Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near” makes a long and impressive case for The Singularity , mostly on the strength of what he calls the Law of Exponential Returns, which he describes as being the case with technology, and specifically, although not exclusively, computer technology. He uses this well documented history as impetus for the idea that we will, given the speed and exponentiality of technological advance, will eventually figure out how to build intelligent machines that surpass human intelligence. The “missing link” for me is some sign that we really can come to understand that by “knowing more” and becoming more technologically advanced. Noam Chomsky seems to share this view as well (which makes me a little prouder to hold that view). But I also draw upon what I might dare to call theological reasons, and it has something to do with the story of Babel. The building of that tower which was motivated by, well, a kind of hubris that is best expressed as the Biblical story tells it:
From Genesis 11: (via http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2011 )
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a namefor ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 TheLord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the languageof the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
First, I dont take this story literally, except as it pertains to its message (or what seems to me to be its implications). Which is to say, “beware of the propensity to consider yourself as unlimited to the extent that you think yourselves to have arrived”. God also didn’t literally “mess up a common language”. Not the message of this warning at all. That makes God out to be some cosmic promoter of ignorance and tribalism. No, God’s concern here was similar to that of the garden and the snake. And it is really interesting to me that I have never noticed the context of this story. It is immediately and abruptly followed by a genealogical account that begins “two years after the flood”, seemingly saying that the Tower of Babel story was an alternate account of the flood (another account used by atheists to discredit the idea of God by pointing to its cruelty, but like the Tower story, is not the point at all. It is not an historical account. It is an apocalyptic account. Big difference. And never a concern for the writer(s) to claim it as such. To even want to treat is as such is to obscure the actual message, which renders the passage moot, anyway.
While I don’t render this interpretation of judgment upon hubris as glibly and gleefully as many “anti-technologists”, I have to allow it to “give me great pause” in the matter of believing we can “duplicate” human intelligence and “create a mind”. Technological advance, which is undeniable and obviously capable of “surprising” us, which is the sole source of what I consider to be the whole range of “possbilities” for UNDERSTANDING SOME of the human brain process and “reason for reasoning”…..it remains “out of reach” as of yet, as I see it. As a technologist, and a pretty avid apologist FOR technology and computer technology in particular, I have followed with interest and fascination the argument Kurzweil lays out. But when it gets to making claims about “creating a brain”, I still doubt “faster and better and more intense processing, even matching the “volume” of the number of “computations” done by an active human brain, will give us any answers about how to “construct one”. Kurzweil seems to claim , “just wait, we’ve always thought linerally about this. Its only a matter of time. No, I think we need something else. We only think we are onto something, largely because we’ve been able to identify what seems to be digital processing in the human brain, and that if we can eventually build molecules — that will only be more powerful — that function like the various ingredients/elements present in human brain processing, then we can “create minds”. Hmmmm.
But I am certainly convinced already, that we CAN and have already started building the pieces of “Social Singularity” , because social communication is provided its content by the interacting of actual brains/minds coming together. Beyond the improvements to me made (and no reason to doubt that they will) in audio and video fidelity and bandwidth, we will be experiencing what technologists call “full immersion virtual reality” which refers to more accurate human sensory experience in communicating with one another, and therefore we can move to approximating the actual experience of face to face (traditional) communication by putting us “in it” rather than observing the “others” on a flat screen. There is no “inventing” of minds here. It is providing the bandwidths and applications to present that. We are dealing with PRESENTATION here, not creation (although we CAN and SHOULD think about CREATING some immersions that take a step in directions that face to face CAN’T but would were it not limited to physical spaces and its constraints.
Of course, there are pitfalls (at least theoretically) to which we must attend. But now I’m just making a case for “full speed ahead” on “Social Singularity” goals and implementations. It may also be a major player in hastening the conversations we need to have about global climate change (which is what Chomsky lifted up as a much larger concern than working towards being able to “create a mind” so we can “upload our selves”). I tend to agree.
Again, more on this still churning.