Monday, April 17, 2006

The Technological Singularity

The Technological Singularity

I'm currently reading a fascinating book called 'The singularity is near' by Ray Kurzweil. The premise of the book is that a range of technologies - mainly those concerning computers - are growing in power and dropping in cost at an exponential rate such that within 50 years the advances will grow so rapidly that the whole world, and humanity will be utterly transformed beyond our imagining.

One important point that Kurzweil makes is that we tend to think about the future in linear terms - a gradual increase in computing power, for example, at the same rate as we've seen in the last 50 years - but exponential growth accelerates over time, and can suddenly shoot up after a relatively long period of steady but slow growth.

The key transformation that Kurzweild envisages is the development of computers that are even more intelligent than Humans. Not only would such machines share all the powers of the Human brain, but they would have the advantage of being able to instantly share knowledge between them. If I, for example, learn to speak French, I have no way of instantly passing that knowledge on to you. But if a computer learnt French, it could pass it on to all the other computers in the world almost instantly.

"I set the date for the singularity - representing a profound and distruptive transformation in human capability - as 2045. The nonbiological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today." (page 136)

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