Friday, January 13, 2012

Doubtful on the 'Singularity'

Ray Kurzweil continues to predict that with the exponential gains of computer systems and digital technologies, the “singularity” event is coming when computers surpass human capabilities – less than 20 years from now.  The “global brain” of networked computer systems will somehow usher us into a new kind of utopia, and effectively let people live forever.  (See his poular book, The Singularity is Near

Call me a curmudgeon, but I’m a skeptic. 

This is a massive leap from the current capability curve, and depends on a critical epiphenomenon that would be more terrifying than helpful.  PCs are faster now, but software still does what we tell it, and not even what we intend most of the time. 

Are there truly no problems that can’t be solved with more CPU cycles, more data?  Hello, is anyone married, have children, or tried to co-create something with others in a project?  (“Gee, Timmy, your problem is not that the team isn’t getting the project completed on budget, it’s that your PCs are too slow.”)

Upload yourself to the ‘cloud’ brain so you can live forever?  Most of us routinely struggle to fully describe our experiences with a language we’ve spent a lifetime using.  I’m not sure how we’re going to translate 100 billion neurons of memory (with something like 10^14th interconnections into digital format.

We socialize our learning, and codify some learning into systems (markets, governing laws, accepted practices), but in general every person and every generation has to learn the same lessons.  Our collective data grows over time, but more slowly than the collective knowledge. Wisdom accumulates even more slowly.  Why would there be a different paradigm for a digital network?

The digital network requires an enormous amount of infrastructure, electricity, and maintenance by (you guessed it) human beings.  Kurzweil’s future view requires even more.

My view is that the “singularity” is a secularists fantasy.

There’s no doubt that we’re only partially into the digital age, and we will see some remarkable things in the future.  Why?  Because of our imagination, our drive, our ability to dream.  I’m a big proponent of technology used to help people do more and be better. 

Why do I write about this on a blog titled “Be Bold, Be Gentle” ?  The truth: the people you and I work with are extraordinary.  They have amazing potential.  They’re not machines, and do not have the limits of machines.  Grip this truth, believe in them, and help them achieve more than anyone thought possible.  

No comments: