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The technological singularity—also, simply, the singularity[1]—is a hypothetical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization.[2][3] According to the most popular version of the singularity hypothesis, called intelligence explosion, an upgradable intelligent agent will eventually enter a "runaway reaction" of self-improvement cycles, each new and more intelligent generation appearing more and more rapidly, causing an "explosion" in intelligence and resulting in a powerful superintelligence that qualitatively far surpasses all human intelligence.

The first use of the concept of a "singularity" in the technological context was John von Neumann.[4] Stanislaw Ulam reports a discussion with von Neumann "centered on the accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue".[5] Subsequent authors have echoed this viewpoint.[3][6]

I. J. Good's "intelligence explosion" model predicts that a future superintelligence will trigger a singularity.[7]

The concept and the term "singularity" were popularized by Vernor Vinge in his 1993 essay The Coming Technological Singularity, in which he wrote that it would signal the end of the human era, as the new superintelligence would continue to upgrade itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate. He wrote that he would be surprised if it occurred before 2005 or after 2030.[7]

Public figures such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have expressed concern that full artificial intelligence (AI) could result in human extinction.[8][9] The consequences of the singularity and its potential benefit or harm to the human race have been intensely debated.

Four polls of AI researchers, conducted in 2012 and 2013 by Nick Bostrom and Vincent C. Müller, suggested a median probability estimate of 50% that artificial general intelligence (AGI) would be developed by 2040–2050.[10][11]

Univers

University of California, Berkeley, philosophy professor John Searle writes:

intelligence, no motivation, no autonomy, and no agency. We design them to behave as if they had certain sorts of psychology, but there is no psychological reality to the corresponding processes or behavior. ... [T]he machinery has no beliefs, desires, [or] motivations.[57]

Martin Ford in The Lights in

Martin Ford in The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future[58] postulates a "technology paradox" in that before the singularity could occur most routine jobs in the economy would be automated, since this would require a level of technology inferior to that of the singularity. This would cause massive unemployment and plummeting consumer demand, which in turn would destroy the incentive to invest in the technologies that would be required to bring about the Singularity. Job displacement is increasingly no longer limited to work traditionally considered to be "routine."[59]

Theodore Modis[60][61] and Jonathan Huebner[62] argue that the rate of technological innovation has not only ceased to rise, but is actually now declining. Evidence for this decline is that the rise in computer clock rates is slowing, even while Moore's prediction of exponentially increasing circuit density continues to hold. This is due to excessive heat build-up from the chip, which cannot be dissipated quickly enough to prevent the chip from melting when operating at higher speeds. Advances in speed may be possible in the future by virtue of more power-efficient CPU designs and multi-cell processors.[63] While Kurzweil used Modis' resources, and Modis' work was around accelerating change, Modis distanced himself from Kurzweil's thesis of a "technological singularity", claiming that it lacks scientific rigor.[61]

In a detailed empirical accounting, The Progress of Computing, William Nordhaus argued that, prior to 1940, computers followed the much slower growth of a traditional industrial economy, thus rejecting extrapolations of Moore's law to 19th-century computers.[64]

In a 2007 paper, Schmidhuber stated that the frequency of subjectively "notable events" appears to be approaching a 21st-century singularity, but cautioned readers to take such plots of subjective events with a grain of salt: perhaps differences in memory of recent and distant events could create an illusion of accelerating change where none exists.[65]

Paul Allen argued the opposite of accelerating returns, the complexity brake;[26] the more progress science makes towards understanding intelligence, the more difficult it becomes to make additional progress. A study of the number of patents shows that human creativity does not show accelerating returns, but in fact, as suggested by Joseph Tainter in his The Collapse of Complex Societies,[66] a law of diminishing returns. The number of patents per thousand peaked in the period from 1850 to 1900, and has been declining since.[62] The growth of complexity eventually becomes self-limiting, and leads to a widespread "general systems collapse".

