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Technological Singularity

The Technological Singularity

The great science fiction genius, Isaac Asimov, postulated the Three Laws of Robotics in “Runaround.” These three rules were firstly devised as guidelines for an imaginary situation where robots could take up the world as we know it. But who would have thought that such regulations would become necessary one day?

The news has been turning into fantasy for a while now, ranging from novel virtual reality and 3D printers to actual robots with display functions that include playing soccer.  Each step brings us closer to the moment when we, as humans, will be able to invent independent machines with a capacity to reproduce new and upgraded versions of themselves.

This is what Technological Singularity, also called Strong AI, is about: a hypothetical- already expected- event in which we create artificial intelligence superior to humans. This episode will completely change the concept of life and make us reconsider the frontiers of the human race itself.

History of the Term

During the 1950s and 1960s, some philosophers and mathematicians, like Samuel Butler, had already pondered the issues regarding a possible singularity. It was not until the early 1990s when this term became a popular issue thanks to the thoughts of the American computer scientist and writer Vernor Vinge. He published an article that claimed that, in the near future, the singularity would occur. He titled his essay: “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era”[1].

From the release of the article to now, scientists have been predicting when this event will take place. Some believe that it will happen during the 2040s when finally the exponential growth in computing capacity will lead to the Singularity. One example is Kurzweil, who once said clearly that he set the date for the Singularity to be 2045 when he expected a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability.

On the other hand, there are scientists who claim that, at the rapid pace of technological development, singularity will certainly take place approximately in 2025.

However, there are thinkers like Roger Penrose who state that such a thing as a robot with human intellect will never be possible.

Future Alternatives

It is 2056, a normal day; you are woken up thanks to your robot alarm that can simulate a sunrise in front of your window. You have your breakfast freshly produced by a novel 3D printer. You take your new hologram USB laptop and you are teleported to school. After you have a long day, you get to meet with your new friend David who has already been charged and unplugged. He is a robot, but he acts like a real human.

This could be one of the realities from the millions that are possible. While there are a lot of different situations that can occur, the alternatives can be divided into three main groups depending on what we use the intelligence for: if robots turn against humanity, if we get to control the robots, or if we use them in order to become post-humans.

-In the first case, robots control humans and turn them into slaves, which is the worst nightmare for all Matrix fanatics. They become dangerous and, like in some science fiction movies, humanity would have to fight to get its freedom back. This kind of fear is mainly seen in communication media, more precisely, in films and cinema, where robots destroy humans and rule the world; the most known example is The Terminator. But this option isn’t only seen on media, mobile phones have upgraded versions with a much bigger storage capacity that isn’t far from what a robot would need to be like humans. It is estimated that a human brain has a capacity of around 2.5 petabytes (a million gigabytes).

  • -In the second example, we get to impose several restrictions that robots must follow. Rules robots would have to adhere to by protocol. As written before, these laws have been somehow already defined by Isaac Asimov: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law and a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. These regulations, however, would need to be updated and be adjusted to the era in which the Singularity takes place.
  • – Lastly, there is an option in which we use technology and artificial knowledge in order to create from ourselves post-humans. A definition for post-human would be the “maximum attainable capacities by any current human being with recourse to new technological means”, as philosopher Nick Bostrum of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford described. In other words, a person who implants him- or her- self robotically functions in order to create a symbiosis between a human and an artificial intelligence. These poeple are alternately known as cyborgs.

Current Studies

Presently, there are many scientists who dedicate their whole careers towards this theme; they study all sorts of robot-related situations, including the prevention and facilitation of these events.

An important example of this investigation center is the private Singularity University of Silicon Valley in Los Angeles. This site has as a theme: ‘Preparing Humanity for Accelerating Technological Change’. The research centre offers educational courses and focuses on scientific progress and “exponential” technologies. It was founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil in NASA Research Park.

In this institution, there is a broad range of studies been made from a list of eleven different topics[2] that have to do with Technological Singularity.

One of the most recent studies in relation health and medicine is the development of machines that prevent aging. This project was revealed by Jose Luis Cordeiro, who argues that that aging is a healable illness that can be overcome by technological advances.

All in all, it is important to clarify that singularity is a very debatable term with many different opinions and from which is difficult to deduce a simple opinion or conclusion. There are a lot of people in favor and against it, and many have studied techniques to prevent or speed up the Singularity. Who knows, maybe we are not as far as we think from Technological Singularity?


[1] VINGE, Vernor. 1993: Whole Earth Review

[2] Future studies and forecasting, Networks and Systems, Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Nanotechnology, Medicine, neuroscience and human enhancement, Artificial intelligence, robotics and cognitive computing, Energy and ecological systems, Space and Physical Sciences, Politics, Law and Ethics, Finance and entrepreneurship, Design.

Editor: Shreya Singireddy