The Singularity is coming. To some people this means an age of human super intelligence, to others it is the start of a dystopian future much like the kind depicted in films like The Terminator and Bladerunner. In case you are not offay with the term Singularity, it refers to the moment when artificial intelligence will think for itself and surpass human intelligence. Google’s Director of Engineering Ray Kurzweil has predicted 2045 as the year in which will be at the moment of ‘Singularity’. The science and technology world is divided on how this will impact humanity. Kurzweil is clearly an optomist. Speaking at SXSW in Austin, Texas, he depicts this as being the advent of an age of human’s using artificial intelligence to multiply our ‘effective intelligence a billion fold. It’s worth taking note of his predictions as since 1990 he’s had an 86% accuracy rate for predicting future technology trends. In Kurzweil’s future, he sees human’s using technology to give our brains a major upgrade with Cybernetics becoming the norm.
If you are feeling anxious, you might be best to stop reading now as there is another vision of how Singularity will change our lives. In recent years some of the greatest minds in Science and Technology have warned of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence. Elon Musk (Tesla, Space X) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) have publically stated their fears of the negative impact AI will have on our lives. The World Economic Forum recently discussed the findings of a Citibank and Oxford University report on how AI will displace human employment. 47% of US jobs are at risk of automation whilst in the UK the figure is 37%. 77% of jobs in China have the potential to be automated. It is not just entry level jobs that are likely to be automated, many professions that are the domain of the middle classes are exposed to widespread disruption from AI. Healthcare, law and teaching roles are the least at risk to automation. Stephen Hawking in an article published in The Guardian newspaper, links increasing automation with further inequalities, social tension and rise of right wing politics across the west. He paints a grim picture of a dystopian future where man is a slave to the machines. Just to be clear he is not warning of some social upheavals noted by his public statement in 2014 where he warned, “The development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
Artificial Intelligence is evolving faster than predicted. In 2011 IBM’s supercomputer Watson
beat two human experts at a game of Jeopardy. Jeopardy is a game that requires many levels of processing and complex cognitive abilities. This AI milestone was originally predicted not to occur until the mid 2020’s. With that in mind there is a good chance that we will see ‘Singularity’ earlier than Kurzweil’s prediction of 2045. The big question is will our future’s be a Star Trek style utopia or a Terminator style dystopia? My guess is we will find ourselves somewhere in the middle ground between both predictions of the future.