From: Dani Eder (email@example.com)
Date: Fri Feb 01 2002 - 19:40:42 MST
--- Gordon Worley <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Sometimes, though, I'm put in situations where I
> can't help but mention
> the Singularity. Consequently, I get a "What's
> that?" question that I
> need to answer. Does anyone have good suggestions
> on how to do this?
How to explain the Singularity depends on the
background of the person you are talking to.
At the simplest level ("man on the street") I
describe it as:
Throughout mankind's history, technology has been
accelerating. Better technology has allowed
populations to grow. More people have more brains
to invent new things faster. Even today, most
of the world is still uneducated. As more countries
get developed, the number of educated people will
continue to increase, even though population
growth is starting to slow down. So technology
will probably continue to accelerate in the near
term. In the longer term, one of several things
(1) We will hit limits set by the laws of the
universe, at which point technology will settle
down. Examples: wireless communications already
happens at the speed of light, and the strongest
possible material (carbon nanotubes) has been
(2) We will discover ways around the current laws
of the universe, and technology will continue to
accelerate to infinity.
In either case, there will be a time of fastest
technology gowth. In case (1) it will be just
before you slam into the universal limits, in
case (2) it's when you accelerate off to infinite
technology. The time of fastest growth happens
once in human history, so it is a singular event,
hence the name 'Singularity'.
Various projections made by researchers place the
likely time of the Singularity sometime in the first
half of the 21st century. Because the level of
technology will be so much higher than we have now,
it will be as hard for us to imagine what it will
be like as for a cave man to imagine New York City.
Note the above description doesn't include any
mention of AI. That's because AI is only one area
that can go exponential. Factory automation is
starting to provide massive productivity gains
in many fields. When you get to the point that
factories can build copies of themselves, in theory
the cost of all types of 'stuff' will start behave
the way computers do now. If your listener can
understand your initial explanation, then you can
go on to add the effects of computers:
Computers are among the fastest growing technologies.
For what you would spend on one researcher 24 hours
a day, 365 days a year (i.e. 5 people) today you
can buy enough computers to do 6 trillion calculations
per second. This is about 1/500th of what a human
brain performs. Computers double in performance
every 15 months or so. Nine doublings, or about 11
years, will bring the computers even with the
humans. So human researchers will have twice the
brains to work with (their own plus the computer).
So the pace of research should acclerate even more.
The next generations of computers will come faster
and faster, because the computers will have 2, 4, 8,
16, . . . times as much capability as a human.
This is just like the pace of technology advancing
faster now, when there are 6 billion people around,
than in the stone age, when there were only 6 million.
More brains... faster progress.
Once you get to the point where computers greatly add
to the human brains, it will only take a few years
until you get to the limits of the universe or your
technology goes to infinity. If computers themselves
don't hit a limit in improvement in the next 15 years,
we will get to that 'Singularity' time.
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