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02-11-2011 - Singularities

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A singularity is a physics term related to regions where physical laws break down, as in a black hole. It has also been used to describe sociological and technological events that pull us as a society into unfamiliar territory. Two interconnected singularities are approaching rapidly. Artificial Intelligence and immortality appear poised to become part of our reality, according to some, before the century is half over.

With quantum computing's arrival imminent, computers will be orders of magnitude faster than at present. Even without QC, new bottom-up nanowire fabrication technologies are allowing new CPU designs reducing the effect of Moore's Law and giving new life to traditional computing. Looking at trends in computing power, many believe that spontaneous awareness, or consciousness of some kind, will spring forth once a certain degree of processing power is reached. In other words, when the brain is artificially recreated. If this occurs, the intelligence involved would be, or could be, almost limitless. It would dwarf the intelligence of humans due to its scalability...imagine if you could add a few pounds of grey matter, at will, to your cranial capacity. So many questions are generated by this potential that it truly boggles; the scenarios are endless and many have been portrayed in modern cinema and stories. It could be a boon to mankind and solve many problems, or it could create more problems than it solves; possibly resulting in a hybrid society or none at all.

Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is being modified in the lab and life spans of organisms have been greatly extended. Replacement organs will soon be able to be grown from the patients themselves precluding rejection and the need for donors. If the subject of the previous paragraph comes to pass, it is almost certain that these things will happen. If so, what then? Many issues, including a society split into immortals and mortals (haves and have-nots), a planet unable to sustain longer life-spans and a much-altered paradigm involving family, law and issues relating to death could result. Again, if AI becomes a reality, immortality may take another form; we could be downloaded into hardware and continue existence within our own personal memory address space attached to millions of sensors around the globe and in space. Just think; you could know everything.

The liklihood of these advances occurring is increasing. I, for one, do not relish the idea of eternal life, at least not in this locale. Heinlein explores this idea with his character Lazarus Long. How much experience is enough? Can physical existence remain original and stimulating? AI's effect on the world will depend on who controls it and to what purpose it is entrained. It could be the oracle of modern times or the bringer of doom.

The future has never been completely clear, but it seems like we might be in for something completely different. An old Chinese saying, "May you live in interesting times," was meant as an insult.

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