When Will the Technological Singularity Happen?
Rapidly changing times
As we look forward to the next 30 years, many futurists predict a coming "singularity", wherein the pace of change of technology and tech improvements will be so rapid that nobody with an unaugmented human brain will be able to understand the innovations, and nobody will be able to predict the outcome or direction of the technology itself. I believe this phenomenon may be a lot closer than most people think.
Our brains are already augmented
One of the main tenets of the technological singularity espoused by guys like Ray Kurzweil is that unaugmented human brains won't be able to keep up with the rapid pace of change when this singularity occurs. Consider how much we already rely on not only our smartphones, but also on "the cloud"- a mythical place where our memories and thoughts are stored.
For starters, I don't think I know a single phone number any more other than my own. I remember a time when I had to memorize at least my ten closest friends' phone numbers, along with my parents' house, a few restaurants or movie theaters, and so on. Now that information is stored in my cell phone, which is an Android device, which means the info is ultimately stored in "the cloud" somewhere (so that if my phone is destroyed, I won't lose any of those numbers).
Likewise, I have written many articles that outline my opinions on any number of issues, from the singularity to being in a punk rock band, to how to have fun with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Many of these articles lay out arguments I'll use when discussing a topic, but don't always remember the very best way to frame the discussion. That piece of my memory is now stored online. The same argument can be made for pictures and video, which are crystal clear memory fragments of a particular moment in my life, which I can remember with clarity as though I was there thanks to "the cloud."
What year will the technological singularity happen?
Being "left behind"
When I have discussions with friends who don't have smartphones and insist on not using social media like Facebook, I find it increasingly difficult to have everyday discussions with them. It's almost as though we are no longer speaking the same language, because I'm able to process information far more rapidly than they are with my "augmented brain", whether it's via looking something up by talking into my phone (via Google), or crowdsourcing an answer by posting on Facebook or Twitter, whereby I get an answer within literal seconds.
Remember how we used to have debates about the first movie appearance of a particular actor, or what year a book came out? I used to argue about this with my friends all the time when growing up (and well into my early 20s), and we'd have debates based on logic in order to determine- very tenuously- who was right. This paradigm is kaput, because now we just look it up on the web and find out definitively in a matter of seconds. Those who lack the ability to research the correct answer instantly are going to be at a serious disadvantage as far as debating goes, because if you're arguing a fact with me and you're wrong, I'm going to know for sure that you're wrong within a few seconds if I just take the time to look it up.
We're already seeing the next generation of intelligent augmentation, too, as Google Glass and the like begins to gain popularity (although, to be honest, we won't see this take off with any kind of real popularity until the price drops- and it will, very soon- and contacts are introduced, which seems to be likely within 2 years). Instead of stopping to look something up by getting out your phone (assuming it isn't already out, like an extra appendage, which is increasingly the case), we'll just be able to talk to our "glass" or "lens" and read on our heads up display.
Ultimately, this connectivity will result in a far more intelligent, more informed world. Opinions and new thought paradigms will spread far more rapidly, and antiquated notions of paranoid dogmas will come crashing to a timely end. In fact, this is already happening today, as many oppressive government regimes that once seemed invulnerable are now starting to show cracks in their defenses. Some (including Mikhail Gorbachev) believe that the advent of the Internet and the subsequent spread of knowledge contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union, arguably one of the greatest empires in modern history. Egypt's recent revolution is also sometimes referred to as "the Facebook revolution."
Bet you never thought you'd hear those words in that combination a few years ago!
We are borg
Join the movement forward. "We are borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."
This may sound like something worth fighting against due to dystopian sci-fi fantasies about the future (and there are plenty of them, from The Matrix to 2001 to Transcendence), but in fact, technology is exactly what makes us human. We've been harnessing tools with our opposable thumbs for millions of years and evolving into the beautiful species you see today, and that process isn't stopping, it's accelerating. The possibilities of the human race over the coming decades will far surpass the accomplishments of the last 2000 years, beyond the unaugmented brain's wildest dreams. This is happening now. Become a part of it, and let's see what we can accomplish together!
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2014 Andrew Smith