Saturday, September 17, 2011

Obstacles to the Singularity: Information Overload, Technology Diffusion, and Physical Limits

Discussion on 9/18/2011, led by Brenda

Hey guys! For the discussion, I thought we could briefly go over the concept of the singularity and about some limitations people have proposed.

So, as most of you probably know, singularity is the point where technology and science develops globally fastest. At this point, greater-than human intelligence will emerge through technological means. Since human intellect would be inferior to this new intelligence, a brain-computer interface or something similar is proposed to emerge as well. The term "Singularity" was coined by Victor Vinge to describe the point at which artificial intelligence more powerful than humans is be created, causing changes that will be difficult for us to predict. While many intelligent people accept the idea that a technological singularity will take place at some point in the future, there are still some potential holes in this theory.

  1. Information Overload

    The amount of relevant information on any particular topic is growing at a staggering speed. As the amount of information grows, new scientists will have to learn all the previously discovered information before doing further research. The theoretical limitation is that in the long run we would have to spend practically all our productive lives learning and teaching instead of doing any research or substantive work, and that each discipline will become extremely specialized, with huge language and methodology barriers between them. There will so much to learn in a lifetime that eventually it will be hard to learn it all within a lifetime and still have time to do new research.
  2. Technology Diffusion

    Knowledge and skills are unevenly distributed. Right now, there is a diffusion of knowledge from people who know a lot to people who don't know a lot. However this diffusion of technology is less than optimal. As the rate of technological innovation increases exponentially, a slower change in the rate of technology diffusion will make the differences in knowledge across the population greater and greater, until it becomes a barrier to communication and diffusion stops. This disparity can be seen in the modern day. While a great deal of research takes place in developed nations, in third world countries scientific journals are essentially nonexistent. Similarly, it is possible that in the future only a very small part of humanity will experience the singularity, and this would create a huge knowledge gap. Furthermore, cultural barriers may slow the transmission of knowledge between areas. There are huge gaps in the spreading of technology across different places and cultures.
  3. Physical Limitations

    The speed of light is the most obvious limitation. Although on the human level, this limitation is irrelevant, it is very relevant for computers and electronics. The speed of light is already a limitation for the internet. (It takes .04s for it to travel around the world.)

How serious do you think these limitations are? Do you think we can overcome them?