by Charles Ostman, Global Futurist & Strategic Synergist*
Brief Bio: Charles is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Futures, chair of the NanoElectronics and Photonics Forum of Nanosig and serves with the management team of Fourth Venture; senior consultant with Silicon Valley Nano Ventures and serves on the scientific advisory board of Legendary Pharmaceuticals. As a speaker on various media platforms, television, radio programs, e.g., TED Talks, NPR, Coast to Coast AM and so forth, Charles has 35+ years-experience in the fields of electronics, computing, Artificial Intelligence and materials science, including 8 years at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also an active participant with the Millennium Project for Global Futures Studies and Research of the American Council for the United Nations University. He has authored numerous scientific articles and publications.
For further exploration/reading: historianofthefuture.com
An emergent evolutionary event horizon already being encountered, at the intersection of AI, Alife, synthetic biology, synthetic sentience, quantum computing and networks in a hyperconnected global ecosystem.
The “Singularity” . . . what is it that we are approaching?
Defining what is often described as the approaching singularity, this is usually confined to a specific event threshold being crossed, such as artificial intelligence being matched with or exceeding human intelligence, the classic model having been provided by Ray Kurzweil.
But I propose it isn’t really a singular anything, but rather an evolutionary transition, catalyzed by the synergistic interdependence of myriad scientific disciplines and technical developments, the threads of which are woven together into a tapestry which collectively accelerates the scope and momentum of evolutionary consequences never before experienced in human history (that we currently know of).
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ~ A. C. Clarke
As Arthur C. Clarke offered in his iconic quote, the comprehension of advanced technology and its implied consequences may not be common among many in a given population, or even a few outside the purview of highly specialized knowledge and skill sets, but the artifacts of such are already being woven into daily life for many, even if not recognized as such. We are becoming immersed in this territory, in which the apparent reality vs. magic gap is becoming evermore prolific. It could be reasoned that this reality vs. magic gap is proportional to the pace of newly developed advanced technologies, and evermore complex arenas of interrelated scientific research which fosters such developments available to some, vs. those who voluntarily opt out of or are situationally excluded from this evolutionary transition, actually regressing into evolutionary stasis.
This apparent reality vs. magic gap is further exacerbated by the separation of various subculture enclaves, in which some are highly motivated by and aware of such tech developments being an integral part of their future existence in their anticipated worldview, and the opposing culture domains which are actively retreating away from any such developments, yearning for a return to a simpler past time, and see these tech developments as a direct threat to their continued existence, and acceptable worldviews.
“What appears to be the future for many, is already the past for some, who are now unfolding it into the present” ~ C. Ostman
I have great respect for Kurzweil, founder of the Singularity University, author several books in this context (the Singularity, and Age of the Spiritual Machine), and chair of the annual Singularity conference, but I rather strongly disagree with confining the singularity phenomena within that somewhat limited definition. I recall having been at the very first of these annual conferences, held at Stanford U. It was a relatively small on campus venue, but packed with attendees, including myself, some who had waited from early that morning to have a seat close to the stage (that would be me).
The motivation at the time was to ask Ray directly, could there be a broader definition of what the singularity is or what it might evolve into, as being itself an evolutionary catalyst, as a form of “artificial evolution”?
He graciously articulated an academically appropriate sounding answer that actually wasn’t really a direct answer, but fit the ambience of the event well. That was in 1996, but even then I had already drifted away from that traditional model toward a much broader, but yet to be fully articulated, evolutionarily holistic concept model.
Yes, the advancement of what is often referred to as “AI” and the computational resource that enables this would be a part of this evolutionary eventstream, but more like a piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle from which an entire picture of this emergent future could be seen, at least by some. And this is where the cauldron of controversy becomes a bit more frothy.
I previously made note of Singularity U, having been there myself as part of a nanotech development agenda. This was when nanotechnology was still seen by many as a theoretical concept, or perhaps in the more extreme visualization of nanotech consisting of swarms of predatory invading nanites, causing all sorts of dire consequences, even reducing all encountered materials into the infamous “gray goo” (Michael Chriton’s “Prey” comes to mind). Bill Joy (co-founder of SUN Microsystems) had authored his famous missive on the dangers of nanotech being carelessly inflicted upon the general public and our planet. The impending nanotech frenzy had been spawned and was spreading out across the land.
When visiting LBNL (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) at the time, a place of personal employment many years ago, I was a bit taken aback by the collection of anti-nanotech protesters, ensconced at the front gate (the alternative rear gate was completely closed off), and the much increased security measures of the time. As a sort of canary in the coal mine, this was suggestive of the challenges that would appear on the horizon as this evolutionary singularity eventsteam approached. That was almost 20 years ago, but its relevance as a glimpse into future history could not be more obvious.
Extrapolated from this pro vs. anti futuretech centric culture divide is the advent of what is often referred to as “scientism”, as seen by those who do not relate to or comprehend anything in the emergent singularity worldview, equating such futuretech centric orientation to a misguided religion, inferior to the faith they are committed to, their religion being the only acceptable truth, and so on.
Indistinguishable from magic, or perhaps in this case indistinguishable from religious mythology, translated into dark magic of the current era, here, well into the 21st century. Decades after Clarke offered his reality vs. magic observation, the anticipated evolutionary transition should be widely accepted, as many (including myself) had reasoned, but in fact that trend has been accelerating in reverse for many. This leads to the next observation offered here, as suggested by William Gibson.
“The future is already here, but not evenly distributed”. ~ W. Gibson
These soon to be encountered evolutionary transitions are likely to be challenged much more in the domains of public perception and acceptance of emergent future tech and advanced scientific concepts, rather than the actual science and tech development itself. As previously suggested, this evolutionary Singularity eventstream will become manifest and available, but only to some . . .
Whether constricted by fundamental “religionism”, or other motivations derived from a profound “return to nature” mindset and other related worldviews, part of this bifurcation will be essentially voluntary, even culturally enforced in some enclaves. Other influence vectors will likely be more in the involuntary category, though acceptance of such will eventually filter into future generations by necessity.
Fig 1 Major increments of the Singularity evolutionary eventstream, originally composed and published in 1998, but with the current upgrade indicating “quantum access” as the primary emergent evolutionary accelerant
The graphic here gives an approximation of interrelated tech application sectors. The relative time ratios might be argued, but I still maintain this is reasonably viable, 20 years after its inception. This is, of course, not taking into account world altering catastrophic events, such as open warfare, highly toxic global pandemics, collision with a metascale asteroid, or other such encountered catastrophes.
Quantum access is a key to unlock a Pandora’s box of spectacular proportions, which radically affects the potential acceleration of most (if not all) of the development vectors already cited here, and others which otherwise could not be enabled.
It is here that Arthur C. Clarke’s reality vs magic dichotomy becomes most extreme, in that the functional attributes of quantum entanglement was, until recently, mostly seen as a theoretical mathematical construct, but not an arena of actual development. This is an elaborate, multi dimensional condition set originally defined by Albert Einstein in what he referred to as “spooky physics”, in which physical entities (photons or particles) could be spatially separated, but temporally unified as a singular entity.
Even among many academics, this was apparent “magic”.
Out of this quantum entanglement condition set emerges irreversible, world changing developments, such as quantum computing, quantum networks, and a pathway towards quantum biology.
Fig 2 The concept of personal existence sovereignty becomes a redefined parameter, in which the coevolutionary transition of humans, transhumanistic morphology and artificial entities are tightly interdependent
The short version here is that quantum computing is a radical departure from “classical” computing, in that vastly larger amounts of operational data space can be rendered from same functional coordinates as the utilized in the very limited operational data space in classical computing. A description of this comparison can be associated with the data units in both systems. In classical computing, data units are “bits” with only one of two binary states possible in a unit of time. It’s a black and white, on or off status representing a logical 1 or a logical 0.
In quantum computing, data units are “qbits”, which can operate more like functional shades of gray instead of the binary black or white data parameters represented in bits. Unlike only two possible states, recognized as a one or a zero available in classical computing, quantum computing provides a third state, superposition which translates into a one and a zero occurring at exactly the same time. This seemingly obscure difference opens up a range of computational complexity and scale compressed into very short timelines that can not be possible by any other means.
Everything from genomic decoding and “in silico” physiological modeling of living systems, to pattern extraction from metascale data fields (as in crypto applications for example) which have challenged the absolute limits of classical super computers becomes ordinary background procedures in quantum computing.
Quantum networks, as are currently being developed, are functional constructs in which quantum entangled photons, at spatially separated nodes or locations in the network respond at exactly the same time. There is no delay time associated with the speed of light travelling from one node to another. This in essence becomes realtime data teleportation, which can be initiated over very long distances, as in earth to satellite, and satellite to satellite teleportation apps for example.
The evolutionary significance of these characteristics cannot be overstated.
In the beginning . . . the spawning of an alternative singularity
For many years I’ve had an insatiable penchant for various interrelated futurescapes, eventually even made a living at this (interesting work if one can get it). This eventually led to having a career path (among several) specifically aimed in this direction. Perhaps the most interesting experience was at IGF, an obscure institute, little known by the general public but with very serious clientele, both private (corporate) and public (government agencies, including military) sectors.
