When first encountering Ray Kurzweil’s movie, The Singularity is Near, described as “a true story about the future,” the first thing people may wonder is, “What is a ‘Singularity?’” (“Movie Trailer”). As the trailer moves through fast-paced quotes from Kurzweil and a number of his colleagues, one unnamed person explains, “The singularity is the point where our technology and our selves are no longer two different things” (“Movie Trailer”). The film argues that this future with the Singularity is not far away, in fact, another unnamed person in the movie trailer claims, “I think you can make an argument that the Singularity has already started” (“Movie Trailer”). However, the Singularity is also seen as a double-edged sword, one that not only offers astounding and beneficial technological advances for humanity, but also a danger for humanity. With technology growing at an ever increasing rate and its effects impossible to avoid, it is vital that humanity wield this double-edged sword of the Singularity with bravery, faith, and extreme caution.
The Singularity is inevitable, if it has not already begun, as one of Kurzweil’s colleagues mention in the movie trailer. According to Kurzweil, the Law of Accelerating Returns means that when it comes to technology, change is not a constant; change with technology is increasing exponentially (“Movie Trailer”). Within the lifespan of a human being, computers have gone from being gigantic, room-sized, vacuum-tube utilizing machines that have now been reduced to devices like smartphones or tablets that can be held in the palm of a hand. The creators of the first computers likely did not imagine that such a rapid change in size and computing power could occur as quickly as it did. Yet, innovators like Kurzweil were far ahead of their time; in 1956, Kurzweil appeared on the game show I’ve Got a Secret, in which he presented a song composed by a computer (Grossman). Considering recent advances in technology, it is not very far-fetched to imagine many of the predictions Kurzweil and his colleagues make, such as the use of nanotechnology to reverse aging, to experience virtual reality within the nervous system, or that computers will finally surpass humans in intelligence will come to pass within the lifetime of the current generation (“Movie Trailer”).
If it is considered that technology has brought people increasingly smaller and more intelligent devices at a rapid rate over the past century, it can be imagined that nanotechnology is not so far off, where microscopic and intelligent robots integrate into our bodies in a fundamental way. The microscopic nanobots may be far more intelligent than a human, but if they integrate directly into a human body, then their super-intelligence simply becomes a part of humanity itself. With this total integration of technology and humanity, it means “the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable” in comparison to what it is today, and, again,“This transformation has a name: the Singularity” (Grossman).
While Kurzweil and his colleagues often focus on the positive, useful things that this future technology offers to humanity, they are also aware that there are a number of dangers that can come from it as well. Part of the plot of The Singularity is Near involves the idea of an Artificial Intelligent (AI) avatar or cyborg named Ramona, who increases in independence, to the point where she hires someone to represent her legal rights (“About”). While Ramona seems to be a fairly innocuous or even good character as portrayed in The Singularity is Near, as the movie also demonstrates, it is natural for humanity to fear the autonomy of the AI creatures it creates. A long history of fear concerning what can go wrong when robots and technology develops agendas of its own fills the media of the past century. Isaac Asimov’s 1950 book I, Robot explores a number of situations when robots manage to breach the “Three Laws of Robotics” which include strict prohibition against harming human beings. Movies like 1982’s Bladerunner portray androids as so dangerous that their life-spans are severely limited and they are not even allowed to reside on Earth. Michael Crichton’s 2002 book Prey explores the dangers of nanotechnology that is allowed to learn and replicate on its own, then tries to consume human hosts rather than live symbiotically with them.
As Grossman writes, “The difficult thing to keep sight of when you're talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn't, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction.” In other words, people like Kurzweil and his colleagues have made many predictions about what is about to happen in the near future as far as technology and the Singularity are concerned; not all of them will happen, but certainly some of them will. If the meteorologist reports that there is a tornado watch or an imminent hurricane, the best thing people can do is to prepare for the inclement situation. Perhaps the weather will dissipate or be much milder than predicted, but it would not be wise to ignore the situation. The same can be said for Kurzweil and colleagues’ predictions; yes, the wonderful, sunny-day hypothesis such as stopping cancer, aging, and so forth may happen, but humanity must heed the warnings of danger with equal weight.
If the Singularity were to arrive in full tomorrow, there would be many new questions that humanity would have to wrestle with questions that have not been encountered before. For instance, as Grossman points out, humanity would have to answer everything from political questions such as “Who decides to get to be immortal” to philosophical questions such as, “If I can scan my consciousness into a computer, am I still me?” Humanity must realize that eventually, and probably sooner than it expects, the Singularity will become a part of our reality. Therefore, it is extremely important that the idea of the Singularity is not discarded as science fiction, but the questions arising from it must be considered as serious and imminent issues.
The double-edged sword of Singularity forecasted for the future is bright and dark, so promising in its predictions for positive effects on humanity and so frightening in its predictions for what could happen if humanity loses control of the technology. The exact results of the Singularity for humanity are unknown, but it is certain that change will happen. As one of Kurzweil’s colleagues asks, “Do people think because it’s been in a movie it can’t happen?” Perhaps many people feel this way, and therefore it is important that humanity faces the fact of ever increasing technology and what it will mean for everyone. Humanity will fare well if it accepts the challenge of wielding this double-edged sword with a firm hand and open minds.
“About.” Singularity.com, n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2012.
Grossman. Lev. “2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.” Time Magazine Science, 10 Feb. 2011. Web.
“The Singularity Is Near.” Singularity.com, n.d. Web. 17 Sept. 2012.
“The Singularity Is Near Movie Trailer.” Youtube.com, 15 Jun. 2012. Video.