Singularity Skepticism

"The Singularity"—the notion that hyper-accelerating technological progress will produce a radical transformation of humanity within the next few decades—is appealing, especially to technophiles. Who wouldn't want to be living at a critical moment of history, when the Great Wave is just about to break and change absolutely everything?

Alas (or maybe Thank Goodness!), it's not as certain as some Singularity-promoters have postulated. In "The Singularity Is Far" a few months ago thoughtful computer scientist Scott Aaronson offered multiple reasons to disbelieve. In brief:

Aaronson makes an important distinction between transcendence and simple speed in his usual entertaining fashion:

... Now, it's clear that a human who thought at ten thousand times our clock rate would be a pretty impressive fellow. But if that's what we're talking about, then we don't mean a point beyond which history fundamentally transcends us, but "merely" a point beyond which we could only understand history by playing it in extreme slow motion.

He concludes that in any event there are more important things to worry about (and work on) today:

... I see a world that really did change dramatically over the last century, but where progress on many fronts (like transportation and energy) seems to have slowed down rather than sped up; a world quickly approaching its carrying capacity, exhausting its natural resources, ruining its oceans, and supercharging its climate; a world where technology is often powerless to solve the most basic problems, millions continue to die for trivial reasons, and democracy isn't even clearly winning over despotism; a world that finally has a communications network with a decent search engine but that still hasn't emerged from the tribalism and ignorance of the Pleistocene. And I can't help thinking that, before we transcend the human condition and upload our brains to computers, a reasonable first step might be to bring the 18th-century Enlightenment to the 98% of the world that still hasn't gotten the message.

(cf. OnSingularities (7 Jun 1999), VernorVinge (17 Sep 2001), MaroonedInRealtime (2006-05-12), ...) - ^z - 2008-11-02