Griffiths / When the machine out-thinks the man

“Among the best-case scenarios of the technological singularity is the earth’s biosphere being kept as a nature reserve with humanity, as we know it, preserved as pets,” writes columnist JOHN GRIFFITHS

“SINGULARITY – a term commonly used on ‘Star Trek’ to refer to anything the show’s crappy writers didn’t want to explain in the script.”

– Urban Dictionary

The technological singularity is something you need to start thinking about, even if you don’t want to.

John Griffiths

John Griffiths.

It’s important in the same way that, 20 years ago, the nerds started muttering about connecting all the computers and next thing you know all the video stores have closed and the kids are listening to truly awful music.

The next step in that progression features, and not as the worst-case scenario, your own living vivisection to create a virtual simulation of yourself.

Possibly the worst-case scenario is the complete destruction of the earth and everything living on it.

Up among the best-case scenarios of the technological singularity is the earth’s biosphere being kept as a nature reserve with humanity, as we know it, preserved as pets.

You might think the discussion of this sort of thing would be the realm of politics, but no major party seems willing to address it because Julia Gillard’s home renovations in the 1980s are so much more important.

In the face of this resolute unwillingness, major companies such as Google are spending real money to bring it about.

So what the hell am I talking about? Well, Wikipedia has this much-fought-over definition:

“The technological singularity, or simply the singularity, is a hypothetical moment in time when artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence, radically changing civilisation, and perhaps human nature.”

The experts think it could happen in the next five to 100 years, which gives some wiggle room but definitely makes it an issue to be thought about today.

The problem is that when it comes about, the machine intelligences, operating much more quickly than the rest of us in the slow meatspace we like to think of as life, will keep getting further and further ahead and leaving us out of the game really, except as hopefully cute pets.

The big brains that have been thinking hard about it generally agree the machines at that point are going to want more computing power to run themselves, expanding their own world, which is bad news for everything else occupying the neighbourhood.

The nerds running the world’s major tech companies generally seem to think this will all be a positive development because, in part, they’ll be the owners of everything that matters post-singularity (computing power and algorithms), and in part because they got beaten up a lot in high school.

They’re already tearing up the economies of the world and remaking them to their own advantage while paying miniscule amounts of tax, but the next step would be considerably more drastic.

It’s something we all might want to start thinking about, and maybe see some political leadership on, if our parties want to have any relevance in the world.

If its any consolation there’s another growing school of political thought out there called Dark Mountaineers (after the Dark Mountain Manifesto, of course) that thinks the whole of society is going to collapse before any of this can happen.

We do have a political party (the Greens) that is engaged in this sort of thinking, but a lot of them think the complete collapse of society and the deaths of billions is a good idea, too!

John Griffiths is the online editor of

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