singularity

Why singularity?

In a nutshell, a singularity is a mathematical term for a region at which a quantity becomes (nearly) infinite. Analogously, a singularity is a point in time at which a critical mass is reached making radical transformation inevitable.

Globalization and the integration of the world economy, rapid evolution of technology and widespread adoption of communications technology (mobiles and internet), and growing political will and social activism all point towards a time of dramatic transformation. An internet-connected individual now has convenient, free access to volumes of information. The number of internet users has quadrupled from 360 mil to 1.5 billion since 2000, and most growth is in the developing world (see http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm for more charts).

Internet Users in the World by Geographic Regions

Ray Kurzweil is the king of the technological singularity, an idea largely based on the observation that Moore’s Law has held true for 25 iterations. Moore’s Law states that computer processing power doubles every 18 months. About 456 months have passed since Intel introduced the first widely used microprocessor (the Intel 4004), which means the microprocessor has experienced 25 doublings!

According to many scientists, there is no other phenomenon in the universe that has experienced 25 iterations of exponential growth–and no end is in site. For theories of how this rapid change might effect us, how to copy our brains onto computers, and stories of telekinetic monkeys, check out Joel Garreau’s book, Radical Evolution.

Radical Evolution, Joel Garreau

Given how pervasive technology is, this transformation must also affect health. In the short-term, this means advances in health data mining, Health 2.0, dramatic improvements in medical imaging, and customized treatment based on patients’ DNA. Medium-term: accurately simulating protien folding and drug interactions using computers, and an AIDS vaccine. Long-term: nano-robots fight cancer and other infections on a cellular or molecular level and altering the DNA of fetuses.

Widespread use of the PC began only 25 years ago. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) formed in 1994. In many ways, computers and the internet are immature technologies that are still evolving. The interface between machines and humans is only beginning to be explored. It is probable that these evolutionary forces, combined with globalization, collaboration at the intersection of knowledge domains, and technology-facilitated revolutions in nearly every sector of industry, will have even greater long-term effects on the average person and society as a whole.

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One response to “singularity

  1. You make some good points here. Computing power has come a very long way. I remember the first computer I had was a 386/SX 25MHz with a 120 megabyte hdd. It was top of the line back then. Now we have watches with more power. There is an interesting video that has some of the same themes that this entry has. You can probably find it on youtube. It is called ‘Shift Happens’.

    By the way, I was not able to view your top graphic on this entry. I am using FF/3.0.

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