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The Singularity: Five technologies that will change the world (and one that won’t)

June 23, 2011

A few years ago, my buddy, Robert Sawyer postulated that because we now use computers as a critical tool for research, Moore’s Law applies to scientific accomplishment as well.

He started with a simple postulate — assume that in the first decade of the 21st century we have already accomplished as much scientific advancement as we accomplished in the entire 20th century —amazing discoveries in astronomy, paleontology, materials, medicine, robotics, etc.

Now, let’s try a thought experiment. If we apply Moore’s law and assume that the rate of scientific advancement doubles at the same rate as the computer power that we apply to research, then we can project that we will likely accomplish a whole 20th century’s worth of scientific advancement in 5 years — by 2015. As the rate continues to double, we’ll accomplish a century’s work in 2.5 years, then 1.25 years, 7.5 months, 3 months and 3 weeks, then a smidge less than two months, one month, two weeks, one week, then 3.5 days, 1.75 days, and if you ignore Zeno’s paradox, by the end of 2020 we will be accomplishing a century’s worth of research every day, and two weeks later, every second. And after that…?

Will that be when The Singularity occurs? In math, a singularity is a point where a function demonstrates extreme behavior. The Singularity, as defined by Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, will occur with the technological creation of superintelligence. Such a world may be impossible to predict because us poor present-day humans are unable to comprehend what superintelligent entities will want or how they’ll behave to achieve their goals. (Well, yeah, okay—but life has one fundamental rule: survive. Start with that and everything else follows.) […]

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