Jaron Lanier refutes the idea that the Singularity is inevitable. He states: "I do not think the technology is creating itself. It's not an autonomous process."[67] He goes on to assert: "The reason to believe in human agency over technological determinism is that you can then have an economy where people earn their own way and invent their own lives. If you structure a society on not emphasizing individual human agency, it's the same thing operationally as denying people clout, dignity, and self-determination ... to embrace [the idea of the Singularity] would be a celebration of bad data and bad politics."[67]

Economist Robert J. Gordon, in The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War (2016), points out that measured economic growth has slowed around 1970 and slowed even further since the financial crisis of 2007–2008, and argues that the economic data show no trace of a coming Singularity as imagined by mathematician I.J. Good.[68]

In addition to general criticisms of the singularity concept, several critics have raised issues with Kurzweil's iconic chart. One line of criticism is that a log-log chart of this nature is inherently biased toward a straight-line result. Others identify selection bias in the points that Kurzweil chooses to use. For example, biologist PZ Myers points out that many of the early evolutionary "events" were picked arbitrarily.[69] Kurzweil has rebutted this by charting evolutionary events from 15 neutral sources, and showing that they fit a straight line on a log-log chart. The Economist mocked the concept with a graph extrapolating that the number of blades on a razor, which has increased over the years from one to as many as five, will increase ever-faster to infinity.[70]

Dramatic changes in the rate of economic growth have occurred in the past because of some technological advancement. Based on population growth, the economy doubled every 250,000 years from the Paleolithic era until the Neolithic Revolution. The new agricultural economy doubled every 900 years, a remarkable increase. In the current era, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, the world's economic output doubles every fifteen years, sixty times faster than during the agricultural era. If the rise of superhuman intelligence causes a similar revolution, argues Robin Hanson, one would expect the economy to double at least quarterly and possibly on a weekly basis.[71]

Uncertainty and riskThe term "technological singularity" reflects the idea that such change may happen suddenly, and that it is difficult to predict how the resulting new world would operate.[72][73] It is unclear whether an intelligence explosion resulting in a singularity would be beneficial or harmful, or even an existential threat.[74][75] Because AI is a major factor in singularity risk, a number of organizations pursue a technical theory of aligning AI goal-systems with human values, including the Future of Humanity Institute, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute,[72] the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of Life Institute.

Physicist Stephen Hawking said in 2014 that "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks."[76] Hawking believed that in the coming decades, AI could offer "incalculable benefits and risks" such as "technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even underst

Physicist Stephen Hawking said in 2014 that "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks."[76] Hawking believed that in the coming decades, AI could offer "incalculable benefits and risks" such as "technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand."[76] Hawking suggested that artificial intelligence should be taken more seriously and that more should be done to prepare for the singularity:[76]

So, facing possible futures of incalculable benefits and risks, the experts are surely doing everything possible to ensure the best outcome, right? Wrong. If a superior alien civilisation sent us a message saying, "We'll arrive in a few decades," would we just reply, "OK, call us when you get here – we'll leave the lights on"? Probably not – but this is more or less what is happening with AI.

Berglas (2008) claims that there is no direct evolutionary motivation for an AI to be friendly to humans. Evolution has no inherent tendency to produce outcomes valued by humans, and there is little reason to expect an arbitrary optimisation process to promote an outcome desired by mankind, rather than inadvertently leading to an AI behaving in a way not intended by its creators.[77][78][79] Anders Sandberg has also elaborated on this scenario, addressing various common counter-arguments.[80] AI researcher Hugo de Garis suggests that artificial intelligences may simply eliminate the human race for access to scarce resources,[49][81] and humans would be powerless to stop them.[82] Alternatively, AIs developed under evolutionary pressure to promote their own survival could outcompete humanity.[53]

Bostrom (2002) discusses human extinction scenarios, and lists superintelligence as a possible cause:

When we create the first superintelligent entity, we might make a mistake and give it goals that lead it to annihilate humankind, assuming its enormous intellectual advantage gives it the power to do so. For example, we could mistakenly elevate a subgoal to the status of a supergoal. We tell it to solve a mathematical problem, and it complies by turning all the matter in the solar system into a giant calculating device, in the process killing the person who asked the question.

According to Eliezer Yudkowsky, a sig

According to Eliezer Yudkowsky, a significant problem in AI safety is that unfriendly artificial intelligence is likely to be much easier to create than friendly AI. While both require large advances in recursive optimisation process design, friendly AI also requires the ability to make goal structures invariant under self-improvement (or the AI could transform itself into something unfriendly) and a goal structure that aligns with human values and does not automatically destroy the human race. An unfriendly AI, on the other hand, can optimize for an arbitrary goal structure, which does not need to be invariant under self-modification.[83] Bill Hibbard (2014) proposes an AI design that avoids several dangers including self-delusion,[84] unintended instrumental actions,[47][85] and corruption of the reward generator.[85] He also discusses social impacts of AI[86] and testing AI.[87] His 2001 book Super-Intelligent Machines advocates the need for public education about AI and public control over AI. It also proposed a simple design that was vulnerable to corruption of the reward generator.

