Get ready for Singularity: it’s closer to reality than we think

Mar 4, 2014
Edie Lush

Hooked to a computer, your brain will be able to answer a question before you even knew to ask it

I HAVE spent a lot of the past week checking out Ray Kurzweil’s world after reading Carole Cadwalladr’s interview with him in The Observer. It is a pretty eye-opening experience. Google’s new director of engineering estimates that computers will gain ‘consciousness’ by 2029 - i.e. when the machines have learned to make their own decisions.

Kurzweil is one of the poster boys of Singularity, defined by Wikipedia as the "moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence”. Associated with this are the concepts of Human 2.0 or Transhumanism, which are when humans begin to augment or replace parts of themselves with robots or computers.  

Kurzweil has a great deal to say about a future in which we have reverse-engineered the brain - i.e. figured out what every bit of our grey matter does, how and why. According to Kurzweil,  

"By 2030, reverse-engineering of the human brain will have been completed and non-biological intelligence will merge with our biological brains.” (He wrote this in 2003 by the way.)

What does this even mean? Well, it means we’ll have connected our brains to computers. They’ll be able to monitor everything we hear, see and think, plus everything in our email box and answer our questions before we’ve thought of them. 

Asked recently ‘why would we do this?', Kurzweil responded: “Our search engines will… watch everything we're reading and writing and saying and hearing, and then they'll be like an assistant.  It'll say... ‘You were wondering who the actor was in that movie with the robot that can speak six million languages and here she is and here's background about her.’  

“Since that helps you through the day, we'll answer your questions before you ask them or even before you realise you have a question, and you'll just get used to this information popping up that you wanted and you'll be frustrated if you're thinking about something and it doesn't immediately pop up without you even having to ask for it.”

Does that sound far-fetched?  In fact, we’re already connecting our minds and bodies to computers. I recently met Olivier Oullier , Professor of Behavioral and Brain Science at Aix-Marseille University, who uses wearable technology and neurofeedback to train people out of cigarette addiction and obesity. With the help of some special glasses (see picture below) which monitor where you are looking, a brain monitor that senses and records what parts of your brain are being activated and your mobile phone, he can train your brain to better control food or cigarette craving in a video-game like setting.

Outlier? No. Scientists in Malta have developed software that allows you to control your music (play, fast forward, turn it up to 11) with your brain. Researchers in Washington connected two people’s brains together - allowing one person to control another’s hand movements by thought. The FDA in the US has granted pre-market approval to Neuropace, a company whose brain implant reduces seizures in epileptic patients by identifying dangerous patterns of brain activity. 

Meanwhile Braingate has implanted sensors in your brain which allow a woman with tetraplegia to use her thoughts to steer a robot arm to grasp a bottle of coffee and lift it to her lips. The scientists at Proteus combine wearable and ingestible sensors to gather information about medication-taking, activity and rest patterns.  Can’t remember if you took your last dose of heart medication? Sensors in the pills will send the information to your phone alerting you to rest easy.

Most of us with an iPhone have experienced Siri’s (in)ability to translate your voice into simple commands. In my experience its better at calling my mother than finding directions to a restaurant, but while there are numerous, humorous examples of #Sirifails you can bet each version will be better.  

And with life-blogging devices like Narrative which capture your every move in pictures (a "searchable and shareable photographic memory”) you can see how we might not be too far away from Kurzweil’s vision of predictive search.


Edie Lush tweets at @edielush

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Look, I know how hard it is to believe this sci fi cr@p, partially because "there is no way of judging the future but by the past" (I found that in a fortune cookie). But here is the skinny:

When I lived in the Castle Chess Club in St Paul, MN in the late 80's, everyone thought that a computer WOULD NEVER beat the best human chess player. Wrong - it happened in '97, about the time Kurzweil predicted.

In 1999, Kurzweil checked with the leading programmers of the day, and none of them thought that a computer would pass the Turing test anytime soon, but now a majority think it will take place by 2029 like he predicted (people can be tricked into passing a computer now, but that doesn't count, we are talking genuinely).

I predict that a robot will beat humans at soccer by the end of the decade. Nobody I've asked believes this prediction will come true.

If you don't see a trend here, then you are blind, and will be surprised when computers become AGI (artificial general intelligence) like a human by 2029, and then start surpassing us (ASI, artificial super intelligence). At that point, the Singularity will emerge, where these Einstein AIs mono-maniacally learn everything and start applying that knowledge in every area of technology.

Wake up - the Singularity is coming faster than you think (i.e. it is 2013 now, so in about 15 years or so), and it will change everything. BTW, ever hear of LENR? Amazing.

What's crazy is that this has all been prophesied in the Bible. Go ahead and call me a loon but I think it's pretty remarkable. In my worldview we are created in the image of God. By continuing to change and "evolve" with things we build with our own hands, are we abandoning this God given gift?

Instead of siri you should check out the newest google now on android 4.4. It's getting pretty uncanny how it can use contexual responses in a series of questions. You can ask for the time in Dallas then ask for the population and the unemployment rate in a series without mentioning Dallas again. Just one example but it's making lots of gains in non touch interfacing. The more you use it the more it can anticipate your requests. Hopefully I'm around in ten years to see how far things like this advance.


that is because technology does not grow linear but exponentially.

A very dangerous and foolish road we are going down, to allow another person to control your body, to know your thoughts, or even to allow a machine such control. God will only allow man to go so far and then He will put a stop to it. Easy to see how during the Tribulation that people will take the "mark" and be able to buy, sell, and worship the antichrist with it. Oh sure, some of you "smart" folks will chuckle and carry on, but we are heading for bad times.

I agree. This is insane, and these naive scientists think it will always be used for good—like gun powder, atomic energy, and other "discoveries." Because we "can", does not mean we "should" venture into areas that common sense and proper ethics say we shouldn't.

Freedom is not the ability to do what we want, but the right to do what we should.

I sometimes think the greatest chastisement of this generation will not be fire falling from heaven, but the slow suicide of our cultures until we find ourselves all enslaved. We are living the "Lord of the Flies" right now.... a prophetic movie if there ever was one.

A loonie for Christ. I am happy to join your ranks.