Have you come across the term “Singularity” on the internet and wondered what the hell it is? Another technological mystery too obscure for ordinary folks to understand?
Well, let’s see if we can figure it out.
The term “singularity” refers to the time when computers, or rather the artificial intelligence (AI) that runs them, will become more intelligent than humans through having developed self-learning algorithms. When that time comes things are really going to change in ways that we can’t imagine or predict now. Some people even fear that humans will become the slaves of AI overlords.
That’s a really scary thought, but will the singularity necessarily happen?
People like futurist Ray Kurzweil think so, but there are others who disagree.
The origins of “singularity”
The concept that humans will one day be made obsolete by computers is not a new one. The first use of the term “singularity” in this context was made by Stanislaw Ulam, a renown Polish-American mathematician way back in 1958 in his obituary for John Von Neumann, a Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, and computer scientist. So the concept has been around for six decades!
Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering and well-known futurist with a reputation for making accurate predictions, has said the technological singularity will happen sometime in the next 30 years.
He is not concerned about a single AI overlord will enslaving us all – that’s just fiction, he says.
“That’s not realistic,” Kurzweil said during his interview with CNET News. “We don’t have one or two AIs in the world. Today we have billions.”
Kurzweil says the singularity is an opportunity for humankind to improve. As technology improves, so will humans.
“What’s actually happening is [machines] are powering all of us,” Kurzweil said. “They’re making us smarter. They may not yet be inside our bodies, but, by the 2030s, we will connect our neocortex, the part of our brain where we do our thinking, to the cloud.”
That sounds exciting and somewhat unbelievable and there are experts who also find the prospect unbelievable.
Can machines be creative?
Here’s the question though: Are machines intelligent to begin with?
This is the very assumption that physicist Robert K. Logan in Toronto and Adriana Braga in Rio de Janeiro question in their critique of the premise of the technological Singularity: The Emperor of Strong AI Has No Clothes: Limits to Artificial Intelligence.
They argue that computers, machines and AI are not inherently intelligent in the first place and that the proponents of the singularity choose to ignore this fact.
The writers point out that human intelligence involves characteristics that cannot be duplicated by silicon-based forms of intelligence because machines lack a number of essential properties that only a flesh and blood living organism, especially a human, can possess.
“In short, we believe that artificial intelligence (AI) or its stronger version artificial general intelligence (AGI) can never rise to the level of human intelligence because computers are not capable of many of the essential characteristics of human intelligence, despite their ability to out-perform us as far as logic and computation are concerned.”
As Einstein once remarked, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”.
The characteristics of human intelligence that can’t be replicated by machines
What are these essential characteristics of human intelligence that the writers refer to?
It is the subjective, non-rational (or perhaps extra-rational) aspects of human intelligence like imagination which a computer can never duplicate, say the writers.
Logan and Braga point out that human intelligence cannot be exceeded by machine intelligence because humans have a special set of attributes that are unique to human intelligence, and they cannot, in the authors’ opinion, be duplicated by a machine.
The most important of these is that humans have a sense of self and hence have purpose, objectives and goals. “As a result of this sense of self, humans also have curiosity, imagination, intuition, emotions, passion, desires, pleasure, aesthetics, joy, values, morality, experience, wisdom, and judgement.”
These are the qualities that are essential elements of human intelligence, but computers don’t have them? Does an algorithm have values or wisdom?
Without these qualities, as is the case with AI, all that is left of intelligence is logic. How is an algorithm ever going to answer any of these questions so integral to human existence: How do you feel? What’s it like to surf in a stormy sea? What’s your favourite smell? Have you ever been in love? You don’t get the joke, do you?
Want to know the best part?
Humans are actually better at solving complex physics problems than computers! Humans perform better because of intuition.
Why you don’t need to fear the coming singularity
A team of researchers led by Denmark’s Aarhus University associate professor Jacob Sherson developed a game based around complex theoretical science in which human players were “able to find solutions to difficult problems associated with the task of quantum computing,” whereas computer algorithms failed. The scientists’ findings were published in Nature.
“The big surprise we had was that some of the players actually had solutions that were of higher quality and of shorter duration than any computer algorithms could find,” Mr. Sherson told the Associated Press.
So it seems to me, it has already been proven that machines lack real intelligence which means we need not fear the coming singularity.