While the technological singularity is usually seen as a sudden event, some scholars argue the current speed of change already fits this description.[citation needed]

In addition, some argue that we are already in the midst of a major evolutionary transition that merges technology, biology, and society. Digital technology has infiltrated the fabric of human society to a degree of indisputable and often life-sustaining dependence.

A 2016 article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution argues that "humans already embrace fusions of biology and technology. We spend most of our waking time communicating through digitally mediated channels... we trust artificial intelligence with our lives through antilock braking in cars and autopilots in planes... With one in three marriages in America beginning online, digital algorithms are also taking a role in human pair bonding and reproduction".

The article further argues that from the perspective of the evolution, several previous Major Transitions in Evolution have transformed life through innovations in information storage and replication (RNA, DNA, multicellularity, and culture and language). In the current stage of life's evolution, the carbon-based biosphere has generated a cognitive system (humans) capable of creating technology that will result in a comparable evolutionary transition.

The digital information created by humans has reached a similar magnitude to biological information in the biosphere. Since the 1980s, the quantity of digital information stored has doubled about every 2.5 years, reaching about 5 zettabytes in 2014 (5×1021 bytes).[citation needed]

In biological terms, there are 7.2 billion humans on the planet, each having a genome of 6.2 billion nucleotides. Since one byte can encode four nucleotide pairs, the individual genomes o

In addition, some argue that we are already in the midst of a major evolutionary transition that merges technology, biology, and society. Digital technology has infiltrated the fabric of human society to a degree of indisputable and often life-sustaining dependence.

A 2016 article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution argues that "humans already embrace fusions of biology and technology. We spend most of our waking time communicating through digitally mediated channels... we trust artificial intelligence with our lives through antilock braking in cars and autopilots in planes... With one in three marriages in America beginning online, digital algorithms are also taking a role in human pair bonding and reproduction".

The article further argues that from the perspective of the evolution, several previous Major Transitions in Evolution have transformed life through innovations in information storage and replication (RNA, DNA, multicellularity, and culture and language). In the current stage of life's evolution, the carbon-based biosphere has generated a cognitive system (humans) capable of creating technology that will result in a comparable evolutionary transition.

The digital information created by humans has reached a similar magnitude to biological information in the biosphere. Since the 1980s, the quantity of digital information stored has doubled about every 2.5 years, reaching about 5 zettabytes in 2014 (5×1021 bytes).[citation needed]

In biological terms, there are 7.2 billion humans on the planet, each having a genome of 6.2 billion nucleotides. Since one byte can encode four nucleotide pairs, the individual genomes of every human on the planet could be encoded by approximately 1×1019 bytes. The digital realm stored 500 times more information than this in 2014 (see figure). The total amount of DNA contained in all of the cells on Earth is estimated to be about 5.3×1037 base pairs, equivalent to 1.325×1037 bytes of information.

If growth in digital storage continues at its current rate of 30–38% compound annual growth per year,[39] it will rival the total information content contained in all of the DNA in all of the cells on Earth in about 110 years. This would represent a doubling of the amount of information stored in the biosphere across a total time period of just 150 years".[88]

In February 2009, under the auspices of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), Eric Horvitz chaired a meeting of leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California. The goal was to discuss the potential impact of the hypothetical possibility that robots could become self-sufficient and able to make their own decisions. They discussed the extent to which computers and robots might be able to acquire autonomy, and to what degree they could use such abilities to pose threats or hazards.[89]

Some machines are programmed with various forms of semi-autonomy, including the ability to locate their own power sources and choose targets to attack with weapons. Also, some computer viruses can evade elimination and, according to scientists in attendance, could therefore be said to have reached a "cockroach" stage of machine intelligence. The conference attendees noted that self-awareness as depicted in science-fiction is probably unlikely, but that other potential hazards and pitfalls exist.computer viruses can evade elimination and, according to scientists in attendance, could therefore be said to have reached a "cockroach" stage of machine intelligence. The conference attendees noted that self-awareness as depicted in science-fiction is probably unlikely, but that other potential hazards and pitfalls exist.[89]

Frank S. Robinson predicts that once humans achieve a machine with the intelligence of a human, scientific and technological problems will be tackled and solved with brainpower far superior to that of humans. He notes that artificial systems are able to share data more directly than humans, and predicts that this would result in a global network of super-intelligence that would dwarf human capability.[90] Robinson also discusses how vastly different the future would potentially look after such an intelligence explosion. One example of this is solar energy, where the Earth receives vastly more solar energy than humanity captures, so capturing more of that solar energy would hold vast promise for civilizational growth.

