Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Singularity

I don't know whether to be amused or frightened by predictions by computer scientists that by the year 2030 humans and computers will be fused together in an ever-present world-wide network. Or maybe instead computers will be so intelligent that they merely dispense with humanity all together.

Predictions like these come out of the mouths of people like Vernor Vinge, a computer scientist who envisions a future where computers will be physically hard-wired into your brain. Having used Microsoft Vista, I'm not all that excited about the prospect. Vinge and others speculate that in the next 30 years this computer-to-brain connection will have people seeing text messages and data floating across their eyes with computer screens overlaying the real world. Personally I find that nauseating and think computer scientists with this kind of hope for the future ought to get outside a little more often.

Grandiose predictions of what will happen in the future with technology have often, if not always, fallen far short of what was envisioned. It is hard to say what the future will bring, todays cell phones and text messaging may be a premonition of incredible levels of connection, turning the planet into some kind of supermind. At the same time all this talk reminds me of the 1939 Worlds Fair where among other things predictions were made about robots and clean freeways without traffic jams. That world never materialized.

I think the prediction that computers will become so "smart" and capable that they will dispense with humanity fall into that category. What science and technology is capable of is grossly overestimated by lots of people, including scientists themselves and journalists.

A wacky, but thought provoking topic, the era when computers take over the planet could be near. Or not. Check out the Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil for a lively discussion of this issue.

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