The term Singularity is often used in mainstream media for describing visionary technology. It was introduced by Ray Kurzweil in a popular book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (2005).

In his book, Kurzweil gives an outlook to a potential future of mankind which includes nanotechnology, computers, genetic modification and artificial intelligence. He argues that Moore's law will allow computers an exponential growth which results in a superintelligence.

Is the technological singularity something that is taken seriously by A.I. developers or is this theory just a load of popular hype?

  • $\begingroup$ The debate around Singularity is a subtopic in the so called Neoluddite movement. That is a philosophical debate about technology advancement with a pessimistic outlook. Bill Joy has published a famous essay in the 2000s in which he argues against technology. The neoluddite movement is some kind of anti-ideology to the stronger-faster-smarter thinking of Silicon Valley. Singularity is a mixing of pro and contra technology ideology with the aim to moderate the debate. $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Sep 7 '18 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ I think you will have a really hard time finding any solid AI-related scientific baseis that suggests Singularity is even remotely possible. $\endgroup$ – Andreas Storvik Strauman Sep 7 '18 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ You might be interested in this Q&A: ai.stackexchange.com/questions/7337/… $\endgroup$ – Neil Slater Sep 7 '18 at 21:39

I can say that among AI researchers I interact with, it far more common to view it as wild speculation than as settled fact.

This is borne out by surveys of AI researchers, with 80% thinking strong forms of AI will emerge in "more than 50 years" or "never", and just a few percent thinking that such forms of AI are "near".

Software Developers are not the same as AI researchers, and I have found the Singularity myth to be much more widespread among developers. It has a nice ring to it: Computers keep getting faster, at some point they'll be faster than brains, at that point we just simulate brains. Soon after, we simulate something better than brains.

I suspect that the reasons AI researchers are less optimistic are rooted in the fact that we still don't have a good understanding of human intelligence, or even enough of an understanding of the brain to simulate it. For example, in the last two weeks we have discovered previously unknown types of brain cells. This gives the (correct) impression that even if we had a fast enough computer, we are not at all close to being able to accurately simulate a human brain. We don't really know what a human brain is.

Even if we did know that, simulations are necessarily lossy. We may not have good simulation techniques. Even if we did have good techniques, we may simulate the brain and discover our simulation does not behave as expected for reasons that we don't understand. This is very probable when simulating new systems. In some sense, proponents of the Singularity resemble people predicting that weather control was near in the 1940s. After all, we could simulate simple weather patterns already then, and generate forecasts that sort of worked. How much more complex could it really be to generate perfect forecasts?

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    $\begingroup$ This statement reads like the beginning of a coming AI winter in which AI researchers reject their dreams of building intelligent machines and admit they have nothing to offer. I think we can describe the reality a bit more optimistic. In the Blue brain project immortality is one of the goals, and it can be reached with nanobots. They are able to copy the mind from one brain into another brain. According to futurists this will become reality in the year 2030. At least the European Union believes that this makes sense and supports the project with 1 billion US$. Is that amount serious enough? $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Sep 8 '18 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ @ManuelRodriguez I think it's not so much a winter as a realistic and mature view of the technology. We really can and really are solving lots of hard problems with AI right now. It is unreasonable to jump from that to immortality, nanobots, and brain copying. Maybe we'll have things like that eventually, but those technologies aren't even close to functional. Support for basic research towards them is good, but it's not like AI was short of funding in the 50's and 60's. Spending money doesn't mean we're going to have immortality and cloned brains in 10 years. The idea is laughable. $\endgroup$ – John Doucette Sep 8 '18 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying that I'm personally belief in immortality within 10 years. I only want to make clear that so called “Whole brain emulation” projects like the EU Human Brain Project (1 billion USD), the US BRAIN initiative (4.5 billion USD in total) and the China Brain Project (200 million USD) have Singularity as their goal. The government wouldn't spend so much for research if they are in doubt that Nanobots are possible. $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Sep 8 '18 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @ManuelRodriguez Sure they would. Even a failed project that cost a lot of money can result in very valuable research. $\endgroup$ – forest Dec 14 '19 at 4:06

There is at least one very important and serious AI scientist that apparently believes in the creation of true artificial general intelligence and possibly superintelligence: Jürgen Schmidhuber, who is the co-author of the LSTM, among many other important contributions. In fact, he recently founded NNAISENSE for this ultimate purpose, that is, to build a general-purpose artificial general intelligence. In his talk When creative machines overtake man, at TEDxLausanne, Schmidhuber talks about the singularity (also known as omega). See also his web article Is History Converging? Again? (2012) or the paper 2006: Celebrating 75 years of AI - History and Outlook: the Next 25 Years (2007).

  • $\begingroup$ This is true, but he's definitely in the minority of AI researchers on this. It's true Schmidhuber is well credentialed, but I don't think most AI researchers take his views on this element of AI seriously. $\endgroup$ – John Doucette Sep 18 '19 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDoucette Yes, I agree with you. I just wanted to point out this interesting exceptional case. $\endgroup$ – nbro Sep 18 '19 at 15:55

In order to be on the same page, you should give references about "technological singularity", as it comprises multiple fields (mathematics, statistics, philosophy of science, epistemology, sociology, politics, economics, to mention a few).

Generally, when you consider concepts related to adj + ai (where adj = {weak, strong, full, narrow, ...}), the breath of speculation is quite large and in fieri, so as a developer (where for developer I assume you work on coding-related problems, not the project manager at google x and the like) I would not be worried, unless you are enjoying a cup of tea with your colleagues during a break.


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