In that rarified environment, the mission was not centered around making futurist forecasts and futurescapes aimed at public consumption, but rather the extreme opposite. Even to this very day, there is much content developed during that time which remains unpublished, as in the IP (intellectual property) of those materials is owned by the clientele who paid for it while commissioning our services.
I make this point here because many published articles and books are authored with a particular orientation, or favoring a thesis which is then defended or explained in its context.
If I had to make a rough comparison to other future scenarios and depictions of the time, it would be somewhere in the mix of Kevin Kelly’s “Out of Control”, Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, and maybe Art Bell’s “the Quickening” (full disclosure, I was a guest on Art Bell’s radio program several times), or even some of own authoring (“Cyberlife”).
However, in the context of delivering professionally constructed futuremaps for specific clients, our directive was to deliver the most technically accurate, defendable forecasting as possible to suit the client’s interest, regardless if it would be forecasting a pleasant, productive future, or something quite the opposite, leaning toward a potentially dystopian futurescape, or other alternative futurescapes from somewhere in between those extremes of the cultural spectrum . As a reference point here, the dystopian versions were usually in the context of probabilistic combinations of factors reaching and surpassing a defined boundary, beyond which would be spawned an irreversible condition set.
Among the top causal entries to that dystopian list were “biological events”, an explanation of such is offered a bit later in this missive. If anything, the current COVID19 pandemic is a perfect example, not so much because of its toxicity, but the extraordinary socio-economic damage and chaos caused by even a relatively short biological event. This potential event signature becomes exponentially amplified as the toxicity, rate of infection and duration increases. If such a viral entity were to be created to magnify those characteristics, the planetary scale damage would be catastrophic on an unimaginable scale, but it was just this sort of planetary scale biological event we spent some time imagining.
As for current situations however, nothing in those speculative matrices of potentially intersecting eventstreams, spawning a particular range of futurescapes, had the cacophony of seemingly unlikely ingredients that would spawn what is being witnessed now at this moment. Although radically “different” administrations here in the US, or changes in governance elsewhere in the world was always a consideration, along with simultaneous economic collapse, nothing in our futuremaps of the time anticipated anything resembling the current administration, and its catalyzed severe sociopolitical bifurcation.
This bifurcation has been fueled by opposing cultural extremes, magnified and accelerated in ubiquitous realtime, all the time social media portals. This has spawned the far left accelerating into extreme socialistic territory that many traditional mainstream liberals (including myself) have no affiliation with, and the far right utilizing the extreme outer edge of evangelical fundamentalism to further manipulate the targeted mainstream conservative demographics toward their worldview.
Mixed into this bubbling cauldron is the advent of a global pandemic (ongoing as I write this), and crushing economic pressures already being exerted onto a debt heavy, fragile world economy. Many countries around the world are being pushed into uncharted economic waters, attempting to navigate their way around impending “perfect storms” sprouting up around them.
I make mention of this, as an example of relatively unforeseen combined phenomena having a direct effect on an approaching Singularity event horizon, and the evolutionary transition elements within. A futuremap scenario under such duress I tend to lean towards would feature an accelerated pace of singularity related developmental elements, but very far from being evenly distributed, at least initially.
Evolution as a trauma induced process
Evolution tends to be a trauma induced process, given that the periodicity and amplitude of the encountered trauma cycle does not exceed the operational capacity of the entity thus challenged, the result is evolution to a more robust form. Like a fractal, evolutionary process dynamics are a constant across a range of scales and entity types, ranging from localized adaptation to an encountered challenge to planetary scale extinction events in which the entire planet is subject to a corrective reset.
Whenever any type of operational ecology, including social ecosystems, begin to approach a sort of irreversible eventhorizon of system overload, the system will “correct” itself, even to the point of complete disintegration of the current system in favor of a newly evolving, “better”, successful system, which leads to the question – define “success”.
Evolution tends to favor the most adaptive, rather than just the “fittest”. In this context, an emergent Singularity would be accelerated and amplified as a corrective response to such evolutionary trauma cycles, which would have considerably different characteristics from an emergent Singularity not spawned as a trauma induced corrective response.
In a way, the human species has currently become too “successful”. Rapidly accelerating population densities, irreversible damage to existing ecosystems, industrial scale processing of available resources, and the waste generated therefrom, combined with other related phenomena could be seen as a planetary scale trauma cycle catalyzing a Singularity scale corrective response.
