A human body is one of the most complex machines that exist on this planet. Despite exquisite medical researches, accomplishment of next-to-impossible surgical targets, development of healthcare technology, and study of the inside of the human brain, it still seems very delusional how can a human mind work without any break to operate the entire functioning of a human body and how it can cellularly mold itself to achieve adaptive living. On the other hand, technological innovations and ideas have helped both human mind and body to evolve their functioning. The technological trends in healthcare have allowed humans to study themselves and build a better and healthier lifestyle for entire humanity.
However, what if, a time comes when our use of technology and the aid we get from it surpasses our own imagination? What if, we create something, that would not only help us modify our lives, but would simultaneously shape its future with us? And what if, our technology surpasses our level of intelligence to make unthinkable and unexplainable changes to civilization? What would it mean for mankind and the entire existence of humans? Let’s break it down to understand it in-depth.
What is Technological Singularity?
The simple definition suggests that Technological Singularity would be achieved when a machine would be able to progress its analytical capabilities beyond the thoughts of a human brain. Technological Singularity is believed to be the state, where a machine would be able to modify biological genetics, laws of modern physics and astronomy, and bring unfathomable changes in human socio-cultural life, either by advancing it or by overtaking it.
Technological singularity has till now, been only a work of hypothesis or theory, with only certain practical developments in Artificial Intelligence proving its possible existence in the future. But imagining it does come into reality, what it would mean for us?
The Concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
So, AI, a word that is not an introduction anymore to neither technological experts nor public. We already have AI-powered computers and supercomputers placed in high-end research facilities to assist in automated data analytics, processing, and database management. AI basically refers to the intelligence or the power of learning and adaptability possessed by a machine. A machine is subjected to a task that resembles a cognitive activity of human brain or body, which the machine mimics and regularly perfect it using embedded problem solving and learning abilities. This is how we have received technologies like voice-automation control, fingerprint and retinal sensors, autopilot modes, and effective supply chain networks in industries.
Though earlier, the entire AI-based functions were dependent on calculations and statistical analysis; however, the advancements have allowed to integrate emotional intelligence into machines, to help them consider emotional factors before making required decisions.
What AI Means for Future of Machines and Technology?
It is believed that AI’s future lies in an enhanced understanding of human knowledge, cognitive skills, civilization history, and its evolution in the future. The modern-day AI tools use a database consisting of human preferences, regular activities, and personal choices, and then analyses it in mathematical conversions to implement the further step. This way, it can be said that its still humans who manipulate the learning of machines per their choices and its just the final cognitive step that the machine performs on its own. So, we still in control of machines and their abilities to use their provided intelligence.
But, for how long?
To enhance the capabilities of machine and in the vision of making a tech-driven world, the experts in the field are continuously working on machine learning models, which would allow machines to take AI a step ahead, aiding them to understand human linguistics, symbols, and complete human biology, including the neurological functioning of brain. So, imagine a machine with capabilities to understand and artificially mimic everything a human can do. The possibilities and extent of the mental and physical abilities of such a machine and the things it can do are far from imagination.
And, as expected, the transition has already begun. Sophia, the first self-learning and self-aware robot were unveiled in CES 2018. A robot, which can respond to questions, have analytical and problem-solving skills and even has personal opinions. Imagine, when Sophia was asked about her favorite television production, she explained why she is fascinated by the concept of “Black Mirror,” which is aired on Netflix streaming services. This means that she can comprehend the human psychological aspects and can frame her answers and task objectives accordingly.
What such escalating progress can result in?
The Explosion of Intelligence: An Unsaid Truth or Another Hypothesis?
The term “explosion” here represents the state, where AI would be transformed and exponentially escalated to a stage of Superintelligence, whose capabilities would be significantly higher than that of human body and brain. It is believed that this sort of brain functionality and agility would be possessed by a technological agent, may it be a machine, a computer, or a server network with the access to tons of data regarding the human civilization. It would use this data to escalate rapid technological growth, and may also change the shape of modern-day physics, genetics, and engineering, thus, altering the civilization in an unexplained manner. This is the most supported version of Singularity Hypothesis.
Another one is what the experts call Molecular Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, the branch of science that aims at developing tools that can alter atomic structure at nanoscale, which is believed, would be capable of manipulating a structure to one billionth of a meter. It is said that this technology would help built complex defect-free structures in the future. A real revolution in the industrialization world that would help in eradicating human errors and bring massive perfection to design constraints and industrial processes. This leaves the fate of our industries to a nanomachine, that runs on a more extensive technological control unit. However, the scientists at MIT have begun to discuss, what can nanotech means for human cellular regeneration. The research has begun on a hypothesis, that nanotech agents can be used to deliver medical payload inside human body to cure infections and tumors, that is impossible to cure via hand surgery. Again, a nanobot injected inside human body, which would be controlled via a nanomachine. Yes, these agents would flow through your body, but what if, they begin to control it as well?