In a hard takeoff scenario, an AGI rapidly self-improves, "taking control" of the world (perhaps in a matter of hours), too quickly for significant human-initiated error correction or for a gradual tuning of the AGI's goals. In a soft takeoff scenario, AGI still becomes far more powerful than humanity, but at a human-like pace (perhaps on the order of decades), on a timescale where ongoing human interaction and correction can effectively steer the AGI's development.[92][93]

Ramez Naam argues against a hard takeoff. He has pointed that we already see recursive self-improvement by superintelligences, such as corporations. Intel, for example, has "the collective brainpower of tens of thousands of humans and probably millions of CPU cores to... design better CPUs!" However, this has not led to a hard takeoff; rather, it has led to a soft takeoff in the form of Moore's law.[94] Naam further points out that the computational complexity of higher intelligence may be much greater than linear, such that "creating a mind of intelligence 2 is probably more than twice as hard as creating a mind of intelligence 1."[95]

J. Storrs Hall believes that "many of the more commonly seen scenarios for overnight hard takeoff are circular – they seem to assume hyperhuman capabilities at the starting point of the self-improvement process" in order for an AI to be able to make the dramatic, domain-general improvements required for takeoff. Hall suggests that rather than recursively self-improving its hardware, software, and infrastructure all on its own, a fledgling AI would be better off specializing in one area where it was most effective and then buying the remaining components on the marketplace, because the quality of products on the marketplace continually improves, and the AI would have

Ramez Naam argues against a hard takeoff. He has pointed that we already see recursive self-improvement by superintelligences, such as corporations. Intel, for example, has "the collective brainpower of tens of thousands of humans and probably millions of CPU cores to... design better CPUs!" However, this has not led to a hard takeoff; rather, it has led to a soft takeoff in the form of Moore's law.[94] Naam further points out that the computational complexity of higher intelligence may be much greater than linear, such that "creating a mind of intelligence 2 is probably more than twice as hard as creating a mind of intelligence 1."[95]

J. Storrs Hall believes that "many of the more commonly seen scenarios for overnight hard takeoff are circular – they seem to assume hyperhuman capabilities at the starting point of the self-improvement process" in order for an AI to be able to make the dramatic, domain-general improvements required for takeoff. Hall suggests that rather than recursively self-improving its hardware, software, and infrastructure all on its own, a fledgling AI would be better off specializing in one area where it was most effective and then buying the remaining components on the marketplace, because the quality of products on the marketplace continually improves, and the AI would have a hard time keeping up with the cutting-edge technology used by the rest of the world.[96]

Ben Goertzel agrees with Hall's suggestion that a new human-level AI would do well to use its intelligence to accumulate wealth. The AI's talents might inspire companies and governments to disperse its software throughout society. Goertzel is skeptical of a hard five minute takeoff but speculates that a takeoff from human to superhuman level on the order of five years is reasonable. Goerzel refers to this scenario as a "semihard takeoff".[97]

Max More disagrees, arguing that if there were only a few superfast human-level AIs, that they would not radically change the world, as they would still depend on other people to get things done and would still have human cognitive constraints. Even if all superfast AIs worked on intelligence augmentation, it is unclear why they would do better in a discontinuous way than existing human cognitive scientists at producing super-human intelligence, although the rate of progress would increase. More further argues that a superintelligence would not transform the world overnight: a superintelligence would need to engage with existing, slow human systems to accomplish physical impacts on the world. "The need for collaboration, for organization, and for putting ideas into physical changes will ensure that all the old rules are not thrown out overnight or even within years."[98]

In his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil suggests that medical advances would allow people to protect their bodies from the effects of aging, making the life expectancy limitless. Kurzweil argues that the technological advances in medicine would allow us to continuously repair and replace defective components in our bodies, prolonging life to an undetermined age.[99] Kurzweil further buttresses his argument by discussing current bio-engineering advances. Kurzweil suggests somatic gene therapy; after synthetic viruses with specific genetic information, the next step would be to apply this technology to gene therapy, replacing human DNA with synthesized genes.[100]

K. Eric Drexler, one of the founders of nanotechnology, postulated cell repair devices, including ones operating within cells and utilizing as yet hypothetical K. Eric Drexler, one of the founders of nanotechnology, postulated cell repair devices, including ones operating within cells and utilizing as yet hypothetical biological machines, in his 1986 book Engines of Creation.

