Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Web Secret #298: The Singularity

Do you want to experience fear?

You don't need to ride a roller coaster, bungee jump, or parachute. Just read this post.

Remember Watson? Watson is the artificially intelligent computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language, developed by IBM. The computer system was specifically developed to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy! In 2011, Watson competed and won Jeopardy! against former super champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

That's a little concerning. But that's just the beginning.

The technological singularity, or simply the singularity, is a theoretical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilization, and perhaps human nature. Since the capabilities of such an intelligence may be difficult for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is often seen as an occurrence (akin to a gravitational singularity) beyond which the future course of human history is unpredictable or even unfathomable.

The first use of the term "singularity" in this context was by mathematician John von Neumann in the mid-1950s.

I have to digress to let you know that von Neumann was not one of your average mathematicians. As a 6-year-old, he could divide two 8-digit numbers in his head. By the age of 8, he was familiar with differential and integral calculus. By the age of 26 he had published 32 papers, at a rate of nearly one major paper per month. Von Neumann's powers of speedy, massive memorization and recall allowed him to recite volumes of information, and even entire directories, with ease.

Ray Kurzweil, our greatest contemporary futurist, predicts the singularity will occur around 2045. At the 2012 Singularity Summit, Stuart Armstrong did a study of artificial generalized intelligence (AGI) predictions by experts and found a wide range of predicted dates, with a median value of 2040. His own prediction on reviewing the data is that there's an 80% probability that the singularity will occur between 2017 and 2112.

So it's not if, but when...

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