Tom Watson discusses some important points about ‘The Singularity’, in an extract from his weekly newsletter.
If you’re a science fiction lover, biohacker or technologist, you’ll be familiar with the notion of the Singularity. It’s an hypothesis that suggests Artificial Intelligence will trigger a technological explosion that results in an unfathomable and near instantaneous change to human civilization.
Supergeeks have been debating this topic for over a decade. Whether the revolution is to be welcomed depends on whether you view the Singularity bottle as half full or half empty. Elon Musk and the late Stephen Hawking have suggested that it could lead to the extinction of our race. Others, like Ray Kurzweill are more optimistic. To Kurzweill, increasingly accelerating innovation cycles in genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and AI will lead to humans merging with technology, creating new organisms that will radiate intelligence from our planet, blanketing the universe with information.
These ideas are hard to get your head around. To illustrate just how mind blowingly wild our near future is likely to get, read this passage from Harari’s latest book “21 lessons for the 21st Century”:
“On 7 December 2017 a critical milestone was reached, not when a computer defeated a human at chess — that’s old news — but when Google’s AlphaZero program defeated the Stockfish 8 program. Stockfish 8 was the world’s computer chess champion for 2016. It had access to centuries of accumulated human experience in chess, as well as to decades of computer experience. It was able to calculate 70 million chess positions per second. In contrast, AlphaZero performed only 80,000 such calculations per second, and its human creators never taught it any chess strategies — not even standard openings. Rather, AlphaZero used the latest machine-learning principles to self-learn chess by playing against itself. Nevertheless, out of a hundred games the novice AlphaZero played against Stockfish, AlphaZero won twenty-eight and tied seventy-two. It didn’t lose even once. Since AlphaZero learned nothing from any human, many of its winning moves and strategies seemed unconventional to human eyes. They may well be considered creative, if not downright genius….if chess is our coalmine canary, we are duly warned that the canary is dying.
I’ve been reading into this stuff for a couple of years. It’s had a big impact on my thinking. There are a few headline conclusions for politics and democracy:
- History teaches us that you cannot halt technological change.
- It is questionable whether the direction of the next wave of technological advance can be shaped but it’s worth trying.
- Denial is not an option for civilisation.
- As currently configured, our legislatures and executives will not be able comprehend the changes ahead, let alone respond to them.
- There has never been a greater need for powerful global institutions to coordinate our response to a new era for humanity.
- I’m not sure if Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or Xi Jingping have the necessary skill sets for the job in hand
The tech optimists point to the preservation of the species and the longevity of current living humans. Kurzweill and biohackers like Dave Asprey are putting their faith in the Singularity to increase their longevity beyond current biological limits. On the good days I share their optimism. In fact, one of my personal goals, made at the age of 51 is to live a purposeful life until at least 102. For what it’s worth, that’s about winning the daily battle against inflammation.
It’s possible to be overwhelmed just thinking about the tech revolution in our near futures. Yet one positive outcome is that these mind blowing ideas help you put life into perspective. And when you find yourself being the current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on the cusp of the Singularity, the perspective is a very good thing for stress level control, which any biohacker will tell you is very good for longevity!