Then comes the fascinating stuff about achieving singularity, Brain Upload. As the name suggests, it refers to mapping up your brain in the form of binary codes on a computer network. A common pop-culture theme, this factor of accomplishing singularity is often linked with the concept of immortality. You’ve often come across the word, “cyborg.” This is what that is. A non-biological carrier, digital or physical that can sustain and prolong the functioning of a human brain using an electronic medium.
Then there is Human-Machine Augmentation, where one or more than one functions would be controlled and performed via injected technological agents. This would preferably enhance body performance and would amplify intelligence by combining human psychology and decision-making skills along with the algorithmic approach of computers towards any situation.
But what could be the cost of this trial and error research in singularity?
The Risks to Civilization
Well first, it is believed that the explosion of Superintelligence can result in a technological takeover of the world. This hypothetical phenomenon is often termed as “Take-Off,” where supercomputers with artificial intelligence would outmatch humans at all levels and would smoothly transit improvements and changes beyond the understanding of mankind, thus, finally taking over the world. It seems almost impossible, but the like of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have raised concerns in this regard, in an open letter titled, “Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence: An Open Letter.” The letter, which also includes Google Research Head Peter Norvig stated some major concerns about rapidly developing AI technology. While short-term concerns were focused on risks of simple AI tech such as self-driven cars, the long-term concerns discussed the risks of AI-controlled weapons, AI-based aviation, and of course, the “explosion.”
The risks associated with Singularity also includes the eradication of human involvement in the tasks of life, which would create issues such as unemployment and poverty, thus profoundly disturbing the socio-cultural aspects of civilization. Moreover, concepts of Brain Upload and Immortality brings another risk. Brain Upload is almost a copy-paste phenomenon; however, the number of files you’ll be copying there would be trillions of nerve cells and neurons, manipulated and sustained by an electronic or non-biological substrate. So, in case even a single nerve is missed or reversed, the final creation would not be the mind that you were trying to get on the web. You’d have created something else, which maybe you’d not be able to control.
And then, there’s the ultimate existential risk. It is history that human species have evolved only after the previous ones were decimated. The cycle of life followed, and our cells grew stronger, more intelligent, and sustainable. Many researchers claim, that AI is the next step in human civilization. But would that mean our own end? It is not foolish to think as of why would a super intelligent digital entity, which we let control our every movement via extensive surveillance would let us have control over our life and our governance? So, maybe, the way AI is being created to preserve our information and make itself self-aware may outmatch our existence.
The Possibility of Singularity in Reality
Now, after going through what this article has said, you’d probably have imagined several fictional works on AI and maybe have concluded that this cannot happen, or at least in next few millennia. Well, you’re wrong. The process has already begun. Firstly, unaware, you are already using a few AI-powered technological devices. Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant; all of them help you in your daily tasks are all but AI. How do you think a face unlock feature or an automated filter feature works on mobile cameras? Your text-to-speech navigation modes are also AI-powered.
We have human-machine augmentation already in place. MIT researcher, Hugh Herr, who lost his legs early in life, has successfully invented bionic legs now to help him move and do all kinds of stuff. These legs are a real piece of human-machine collaboration, as they operate per Hugh’s thoughts and are controlled via the signals he sends to them via brain nerves.
And then if we talk about the real singularity, it might be nearer than you imagine. Dmitry Itskov, a Russian billionaire and business magnate, has already begun research to become immortal and achieve, what a lot of people call “Digital Ascension.” Itskov has founded the 2045 Initiative; a non-profit organization focused entirely on developing tools and technologies that would make digital immortality possible, along with concepts like brain upload, cyborgs, and non-biological carriers. 2045 Initiative is also researching on creating holographic avatars, that can possess the brain functioning of an existing human being. So, basically, this would allow you to physically remain alive after death in a holographic avatar. Well, at least that’s what Mr. Itskov wants. But the point is, the so-called fictional event is almost near to becoming a real-life scenario, and if not us, it would be our children and their children who’d witness this digital and electronic evolution.
Whether it’d be an evolution that is generations would witness, or would be the end of it? It’s tough to determine and almost unexplainable in the present times. But the rate at which AI is growing, Singularity seems inevitable. Do you think, that giving us up to the more advanced and algorithm-based machines is a path towards a righteous civilization? Is this, really a next-step?