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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?

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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. $\endgroup$ Sep 7 '18 at 19:12
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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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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).

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  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ 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
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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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Yes, it must be taken seriously. There are two main reasons:

  1. There is no sharp argument or no-go theorem against the existence of a singularity. It's unclear how fast the singularity could develop, but many authors given a non zero probability to this event (see this reference, it contains different points of view on the singularity by leading experts).
  2. The consequences of a singularity would be dramatic. So even if the perceived probability in point 1 is very small, it's worth studying possible mitigations routes.
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