What emerges will not be a replication, but rather an existence template very different from what preceded this eventstream. It is at this juncture that adaptation to this new realm will become a requirement for functioning in this newly spawned operational ecosystem, and for others who can not or will not adapt accordingly, the aforementioned apparent “reality vs. magic” gap expands exponentially.
This is the potential evolutionary transition threshold, already approaching, with one side of the population spectrum wanting to progress toward an advanced future world (their version thereof), and the other side of that spectrum wanting to de-evolve, regress to a simpler time when all of life’s questions and modes of governance are narrowly confined to an approved, inflexibly brittle worldview as often defined in ancient religious texts.
In either case, these are cultural extremes sometimes suggested or hinted at in previous futuristic speculations, but not to the extent that these extremes have already become manifest. Of perhaps greater significance is the speed and scale to which these opposing cultural paradigms have already mutated into their current forms, suggesting this mutation phenomena is still only in its formative stages . . . in the beginning.
How does the Singularity fit into these opposing existence matrices, one might ask? The answer is relatively simple, but also chillingly foreboding depending on which population and culture meme one identifies with.
One side is highly prescience oriented, poised to change the world and our treatment of it, and the human species itself toward an evolutionary morphology for which there is no known precedent, a future which can be compared to a Singularity orientation. The aim is toward advanced science and tech development, and exploratory critical thinking spawning an evolutionary future world, the details of which may be argued over, but the direction aimed at is without argument.
The other side seems desperate to foster and regenerate a somewhat fantasized and romanticized vision of a past world, a world from many centuries ago, in which critical thought and free will was discouraged, often heavily censored and culturally enforced to fit within the acceptable theocratic norms of the time. Theirs is a retreat from a fast encroaching future technocentric world, returning to a world which is immersed in scriptural interpretation of everything. If anything, emergence of a Singularity, in whatever form it may become manifest, is seen as a direct threat to their desired worldview.
Even now, well into the 21st century, this cultural divide has become quite palatable, with one side eagerly trying to initiate entrance into the approaching Singularity realm, and the other side having engaged in a type of war against science, and against the Singularity that would be spawned from this.
The Singularity . . . what is it?
I admit it may have been a bit of a long hike around the barn to eventually arrive at this descriptive juncture, but determination of what the Singularity is, or should be according to some, and what it is not, according to others, does require a contextual correlation to make this assessment possible.
The short “Cliff’s Notes” version, at least as I see it to be . . .
The Singularity is an evolutionary event, in which the organic and the inorganic, the biological and synthetic converge into an continuum, flourishing within an operational “ecosystem”, and the former separation becomes indistinguishable, evermore irrelevant.
In this model, knowledge complexity, scale, and velocity is exceeding human capacity for mission critical decision rendering compressed into ever shortening time scales, in a hyperconnected operational ecosystem. We have already stepped into this arena, the accelerating depth of engagement being indicative of the Singularity being spawned.
Some have categorized the Singularity as being specifically initiated the moment that the differences between AI and organic humans becomes indistinguishable, AI becoming equal to or surpassing human “intelligence”. I tend to see this more as an artifact of the encountered Singularity, rather than the casual element of the Singularity being spawned.
A debate on such would start with “define intelligence”. Most of the current Singularity related models tend to be rendered within an anthropologically defined inception, but this is where I part ways from the current norm in this context.
I would suggest that AI “intelligence” is tightly correlated with synthetic sentience (my term for such), but may not be recognized as it occurs. In past times, anything even remotely resembling sentience would be compared to a living organism. During a presentation, I recall a description of the most advanced AI platform as being roughly equal to an ant, requiring many millions of lines of code.
At an earlier time, this was an appropriately acceptable description, but confining evolving intelligences being spawned from a strong AI environment (as opposed to a weak AI environment of a previous era), this description becomes everless relevant.
In next gen AI platforms already in development, various forms of implied intelligence occur in living biological beings, and in nonliving systems that behave and evolve biologically. In that arena, the separation between the biological and synthetic not only fades away, but becomes interdependent for continued existence management.
This form of emergent AI is not necessarily confined to a single android like “machine”, that replicates human presence and forms of intelligence. Relying on this model of anthropomorphic replication into a machine, though some aspects of this model are becoming apparent, is somewhat like telling the Wright brothers that the only pathway to flight is by replicating birds.
Fig 3 Like the Singularity itself, the status of applied transhumanism is an evolutionary transition, rather than confined to a specific predetermined boundary. Applied Transhumanism itself is an artifact of the approaching Singularity, as these are tightly correlated phenomena.
