Technological Singularity Theory

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Cadell Last:

"Contemporary practical (elite) discourse regarding an emerging technological revolution has started to revolve around notions of a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’(WEF,2016),but in the general futures literature, discourse about a future technological revolution has, for some time, revolved around notions of ‘Technological Singularity’(TS) (Last, 2015c, Section 3.2). The notion of TS attempts to articulate the notion that technological progress is inherently evolving via an exponential trajectory and will eventually change the human world beyond individual human comprehension and understanding. The metaphor of ‘Singularity’ in ‘TS’ theory is used in specific reference to the astrophysical properties of a black hole's ‘event-horizon’. The ‘event-horizon’ of a black hole represents a break in spatiotemporal continuity rendering it impossible for any external observer to know the internal properties of the object in question (i.e. ‘the impossible beyond’ that is the ‘black hole’). In the same way, in TS literature the ‘Singularity’ represents ‘the impossible beyond’ for human comprehension and understanding (i.e. the ‘external (human) observer’ attempting to discern the (beyond human) future properties of a super-technological world that is a ‘black hole’). In these general futures notions the primary catalyst for future exponential change (the agent-cause of ‘Singularity’) is typically envisioned to be artificial general intelligence (AGI), i.e. a form of ma- chine intelligence that vastly overpowers human intelligence, leading to essentially a ‘post-human’ ‘future’(if such words even make discursive sense at that point).

This general AGI-TS vision, although always presented as human eschatology (i.e. end of human comprehension and understanding of the world, or end of human existence in the world), can take the form of either a utopian and dystopian variant. Both utopian and dystopian variants were explored in the first official introduction of the term ‘Technological Singularity’ in Vernor Vinge's ‘The Coming Technological Singularity’, where he posited that (1993, p. 88):

- “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human race will be ended.”

Thus, the introductory overview of TS ultimately concluded that, in either the utopian or dystopian scenarios, humanity was approaching an eschatological horizon (as transcendence or extinction), which set the general ‘end times’ tone for the literature that followed. The most popular and influential ‘utopian’ ‘transcendence’ variant is inarguably Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near (2005), which argues that humanity will merge with technological intelligence and ‘transcend biology’ for a ‘super-human’ or ‘post-human’ state of being characterized by higher love, knowledge, and organizational form. The most popular and influential ‘dystopian’ ‘extinction’ variant (at least recently) is Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence (2014), which argues that the further development of machine intelligence will lead humanity towards an existential ‘control problem’ where human beings will become eradicated by our own technological creations.

The history of this futures discourse is problematic in many dimensions. Firstly, if this literature is not totally out of touch with our future reality, i.e. AGI is either impossible (an idea with fundamentally problematic presuppositions) or will itself not lead to humanity's phenomenological transcendence/extinction (because the human brain cannot be simulated by a digital supercomputer); then secondly, it is most certainly out of touch with our approach to Singularity –the ‘here to there’ of exponential global technological revolution –in many crucial ways.

The most important reason for this is that the theoretical emphasis in TS literature (i.e. emergence of AGI) almost completely ignores the systemic dynamics of technological revolution in relation to the emerging socio-technological sphere mediated by the totality of the Internet as universal medium. In missing this systemic dynamic the TS literature fails to even confront basic issues of systemic transitions in relation to control, power, and hierarchy, and thus basic issues of systemic transitions in terms of social, economic, and political life. In short, the TS literature to date has jumped far too quickly towards an eschatological horizon (in all honesty a repressed repetition of Christian thinking and Christian notions of historical time emerging in the scientific worldview) without thinking through deeply the systemic implications of technological revolution for the foundations of human life and civilization as a total sphere.

However, in contrast to this briefly introduced and problematic notion of an ‘AGI TS’, the general futures literature has also been characterized by discussions of an emerging collective superintelligence in the form of a ‘Global Brain (GB) Technological Singularity (TS)’, where ‘Global Brain’ refers specifically to the totality of the Internet as universal coordination medium."


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