Will The Singularity in fact be gradual?

We owe the technological definition of “The Singularity” – and in this context the definite article really matters – to a loose collaboration of great minds, going back at least as far as mathematician John von Neumann more than half a century ago through to futurist Ray Kurzweil far more recently. While there is no single, set-in-marble definition (and this entertaining blogpost posits no fewer than 17 of them), there does appear to be a general acceptance – implicit in the very choice of the word “singularity”, that there will be a single moment in time when a critical line is crossed. The state of what is will pass into what was; and what is inevitable about the future will become the central definition of the new present.

It is clear how a human intelligence would see the phenomenon in this way, and choose a word like this to describe it. Daily life is perceived as a linear stream of events and, when someone is finished reading about quantum physics, parallel universes, space/time and the rest of it, he still goes out to catch his bus in the rain, waits for the bus, gets on the bus and begins drying out. And in contemplating The Singularity, he apprehends a world in which human intelligence exceeds machine intelligence in its capacity: until comes that Singular moment after which the capacity of machine intelligence is the greater.

What does this mean for the poet’s man in the street who is just walking dully along? Perhaps the people who are calibrating this momentous shift will notice the point being reached and passed, but the implications of this shift are already having momentous effects, and the impact of the tsunami will one day subsume even our dull pedestrian.

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