We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth — Vernor Vinge
Taking a cue from the renowned science fiction author, Vernor Vinge, and after reading through several hypothesis and predictions of AI’s fate in the near-future, we decided to come up with a series of short doomsday AI-fictional stories that are not entirely a creation myth, as many would assume otherwise.
We will release these stories, week-after-week, as podcast episodes on various channels.
You can also listen to our podcast series, Singularity, here:
Soundcloud │ TuneIn │ Stitcher │ Pocket Casts
Though, let’s start with a small exercise. If you were placed on a graph that plots technological progress over the years, what do you think would the slope toward your right look like?
Should probably look this way.
What we think technological progress should look like
That’s quite fine because most of us do not expect anything too life altering to happen in the near-future. But as I read more about the future of technology as far as artificial intelligence is concerned, most of us could quite possibly be grossly wrong about it. And, with the way we are racing ahead in terms of AI-assisted tech, the graph shown below wouldn’t be too much of a long shot.
This is how it actually looks like
Irvin John Good or I.J. Good, a British mathematician and a cryptologist who worked with Alan Turing decades ago had predicted something called the “intelligence explosion,” which is an outcome of humanity building artificial general intelligence (AGI) in the future. He said AGI would then be capable of recursive self-improvement leading to the emergence of artificial superintelligence (ASI), the limits of which were still unknown to humanity.
“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man, however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus, the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”
So how does a machine surpass all intellectual activities of any man, however clever?
Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns
Ray Kurzweil predicts singularity will be reached by 2040
Let’s say you get hold of a time machine, go back to 1750 AD, and bring a guy with you to 2017. Next, you take him out for a walk and watch him react to people of this world listening to recordings of Handel and Mozart’s music, reading Voltaire on their Kindles on jet planes, or driving shiny capsules all the while taking instructions from a magical rectangular object with the paranormal voice coming out of it.
To say he would be shocked by seeing such advancements is putting it too mildly. He might actually die.
Now let’s say he knicks your time machine and takes it all the way back to 1500 AD and brings with him a dude to 1750. Just to experience the fun that you had with him.
This dude from 1500 would probably be very impressed to find that there’s more to science apart from the study of suns and stars. Steam engines ferrying people and goods would surprise him beyond measure—but certainly not kill him. What a bummer for the guy from 1750!
So in order for someone to die from the level of shock they experience when transported into the future, they need to see things they’d even never dream about. The last 250 years gave us inventions of this nature, but the 250 years before that did not figure very high on the Die Progress Due to Tech Innovation Scale (that’s no real scale, by the way).
So what about the next 250 years? It may even be logical to talk about the next 20 years in 21st century humanity’s case.
This pattern—of humans progressing faster as time moves ahead—is what the futurist Ray Kurzweil calls the Law of Accelerating Returns. This happens because advanced societies have the capacity to progress at a quicker rate than less advanced societies.
Like how we saw earlier, the 21st century world knew more and had revolutionarily better technology than the 18th century world did, similarly, the 18th century world fared considerably better than 16th century world, but not so much as the 21st century did.
This suggests that advances are getting bigger in scale and are happening much quicker than before. This also indicates some incredible things about our future too, right?
Kurzweil also believes a 20th century’s worth of progress would happen by 2021. That’s suggesting progressing 100 years in just 20 years! And going by exponential mathematics, he hypothesizes that within a couple of decades down the line, a 20th century’s worth of progress would happen multiple times in the same year itself. And would happen in less than a month another couple of decades later!
21st century will achieve progress 1,000 times faster than the progress achieved in the 20th century. Phew!
Now, don’t think of this bit of information as science fiction, it’s what many scientists, from Alan Turing to Stephen Hawking believe. Nor is the graph that I showed you all earlier science fiction.
Now let’s get a few things straightened out first.
We use artificial intelligence all the time without realizing that we’re actually using it. And artificial intelligence doesn’t have to look like robots all the time.
IBM Watson has been around since 2011, is analyzing our genome to predict future diseases through its “cognitive health” program, figuring out detailed weather reports, and is also hosting cognitive dance parties based on our personality traits now!
Siri, Cortana, and the latest entrants, Google’s Allo and Amazon’s Alexa, are the most advanced AI-enabled voice controlled assistants today. Smart homes are no more scene from The Jetsons.
The Jetsons were living in smart homes way back in 1962!
Also, ever wondered how you get e-mails or letters asking you if you made a specific purchase through your credit card? And as you respond with a “yes” or a “no,” the neural networks inside the AI learns this pattern and starts differentiating between fraudulent and non-fraudulent activities taking place through your credit card. After enough training, this AI system will soon be able to spot fraudulent transactions based on the signs and indications that it learned through this training exercise.
AI is also writing our news. Did you know, AP, Fox, and Yahoo! are all using AI systems to write simpler stories, like financial reports and sports update stories? It hasn’t yet learned how to write in-depth creative articles, but soon enough it would.
And talking about AI systems indulging in creativity, Kristen Stewart, recently used AI-based Neural Style Transfer to transpose texture and contrast of a painting to photographic shots in order to give them impressionist painting-like qualities, as seen in her short film, Come Swim.
Yes, even movie stars have realized the potential of using AI!
Next, we talk a little about Singularity.
In Interstellar, the supermassive black hole, Gargantula, is the point in space-time where singularity is reached beyond the event horizon
You’d have probably first heard the term, Singularity, in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” This is a term more commonly used by math to describe an asymptote-like situation, used for phenomena where normal rules do not apply.
In physics (and in Interstellar) it was used to describe an infinitely small and dense black hole where rules of co-ordinates do not apply. It’s where space-time is non-linear. And this is the point where we were all squished into right before the event of Big Bang took place. Again, this is a situation where rules do not apply.
This term was first brought to our knowledge in a famous essay written by Vernor Vinge, The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era, way back in 1993. He used the term to denote a point in time when our technology’s intelligence will exceed our own.
Then Ray Kurzweil came along and added his Law of Accelerating Returns to it, thus making the whole superintelligence phenomenon seem much darker and very possible (in the process, exciting doomsday junkies like me!)
So, welcome to Atmos, a computer-simulated 3D world, created by a powerful AI system called Nostro that is currently undergoing repeated recursive self-improvement cycles to become smarter than its existing program. And only Silas, currently holed-up somewhere in Atmos, holds the key to stop it from reaching the event of Singularity.