Enlightenment takes a path into 'Terminator' territory

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 12:00am

Whoosh! That was the sound of the word under scrutiny this week going over the heads of, well, just about everyone. Even gurus who know their bits from their bytes and keep their hard drives impeccably optimised may find the meaning of 'the Singularity' uniquely perplexing.

Google it and your bewilderment may deepen. No less of an authority than AnarchoCyberSludge (at www.grubbworm.com/sludge/) states: 'There is no clear definition of the Singularity. No one can seem to agree on what it means.'

The path to enlightenment begins inside that furious absence we call a black hole. The paradox at its core, a dimensionless object of infinite density, which defies elucidation, is known as 'a singularity'. Stay with that thought.

What those professional soothsayers we call futurologists usually mean by 'the Singularity' is a time when, just as our current model of physics collapses when trying to describe a black hole's heart, our model of the future may implode once it contains super-smart minds.

These could belong to genetically enhanced humans, cyborgs, com-puters, robots or Google knows what other stacked silicon forms.

Whatever the nature of the post-human future may be, if we take the Singularity Theory seriously, it seems fatuous to even attempt to talk intelligently about a world teeming with beings infinitely brighter than ourselves.

Assuming that ultra-brainy entities do take the stage, they will almost certainly advance technology in ways we cannot imagine precisely because we lack the acumen.

Would-be seers may as well try to conceive how the occupation of Iraq will unfold and culminate than try to picture how a post-human or - let's face it - post-dimwit world will pan out.

Will the super beings swanning around in society communicate via telepathy? Maybe. Will they spend their time playing ping-pong with little pink blobs of antimatter mined from distant galaxies? Maybe. Will life actually be much weirder? Perhaps.

Or it may transpire that post-humans spoil the party by failing to materialise at all. Reality may remain filled with traditional folk fond of money, fast food and shoot 'em ups depicting scenes of horrifying violence. Despite its aura of certainty, the word singularity implies limitless ambivalence.

Yet, again according to Anarcho-CyberSludge, we have a date for when the Singularity is most likely to happen: 2035. This figure may sound random but it has just a dusting of credibility because it stems from the fact that the performance of computer processors doubles every two years or so. If computer processing power keeps increasing at that rate, in the end, computers are bound to eclipse us.

Worse, according to the theory, only a few months will elapse from the moment when a computer becomes as smart as a human, until the moment its descendants become 100 times brighter. In the time it takes to say 'omigod', humans could be left with a future much like they have in the Terminator films, moping around with a sour look on their faces, wondering why they ever decided to venture beyond inventing the bleeper.

We must take action now to prevent this scenario unfolding, say humanitarians keen to maintain homosapiens' place as the second-cleverest presence on the planet after the domestic cat.

Whether any measures will ever be taken looks unlikely. After all, think just how little has been done to arrest even the spread of the lowly computer worm or that equally slimy phenomenon known as spam.

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