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Hegel and Technological Singularity
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Hegel is considered one of the most complicated philosophers in history, his prose being (to put it lightly) difficult reading. So, for the purposes of this essay I will provide a brief summary of Hegelian ideology so that I can identify it with the relatively new concept of “Singularity”.
Hegel saw the “facts” of history as the beginning of a process that involved all humans. He believed that from his point in time he could study the records of ancient civilizations and mark the progress through its stages – these stages being determined by the freedom of the people in those civilizations. He would write in one of his early works The Philosophy of History “The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.” In other words, he believed that the study of history in this context, in conjunction with the reality of his own time, that he could then determine the progress of future civilizations to the point of the perfect society – governed by pure reason – which ensured the freedom of all its citizens.
Hegel and Freedom
It is important to note that Hegel’s perception of freedom differs from what many would consider freedom. The citizen of the United States for instance may believe that freedom is lack of restrictions placed on an individual (such as in libertarian ideologies) and that the citizen is more free with the fewest regulations. Some economists may argue that a consumer is free when they lack restrictions on the goods and services they can buy or sell in a free market situation (The Oxford Companion to Philosophy 2nd ed. ). Hegel, however, saw this sort of freedom as being superficial or shallow – as people would still be subject to external forces. Marxist theorists would come to call these external forces hegemony (Literary Theory, An Introduction to Theory and Practice 4th ed. Bressler ). Hegemony consists of both forced and coerced external forces including but not limited to; religion, government, corporations, advertisements, formal education, media, local opinion, &c. Hegel’s belief is that true freedom is to be collectively in control of these external forces, without irrationality.
The problem arises in controlling these external forces (hegemony) in that it requires a refinement of reason in each individual. Hegel wrote in the time of the French Revolution, a period that began with the Enlightenment but led to the guillotine. Hegel saw the French Revolution as exemplifying those abstract concepts of freedom instead of the concrete ideologies that led to true freedom.
Kant, a philosopher that shortly preceded Hegel, sought to solve such a problem with his Categorical Imperative – which placed duty and interest at odds. To avoid digressing too far, I will simply say that the Categorical Imperative was flawed in that it places objective value on subjective realities. In other words, it claims that there is an objective solution to problems that will arise in the course of daily life (though most students of ethics will attest, every situation has its own specific circumstances and a single theory of right action cannot be all-encompassing.)
Kant believed that the individual is in a perpetual conflict between personal desires and rationality. Hegel, however, sought to combine these attributes of the human condition instead of putting them in opposition. In the controversial Philosophy of Right, Hegel seems to make the claim that irrational choices are not truly free, an idea that has been usurped and warped to justify many different often appalling ends. Actually, Hegel was more likely to mean that the irrational choice was in conflict with the evolution of the mind’s awareness, and therefore an action against freedom.
Hegel saw the history of the development of mind manifest in history and ultimately leading to a common realization, the perfect society. Hegel imagined that all individuals were linked mentally. He espoused this idea in The Phenomology of the Mind (or Phenomology of the Spirit, as it is often translated as Geist can be interpreted as either Mind or Spirit in German). In this way, mind is truly one, in the process of an evolution that will eventually lead to its own self awareness.
Unfortunately, the mind is represented through the subjective perceptions of individuals that often have conflicting desires and ideas. Hegel’s the uses the dialectical to make amends. Through a process of combining thesis and antithesis we can create synthesis. Thesis is an idea. Antithesis is that idea’s polar opposite. By taking the positive parts of both arguments and combining them we create synthesis.
In any case, through the process of the dialectical, Hegel believed that the Mind will eventually reach a point of self awareness. In this, the subject “I” will confront and then truly understand the object “Other” and all conflict will be resolved. All subjective knowledge will be combined in synthesis and this will be god. This will happen on a large scale; it will represent a time of true understanding – and freedom (without any form of hegemony) can exist without anarchy.
The Information Age
These days, Hegel’s ideas are seen as merely a stepping stone toward modern philosophy. He is truly respected as being the godfather of such ideas as Marxism and existentialism, but his work as a whole is scarcely followed as he wrote it. After all, how can there be one mind? How could all information be contained in one universal source capable of combining all to create one overriding theory of existence? How can there be one view of what could almost be considered objective reality? Well, until recently people didn’t think that it was possible at all, the human mind isn’t capable of containing all world views at once, much less combine them, and then act according to that ultimate worldview without bias. The human mind isn’t able to retain that much information no matter how intelligent the individual might be, and most people view some overarching interconnectedness between all minds to be little more than a metaphysical curiosity, not a reality.
Recently, Time (Vol. 177, No 7) published an article titled “Man and Machine” by Lev Grossman. This article explains the theory of Singularity. Singularity is the idea that as computer technology progresses (as it does, exponentially) that is will eventually surpass human intelligence. At this point computer technology could conceivably be developed by computers themselves much more efficiently, and within a few years it would not only be more intelligent than a human but more intelligent than all humans combined. In fact the article claims that by the year 2045 that computer technology will surpass brainpower equivalent to that of all humans combined. Some technologists such as Raymond Kurzeweil claim that this is inevitable. How can this be determined, one might ask? Well, by taking the history of technology and putting it onto a graph, we can see the exponential growth in the speed and capacity of computer technology. We can see the development of human achievements occurring at first slowly, and then at an increased rate between achievements. We can follow the graph across the decades to our own seeing the proficiency of computers first rise gradually, and then explode. According to the graph [44-45], by year 2020 computers will have equaled the brainpower of mice. Within a few years from that point computers will have matched the brainpower of human – and there will be the birth of artificial intelligence. That will soon enough lead to the year 2045, to what technologists call singularity.
Could Hegel have imagined a computer, much less one that could equal the brainpower of all humans combined? For that matter, can we as modern computer savvy individuals scarcely imagine that? Some say that the advancement of pour technologies defines our age, but if that is so what age will dawn in 2045? What implications are there in the work of Hegel can be applied to that age of humanity? I doubt we would call it god – in fact it might tell us not to – but then what would a nearly objective awareness yield?