What is more likely to emerge will be in the context of “systems of systems”, in which various forms of computational resource and functionality organelles combine in a realtime network, much like organs within a living being, or functionally specific regions of the brain. In this model, access to computational resource and functional organelles becomes theoretically infinite, particularly at the intersection of classical, evolutionary, and quantum computing, all of which already exist in various forms, and is being accelerated to meet specific applications. Intelligence is most often interpreted as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. The accelerant stimulating development of next gen strong AI is the advent of knowledge complexity, scale, and velocity exceeding human capacity for mission critical decision rendering, compressed into ever shortening time scales, in a hyperconnected operational ecosystem.
This extends far beyond replicating humanlike machinery filtering into various aspects of current industrial, military and general public everyday life, but rather providing access to knowledge and skills not possible by any other means. This is the nexus coordinate of human and nonhuman entities converging into a continuum, eventually evolving into an irreversible codependence.
It is within this operational ecosystem that the Singularity is spawned and coevolves with its human counterparts.
Fig 4 Example eventstreams emanating from the NBICQ “Singularity” nexus coordinate
As Ray Kurzweil describes, “in the next few years or decades, humanity will become capable of surpassing the upper limit on intelligence that has held since the rise of the human species. We will become capable of technologically creating smarter-than-human intelligence, perhaps through enhancement of the human brain, direct links between computers and the brain, or Artificial Intelligence. This event is called the “Singularity” “.
Kurzweil has extended this view into a metascale “6 Epochs of Evolution”, of which the Singularity is described as a specific eventhorizon within epoch 5. This is closer to the model I agree with and have suggested, and in general the evolutionary development stages cited in the 6 epochs.
NBCIQ Singularity nexus coordinate
As previously suggested, the Singularity is not just limited to a moment in which AI meets or exceeds human intelligence, but rather is a holistic intersection of distinct but highly interrelated scientific disciplines and tech development. Well over a decade ago, the term NBIC was adopted by our group to represent this holistic intersection, which was later revised and updated into these tech components.
Nanotech, Biotech, Infotech, Cognotech and Quantum tech. Any one of these could be unpacked into their individually elaborate, lengthy descriptions, but for the purposes of this missive, just cursory definitions will fit into this Singularity model, collectively acting as interdependent enabling technologies which make this version of the Singularity possible.
I’ve been enamored of this type of perspective for many years, but it became more crystalized at the annual NIBC conferences (have attended three of these), in which this concept model was being expressed as a policy directorate from various gov agencies and institutes, and academia. This was revolutionary at the time, inventing a type of collaborative infrastructure in which what had been unique “stove pipe” or vertical R&D sectors was being reorganized into a laterally horizontal scientific ecosystem, in which the unique combinations of various disciplines had more value than the actual disciplines themselves.
The catalyst for instigating this type of policy directorate was (and still is) nanotechnology, an emergent arena of combinatorial science that is sometimes a bit challenging to conveniently describe in a typical soundbite, but is becoming ubiquitously embedded into a vast array of applications, products, industrial processes, and myriad scientific disciplines.
Early in this inception (mid 1980s), many tried to correlate this technology with nanites, nanoscale “somethings” that could reorganize available molecular constructs into desired end products (the Star Trek replicator), or could form into organized swarms of nanites determined to cause some sort of macro change (or destruction of) in targeted items of interest, including living organisms. It was in this particular interpretation that much public hysteria began to emerge among some, and futuristic awe in many others. There is a potential for something like this coming out of a collection of nanotech related research agendas, but is by no means the actual description of what nanotech is or will become.
What became apparent, though, was a type of operational template for describing what the human species was evolving into and beyond . . . the Singularity. At least that’s how I saw it to be.
Fig 5 Slide from content I presented in the early 2000s, at a singularity oriented conference. The singularity concept hadn’t become a known term quite yet, but awareness of a singularity model was becoming apparent, being spawned from nanotechnology and transhumanistic development awareness and descriptions of the time.
At this juncture, the simplest description for nanotechnology is as a domain of R&D aimed at the manipulation of matter and materials with nanoscale precision. Not only is the functional model for applied nanotech somewhat similar to a model for the Singularity, nanotech itself is a primary domain of development that enables the inception of the Singularity.
In 2003, Vernor Vinge offered this description . . .
[the Singularity is] something that happens which changes the world so radically as to make it literally incomprehensible to those living in pre-singularity times. Such developments are one-way transitions; once done, they cannot be undone.
If I had to pick any one description of the Singularity out of the various descriptions that have since emerged, Vernor Vinge’s version is probably the closest to what I personally visualize the Singularity to be.
