The Singularity Is Near

My co-workers know that whenever I hear of some amazing new technological achievement, I like to announce “The Singularity is Near”. I stole this phrase, of course, from Ray Kurzweil’s book of the same name.

The phrase “the Singularity” is based on a science fiction concept having to do with our perception of innovation and technological growth. The Wikipedia article on the book does a really good job of summarizing the basic concepts. The Theory of Accelerating Returns basically states something that is pretty obvious to software engineers, that the current technology of the day helps to make possible the technology of the future. This leads to an ever increasing velocity of innovation as technological possibilities become unlocked by ever newer technology. This is essentially exponential growth. As innovations fly by faster and faster, they begin to blur. Eventually, generations of technology will fly by so fast that we cannot perceive them. A big key to this is advanced artificial intelligence. Once this happens, and the rate of change becomes closer and closer to a vertical line, it becomes impossible for the current human being to perceive technological growth. It simply happens too fast. At this point, you’ve reached the Singularity. Everything past this point is unlike any other point in human history. Its beyond our current abilities to imagine such a sea change.

Many regard Kurzweil as a little off, perhaps even crazy. I’m not sure that I agree that this Singularity is only about 40 years away, but I grant him the premise. So much has changed in my lifetime already. Sometimes I feel like my life is really just about information sifting and managing. It all flies by so fast now. This is a big part of my job.

If you’re not tired of TED talks yet, take a look at this one. Its about 18 minutes long, quite humorous, and I think another signpost that my child’s life is going to be very different from my own. Interestingly, I hope that I’m there for the ride 🙂

If you’ve been following my posts lately, you’ll appreciate the first half of the talk about the state of the economy. The latter half starts to touch on advanced technology. I really appreciate the presenter’s dry wit and willingness to put a naked fat Santa picture onscreen (thought that would get your attention).


~ by shaunkime on March 11, 2009.

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