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Published on Feb 2, 2011
Dr Amnon H. Eden is a computer scientist with the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex and a research fellow of the Center of Inquiry. He received his MSc Cum Laude from the Department of Computer Science, Tel Aviv University for investigating machine learning models for learning natural concepts, and his PhD from the Department of Computer Science, Tel Aviv University for his research in the theory and practice of software design. Dr Eden is the author of the book Codecharts: Roadmaps and Blueprints for Object-Oriented Programs (forthcoming), and the Philosophy of Computer Science entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (co-authored with Raymond Turner). Before taking an academic position, Dr Eden was a professional programmer and software consultant with start-ups and multinationals in Tel Aviv area. In 2008 Dr Eden introduced the "Technological Singularity and Acceleration Studies" track to the European Computing And Philosophy conference series, and he is currently co-editing the volume "The Singularity Hypothesis: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment" commissioned by Springer.
This talk considers the concept of the technological singularity, but takes a notably different approach from Ray Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near" -- which describes the transhumanist vision of the merger of flesh and machines. Kurzweil takes the "technological singularity" to mean a "rupture the fabric of human history". The transformation he describes will come about by the acceleration of changes (including Moore's Law). His book and movie popularized the singularity, which since has been jokingly referred to as the "Geek's Rupture".
Kurzweil is by no means the only writer to have explored the singularity. Farsighted social scientists, economists, technologists, futurists, mathematicians, and computer scientists have offered compelling evidence for a forthcoming radical shift in human affairs. Broadly construed, the technological singularity represents a point at which scientific models break and no longer explain the world as we understand it. For example, economist Robin Hanson has suggested that the agricultural revolution (approximately 8,000 BC) and the industrial revolution (about 300 years ago) were singularities (sometimes also called "Waves").
Some artificial intelligence researchers take the 'singularity' to stand for an intelligence explosion: an uncontrolled 'takeoff' event that may lead to a sentient race of superintelligent robots (a la Battlestar Galactica's cylons). In other words, the singularity may well mean the annihilation of humankind. Yet others speak of the singularity as an exponentially growing population of "uploads" or whole brain emulations: humans emulated as computer programs.
This talk looks at the some of the scientific notions of the technological singularity, and considers whether the American Association for Artificial Intelligence was right to dismiss them as imaginary and apocalyptic.