In my lexicon, as suggested earlier in this missive, the Singularity is not a “single” anything, but rather an evolutionary transition catalyzed by a combination of irreversible phenomena and developments, as a corrective response to a perceived potential trauma, or an evolutionary eventstream destined to create a new form of existence for the human species here on this planet. It is from this nexus coordinate that the advent of transhumanism is spawned, a realm of continual adaptation which departs from confinement to a relatively fixed biological existence template.
The Singularity is an evolutionary event, in which the organic and the inorganic, the biological and synthetic converge into an continuum, flourishing within an operational “ecosystem”, and the former separation becomes indistinguishable, evermore irrelevant.
The humanoid lifeforms here, in their current construct as a biological entity, may well be spiraling toward a self induced “extinction” of sorts, a type of planetary scale “correction” to alleviate the stresses caused by accelerating consumption of available resources, industrial enterprises, radical overpopulation and other contributing factors. The human infestation here has already crossed the threshold of subjecting our planet to an unsustainable existence modality, destined to exceed the planetary life support capacity . . . in its current form.
However, an argument can be made that we are entering an era of radically accelerated artificial evolution, including various transhumanist modifications as a species type.
This will not (or ever will) be an evenly distributed phenomena, but rather an arena of coveted access available to a relatively small percentage of the current population.
Our relatively small, “Goldilocks zone” planet was never intended to support a radically expanding population destined to grow past 10 billion or more, and the planetary life support capacity vs. damage done not being sustainable, even for a relatively short time.
An evolutionary correction that usually occurs when a lifeform is no longer compatible with the surrounding ecosystem, is either in the form of a radical purging, or an evolutionary change into a more adaptive lifeform type. In some cases, it’s a combination of both factors, until some form of sustainable equilibrium is reached. That is the point we are entering.
Evolution tends to be a trauma induced process, given that the amplitude and periodicity of the trauma cycles do not surpass the system’s capacity to respond, it will evolve to a more viable form, or perish in the process. Like a fractal, this process dynamic tends to replicate on multiple scales and media, be it the behavioral modalities of the individual, the societal unit, the physiological viability of an organism, species type or entire ecosystem, or a planetary scale civilization.
This phenomena is not limited to “naturally occurring” biological entities, but also extends to computing platforms, networks and autonomous entities which behave biologically.
This is a mechanism not commonly recognized in current times, as the advancement of next gen strong AI and Alife platforms is still in its formative stages, but evidential variations of which are demonstrating autonomous morphology, becoming autonomously self evolving.
Summary for review . . .
The singularity – what it is or may not be . . .
The “singularity” is not a magic moment, poised to suddenly become activated somewhere in the future. It’s more like a transition, an evolutionary phenomena. Some may try to correlate this with emergent synthetic sentience, with the caveat that it may not be recognized as it occurs, and is not going to suddenly appear in a specific device or platform. Much more likely this evolutionary transition will become apparent in the cloud, a distributed intelligence engine which is perpetually evolving, populated with intersecting AI nodes of varying types, and access to quantum computing as part of its resource morphology.
Will all of the current billions of humanoids have access to this next iteration of synthetically derived lifeform transformation? No. Will this next evolutionary iteration of the humanoid lifeforms here be radically modified enough to take a much more refined, coherent effort to protect the planetary life support capacity? Maybe.
The uncomfortable caveat here is that the total future population will likely need to be much smaller than it is now, and in some context managed to stay that way. Even if we do reach the threshold of extraterrestrial migration, only a relatively select few will ever be close to that possibility.
The key concept to consider is that the current generic humanoid lifeform here is slipping ever further into functional irrelevance, and if it continues in its current trajectories, will be transitioning more towards a form of a self destructive infestation. At that threshold, a planetary scale correction becomes due by whatever means necessary, voluntarily or not.
I would further suggest that this phenomena, as a type of evolutionary test, is not at all unique to this planet, but rather is a sort of cosmic norm experienced on countless other worlds. If anything, that would be among the key reasons ET, if actually in proximity and observing, would be having a closer look at us now, at this moment, as we head into this next stage evolutionary event horizon.
We are approaching that event horizon, mapped against an array of synergistically interconnected technology and science vectors which could provide the tools for creating a much more sustainable existence modality, and improved quality of life for much of the current population. Or, these tools can be badly mismanaged, succumb to competitive and predatory agendas for short term gain among some, but with horrific long term consequences for the planet at large.
This is the test.
This is the fork in the road that outside observers would be keen on observing, having seen this many times before, knowing what this eventually becomes depending on which fork in the road we navigate onto.
