“Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly thereafter, the human era will be ended.” – Vernor Vinge, 1993
Unless you’re an avid science fiction fan or futurist, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of “the Singularity“—broadly speaking, a hypothetical point in the future where technological development accelerates past the threshold where humans can predict or (more ominously) influence its further progress. The creation of superhuman artificial intelligence is typically seen as the most likely catalyst that could cause such a “runaway” technological event.
The essential idea is this: If we ever build a machine with more “intelligence” than a human, it’s feasible that this machine could design an even more intelligent machine, and then that new machine could design yet another, superior machine, and so on, the process bootstrapping itself upward to dizzying heights of intelligence.
It’s an extraordinary notion with surprisingly deep roots—its basics can be traced back to at least the 1930s. More recently, an entire subculture has formed around the concept of the Singularity.
Regardless of whether predictions of a technological Singularity are prescient or instead bombastic displays of misinformed hubris, the idea undeniably provokes stimulating discussions. The latest and greatest big gathering of folks talking about it takes place the weekend of September 8-9 in San Francisco at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence‘s Singularity Summit 2007. Unsurprisingly, the official topic is “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity.”
The list of prestigious speakers includes MIT roboticist Rodney Brooks and Peter Norvig, artificial-intelligence guru and Director of Research at Google. Tickets to the Summit are a mere $50, an order of magnitude less expensive than most high-profile conferences. Each ticket gives you a reserved seat and lunch for both days of the Summit, along with a three-hour Saturday night reception with the speakers. Huzzah!
Best of all, I’ll be there, representing Seed and having a blast. I hope you’ll consider dropping by to say hello.