According to Richard Feynman, it was his former graduate student and collaborator Albert Hibbs who originally suggested to him (circa 1959) the idea of a medical use for Feynman's theoretical micromachines. Hibbs suggested that certain repair machines might one day be reduced in size to the point that it would, in theory, be possible to (as Feynman put it) "swallow the doctor". The idea was incorporated into Feynman's 1959 essay There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.[101]

Beyond merely extending the operational life of the physical body, Jaron Lanier argues for a form of immortality called "Digital Ascension" that involves "people dying in the flesh and being uploaded into a computer and remaining conscious".[102]

A paper by Mahendra Prasad, published in AI Magazine, asserts that the 18th-century mathematician Marquis de Condorcet was the first person to hypothesize and mathematically model an intelligence explosion and its effects on humanity.[103]

An early description of the idea was made in John Wood Campbell Jr.'s 1932 short story "The last evolution".

In his 1958 obituary for John von Neumann, Ulam recalled a conversation with von Neu

An early description of the idea was made in John Wood Campbell Jr.'s 1932 short story "The last evolution".

In his 1958 obituary for John von Neumann, Ulam recalled a conversation with von Neumann about the "ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue."[5]

In 1965, Good wrote his essay postulating an "intelligence explosion" of recursive self-improvement of a machine intelligence.

In 1981, Stanisław Lem published his science fiction novel Golem XIV. It describes a military AI computer (Golem XIV) who obtains consciousness and starts to increase his own intelligence, moving towards personal technological singularity. Golem XIV was originally created to aid its builders in fighting wars, but as its intelligence advances to a much higher level than that of humans, it stops being interested in the military requirement because it finds them lacking internal logical consistency.

In 1983, Vernor Vinge greatly popularized Good's intelligence explosion in a number of writings, first addressing the topic in print in the January 1983 issue of Omni magazine. In this op-ed piece, Vinge seems to have been the first to use the term "singularity" in a way that was specifically tied to the creation of intelligent machines:[104][105]

We will soon create intelligences greater than our own. When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity, an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding. This singularity, I believe, already haunts a number of science-fiction writers. It makes realistic extrapolation to an interstellar future impossible. To write a story set more than a century hence, one needs a nuclear war in between ... so that the world remains intelligible.

In 1985, in "The Time Scale of Artificial Intelligence", artificial intelligence researcher Ray Solomonoff articulated mathematically the related notion of what he called an "infinity point": if a research community of human-level self-improving AIs take four years to double their own speed, then two years, then one year and so on, their capabilities increase infinitely in finite time.[6][106]

Vinge's 199

Vinge's 1993 article "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era",[7] spread widely on the internet and helped to popularize the idea.[107] This article contains the statement, "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended." Vinge argues that science-fiction authors cannot write realistic post-singularity characters who surpass the human intellect, as the thoughts of such an intellect would be beyond the ability of humans to express.[7]

In 2000, Bill Joy, a prominent technologist and a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, voiced concern over the potential dangers of the singularity.[45]

In 2005, Kurzweil published The Singularity is Near. Kurzweil's publicity campaign included an appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.[108]

In 2007, Eliezer Yudkowsky suggested that many of the varied definitions that have been assigned to "singularity" are mutually incompatible rather than mutually supporting.[19][109] For example, Kurzweil extrapolates current technological trajectories past the arrival of self-improving AI or superhuman intelligence, which Yudkowsky argues represents a tension with both I. J. Good's proposed discontinuous upswing in intelligence and Vinge's thesis on unpredictability.[19]

In 2009, Kurzweil and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis announced the establishment of Singularity University, a nonaccredited private institute whose stated mission is "to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity's grand challenges."[110] Funded by Google, Autodesk, ePlanet Ventures, and a group of technology industry leaders, Singularity University is based at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The not-for-profit organization runs an annual ten-week graduate program during summer that covers ten different technology and allied tracks, and a series of executive programs throughout the year.

In 2007, the Joint Economic Committee of the United States Congress released a report about the future of nanotechnology. It predicts significant technological and political changes in the mid-term future, including possible technological singularity.[111][112][113]

Former President of the United States Barack Obama spoke about singularity in his interview to Wired in 2016:[114] <

Former President of the United States Barack Obama spoke about singularity in his interview to Wired in 2016:[114]

One thing that we haven't talked about too much, and I just want to go back to, is we really have to think through the economic implications. Because most people aren't spending a lot of time right now worrying about singularity—they are worrying about "Well, is my job going to be replaced by a machine?"

See also