Fig 6 Potential transhuman evolutionary event stream, directly correlated with the approaching Singularity
A brief collection of personal observations . . .
In the late 80s to early 90s is when I first became enamored of the concept of nanotechnology, having come out of materials science previously. Though I did not share in some of the more dire depictions of what this would become, as per Bill Joy’s famous warning about the impending “threat” of nanotechnology, or Michael Crichton’s famous sci-fi thriller novel, “Prey”, I did have my collection of cautionary thoughts about this development, though not for the usual reasons.
Was I panicking over the advent of rampant swarms of nanites attacking everything everywhere and reducing all such encountered materials to molecular “gray goo”? No.
However, was I more concerned about a panicking general public, more inclined toward reactive emotionalism than logical reasoned thought? Yes . . . profoundly so.
Back in 2006, while giving a presentation at LockHeed Martin, on Biological Metaphors in Computing, I was preceded by the founder of the “digital DNA” paradigm from Motorola.
It was during that same general time period that Artificial Life as a definable process was emerging from genetic computing, a type of computing platform with self altering reconfigurable internal logic (somewhat in the same way that RAM memory reads and writes data, reconfigurable FPGA devices read and write logic in realtime). Genetic algorithms are utilized to compress millennia of evolution into minutes or even seconds, to evolve solutions to complex design problems. More often than not, the evolved solution works considerably better than the human designed version of the same, but no one can explain exactly why.
This was profoundly demonstrated when visiting JPL over a decade ago, during the Evolvable Hardware conference ongoing there, in which a particularly challenging antenna design was being developed by both a human team, and an EVC (evolutionary computing) platform. After a few days (several million years worth of compressed evolution) the evolved antenna design was spawned. Upon building the physical antenna, which looked like a bird nest, worked considerably better than the human designed version, which looked like a very appropriate orthogonal structure . . . and as expected, no one could explain why.
Evolutionary process dynamics can also extend to more ephemeral entities, such as economic ecosystems, emotional cognition engines, various forms of artificial life and so on.
A strong case for this type of functional description was made by Michael Rothschild, with his detailed thesis “Bionomics: the Economy as an Ecosystem”, and founding of the Bionomics Institute. In the early 90s, at the first annual Bionomics conference, I recall making note of the range of biologists and evolutionary systems experts, presenting at an economics conference.
It was an epiphanic moment, one of many to be experienced within a rapidly compressing next decade, in which more radically compelling developments would occur than in the previous century, if not the millennium . . . an accelerating evolutionary eventstream, which becomes the Singularity.
At best, it’s basically a coin flip to see how this plays out, although one could imagine wagers being bet among the various ETs on our potential outcome here.
Offered here are example artifacts of an attempted factual rendition of an inevitable future world, at least for some, that will become as normal and rote as any aspect of daily life is now, unless, of course, we manage to expunge ourselves from the planet before this next rung of the evolutionary ladder becomes manifest.
Artificial or genetically amplified telepathy . . . it would either alleviate many of the darker aspects of the human condition, or amplify such in some individuals.
The world is not going to be “unplugged” . . . some portion of the population will try to opt out, but for those who are embedded into this next realm, the bifurcation between these two distinct social enclaves will become evermore extreme.
People would not be able to “hide” within themselves, unless there was some sort of telepathic switch that could be turned on or off at will. A better guess is that the initial inception of this capacity on a mass basis would be problematic . . . but this would smooth out over time, as people began to adapt to this environment.
The theory here is that this would alleviate the stress of having to interpret hidden meaning in another’s conversation or disposition, the ability to see what is really going on vs. the facade of the moment.
However, this is countered by the stress placed upon people to be much more genuine with what is really on their mind. This is an adaptive challenge. Some may adapt well to this emergent environment, many others would likely fail completely and become evermore antagonistic, and irrelevant.
Evolution_- voluntary vs involuntary correction
I would still suggest a somewhat measured view here, in that it’s the relative ratio of the populations which can understand and agree with these voluntary preemptive actions, vs. the populations who can not or will not comprehend any of this, frozen in their increasingly irrelevant (but catastrophic) belief systems . . . forcing an involuntary “correction”.
This has happened before, on countless other worlds.
Some graduated to the next rung on the evolutionary ladder, many others did not.
We’re at a critical turning point at this moment, determining which direction this will be going toward.
However, I don’t think we are exceptional or “special” enough to warrant a any form of cosmic influence in this universe or others that may exist in parallel.
