arm (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/05/dean-kamens-rob/), and MindWalker brain controlled exoskeletons (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-04/23/brain-controlled-exoskeletons-advance-with-mindwalker?page=all). Products like this have given amputees, and paraplegics the opportunity to live more normal lives, and might make future soldiers more effective at their jobs.

Despite this progress, anything that has been done is only scratching the surface of the immensely deep and complicated human brain. Problems remaining unsolved include deciphering complex human logic by computer, more capable human- computer interfaces, and a multitude of others. And whether or not that human brain can actually be fully mapped is open to debate. But if it does ever happen, it will probably be a result of a more complex brain mapping strategy than what is currently available.

One of the most interesting solutions to these problems is through the utilization of molecule-sized technology, or “nano-technology”. Scientists cite the multiple benefits of an interface that is the same size as the smallest building blocks of the mind, from increased mobility, to more numerous simultaneous connections (http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=2177.php). Nanotechnology offers a possible answer to this problem, existing in a scale only slightly larger than individual atoms.

Technology gets faster and more powerful every year, sometimes so consistently that it can be charted to a graph, like in the case of Moore’s law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_law). And practical requirement’s like the increase of limbless veterans will likely drive the development of technologies like artificial prosthetics. Ultimately, computer-human interfaces will increase interaction between people and technology to levels impossible beyond anything that has been achieved currently.

Beyond the Laboratory

Beyond pure technological achievement, major revolutions require more than simply raw power. In fact, most truly interesting and affecting changes from the past computer revolution come from software solutions, rather than just from powerful hardware. To an average user, a computer is only as useful as its programs that are available.
This fact was clearly visible in the two decades leading up to the 2000’s, when software programs like word processors, games, and a multitude of programs drove personal computer sales and hardware adoption. As we entered the new decade, software has increasingly moved online as the vast majority of the population has moved online, totaling almost eighty percent of people (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm). The amount of internet sites and services available has increased as well.

Something important to consider beyond the amount of internet services and sites available is how the way people have interacted with them in past years has changed. In the beginning of the internet, users were often represented by screen names, and shared little personal information. As time went on, technology allowed users to display images of themselves if they pleased, but more likely that not people remained anonymous. More than just being forced to remain this way, social norms often dictated that people kept the majority of their personal information off of the internet.

Like most new technologies, the internet has not been fully understood as a social medium, and has mostly remained out of the hands of the majority of the population. For most of its existence it has been fully adopted mostly by either richer or younger users. Like most technologies, the internet had not become boring enough yet. Writer Clay Shirky states that “When a technology becomes boring, that’s when the social effects become interesting.” (http://webography.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/clay-shirky-15-points-on-the-web-revolution-in-social-collaboration-and-political-communication/). In the beginning, the internet was high-tech and exclusive, and few people were actively using it. As the majority of the population has gotten on, attitudes have changed.

Facebook is the shining example of how people are using the internet as more social medium than ever before. Almost every new release of the service allows users to be more social and connected on the internet, whether they like it or not. Even at risk of what some user’s believe to be an invasion of privacy, Facebook is leading the way towards a more social internet, that is more widely used and connected (http://mashable.com/2010/01/12/facebook-privacy-detrimental/).

Now in 2010, most people would consider exchanging pictures, updates, and personal messages through the internet. It has also become more normal to find relationships online through websites like eHarmony. In the future, it may be expected that people have their entire university educations online or a thorough record of their medical history on the internet. Changing utilization of the technology has only begun to affect the way people use the internet.

Beyond just knowledge management, it is foreseeable that one day people may establish an entire online identity which comprises the majority of their actions and thoughts. At the furthest extant of this spectrum, it is believable to think that the line between people and their online identities will continue to shrink. It isn’t completely unbelievable to anticipate that the divide may be removed completely one day. Such is one of the most important debates of the singularity.

Merging of the two

Computer hardware and software are changing the way human beings live and solve major problems. The internet is pushing these changes to society further than ever. In the middle of all this change is the human being, which has remained the same for thousands of years. The questions of when and how the actual human being will be changed are those asked by Singularity scientists.

Whether or not a singularity like event will truly be fulfilled is a question that only time will be able to answer. Computers improve and change every day, but there is now promise that they will ever be successfully be infused with the human body. The one thing that may be considered certain is that computers will almost certainly make the future a richer, more non-zero alternative to what exists today.

Works Cited

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Cole, Emmet. "Brain-controlled Exoskeletons Advance with MindWalker." Wired.co.uk - the Future as It Happens. Web. 13 May 2010. <http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-04/23/brain-controlled-exoskeletons-advance-with-mindwalker?page=all>.

"HowStuffWorks "How Brain Mapping Works"" Howstuffworks "Health" Web. 13 May 2010. <http://health.howstuffworks.com/brain-mapping.htm>.

Klien, Bruce. "AGI-World » Quote: I. J. Good’s Intelligence Explosion (1965)." Novamente - Intelligent Virtual Agents. Web. 13 May 2010. <http://www.novamente.net/bruce/?p=59>.

Lavrusik, Vadim. "Why Facebook's Privacy Changes Are Detrimental to Users." Social Media News and Web Tips – Mashable – The Social Media Guide. Web. 13 May 2010. <http://mashable.com/2010/01/12/facebook-privacy-detrimental/>.

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"Neuroscience." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 13 May 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience>.

Tweney, Dylan. "Dean Kamen’s Robot Arm Grabs More Publicity | Gadget Lab | Wired.com." Wired News. Web. 13 May 2010. <http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/05/dean-kamens-rob/>.

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