Ultimately all human beings (and many animals) have a sort of quantum cognition capacity, though it is very subtle for most. The suggestion here is that we’re just beginning to step into this territory, like training wheels on a bicycle. Eventually this will become much more commonplace, an emergent new culture norm, and genetic amplification of the quantum cognition capacity in humans will become the next new high value “deliverable” of genetic content.
The reasoning of this is driven by the discovery quantum entanglement occurring in living organic systems, at ambient temperatures. This is a radical departure from the more “traditional” operational requirements of a previous era, where such phenomena was thought to only occur in very fragile increments, at near absolute zero temperatures (273.15 deg K or lower).
AI – culture norm
AI is still an emergent phenomena as it permeates myriad arenas of what had been exclusively human activities. There will come a time, not that far off, when AI is no longer a novelty to be marveled at, but an irreversible, ubiquitous culture norm. Purely human interaction will be fading into the mists of quaint irrelevance . . . a remnant of a previous era that some of older individuals might reminisce about, clinging to the memories of their early childhood, but entirely out of context in this future world.
AI – existence relevance
Existence relevance will become an evermore difficult metric to reckon with.
Even now, as global population continues to increase mapped against a finite planetary resource capacity and unsustainable, fragile economic systems, human existence relevancy for many millions (if not billions) becomes evermore difficult to define.
The emergence of ubiquitous AI will likely accelerate this phenomena.
You, the humanoid lifeforms, are the product. Never forget that . . .
Meanwhile, the AI engines of the planet are becoming evermore refined in the artform of proactively driving humanoid consumption behavior patterns, so they can be harvested for the marketing of more materiel to theoretically sustain the economic ecosystem.
Irrational emotion vs rational intelligence – conflicting thought memes
The ratio of irrational emotion vs. rational intelligence is a dichotomy resident in virtually everyone on the planet. However, there are extreme cases where that ratio is radically confined to one or the other binary states. This attribute is particularly evident with individuals who demonstrate the extreme emotion driven thought mechanisms, to the exclusion of all other forms of thought processing.
It is here, at this juncture, that various forms of AI begin to determine that the toxic aspects of human behavior is exceeding the adaptive potential of a voluntary corrective evolutionary transition shifts into an involuntary status, required for sustainable existence parameters becoming the revised new norm
Only partially in jest . . .
At various times in my life I have encountered examples of this phenomena in various individuals, perhaps not as extreme as this example, but certainly were demonstrating characteristics indicative of that ratio being highly unbalanced I get what you are aiming at, but this is still a manifestation of a particular form of mental disorder.
In some cases, the individual may have used excessively emotional interactions with others, as a defensive mechanism. In those cases, it was a technique to provide a distraction from the real circumstance or challenge being encountered. To the more extreme examples at the edge of this spectrum, everything is perpetually immersed in a bubbling cauldron of chaos, where there is no differentiation between the “real” and the imagined interpretation of encountered situations.
Only partially in jest, an amplified version of this behavioral mechanism is often correlated with a devout distrust of anything from government or corporate sources, or even most media engines which are schills catering to the desires of those sources. From this, the affected human has no capacity for rational thought being applied, because, after all, everything is connected to the sinister agendas of said evil conspiratorial entities in their worldview
Conveniently, there is no need for rational thought being applied, because genuine reality has been cloaked by said evil conspiratorial entities and so on. Anyone who does not conform to the expected “secret” knowledge that has been hidden away for countless years, centuries, etc., is actually participating in the imagined evil conspiracies, and so on. One might argue a bit on the depth of such a mental disorder has permeated into their psyche, and the consequences thereof . . . but they are still the artifacts of a mental disorder becoming manifest.
A parting thought . . .
Feel lucky you were born when you were, appreciate the world with which you are familiar and into which you have flourished. The future is a different time, a time which I have spent decades analyzing . . . and will be challenging to adapt to. It’s not meant for everyone.
One potential outcome could become, like an overly successful emergent lifeform, the AIs will accelerate production and consumption vectors to such an extreme that the planetary resource / life support capacity will be accelerating toward a potential catastrophic critical mass threshold (a potential outcome that the current humans are already initiating)
But, before that critical mass threshold is encountered, a corrective evolutionary adaptation is initiated.
And then . . . Skynet, maybe
As I’ve often suggested, evolution tends to favor the most adaptive. There already is, and will be an evermore accelerating world of co-evolutionary symbiosis, of which the biological humans who can will adapt in various contexts. The definition of “life” becomes more of a type of gray zone in this emergent world, in which such definitions of a previous era become ever less relevant. Will this extend to the entire humanoid population on the planet . . . not likely, it never will.
Is this a “bad” thing? Depends on how this is perceived, and by whom.