From The Vaults

Mr. President, What Are Your Administration’s Plans To Prepare For The Coming Singularity?

“Mr. President, by 2045 computers will be billions of times more intelligent than humans. They will have the capacity to create unlimited wealth and to create a society that needs little human labor. How will your administration help the American people prepare for this coming singularity?”

I’ve not heard much discussion so far in this presidential contest about the coming “singularity” — the time, in the near future, when computer intelligence on earth will be billions times more powerful than normal human intelligence.  Billions of times. This will be a watershed moment in human history and its impact will be beyond amazing and beyond every prediction.  Yet, it seems it is never discussed.

I’m imagining a press conference when some president in the near future is asked the above question, and he, or she, answers something like this:

Thanks for a question that deals with the big challenges of our future. Our democracy does not spend enough energy giving serious consideration to the challenges of the future.

Computer power per unit price doubles about ever 11 or 12 months. This means that computer power that today costs $1 billion, in 30 years will cost $1.  Computer power that today is worth $1 trillion, in 30 years will be worth $1000. This seems too outlandish to be true, but, we have every reason to believe that the doubling trend will continue. In the near future, we will each of us have easy access to computer power that far exceeds today’s most powerful computers.

Children growing up today will reach their peak years in a world radically different.

We are approaching a time when we will have the capacity to replace most human labor with machine labor, a time when, if we choose, humans will have multi-fold increases in leisure time and will enjoy excellent health into an extended age. A vision of a future where machine labor, “if we so choose,” could result in human worthwhile leisure time, rather than poverty for lack of a job, is a vision of a radical reordering of our society. The question is, do we so choose? How should a democratic society proceed to make plans for its best future?

Our whole economy, right now, is based upon the notion of scarcity. The contemplation of a coming singularity poses the question: Suppose there is no scarcity?  Suppose  there is only plenty?  What is the economy, what does the societal structure look like that is built on a reality of plenty?

Thinking about the possibility of a coming singularity causes us to recast our thinking about many central and complicated issues. The singularity will require that democratic societies consciously reorder much of society and such reordering will not be easy. It will require that citizens become prepared for such a task. And to prepare for this task we need a transformation in public discourse and a transformation in education at every level ….

My premise for “The Destiny Of Character” is that a city school system determines to remake its system of public education to respond to the coming singularity. The idea is that “The Destiny Of Character” is written by a super computer in 2045.

Super intelligent computers, in 2045, will, no doubt, communicate with each other via a language that compresses meaning and nuance with such detail and precision that it will be a language inaccessible to human intellect. But I’m thinking those same computers will probably have a translator function that will do its best to communicate an abbreviated and dumbed down version of the report to humans


6 comments to Mr. President, What Are Your Administration’s Plans To Prepare For The Coming Singularity?

  • Eric

    Gelernter makes more sense than Kurzweil, IMHO:

    From Wikipedia:
    Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, agrees with Kurzweil’s timeline of future progress, but thinks that technologies such as AI, nanotechnology and advanced biotechnology will create a dystopian world. Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation, has called the notion of a technological singularity “intelligent design for the IQ 140 people…This proposition that we’re heading to this point at which everything is going to be just unimaginably different—it’s fundamentally, in my view, driven by a religious impulse. And all of the frantic arm-waving can’t obscure that fact for me.”

  • Kevin S.

    The reason they call it “the singularity” is that supposedly, just like no information can escape the singularity at the center of a black hole, nobody can actually predict what life will be like after this milestone. Given that definition, it’s kind of foolish to ask any politician how they plan to deal with a future nobody can predict.

  • Mike Bock

    Kevin S., We can’t know for certain whether, or not, in 33 years machines will be billions of times more intelligent than humans, and if the singularity occurs, you’re right, we can’t know what this will mean. But, we do know, the changes in the near future will be astonishing, regardless if the singularity occurs in 33 years, or if it occurs at all. Thanks to the power of exponential growth, changes that most people may think may be 100 or 200 years in the future, will occur in their lifetimes. Consider the amazing fact that computer power that is today worth $1 trillion, in 30 years will cost only $1000.

    The point of the question is to get reaction to the reality that the world of technology of the near future will bring astonishing new opportunities. Computer power in the near future will have the capacity to provide a practically unlimited source of wealth. In a perfect world in the near future, every citizen, by today’s standards, would be wealthy. So how should we plan for this future? Should we simply let the free market figure it out? Or should a democratic society consciously reorder itself so that there is “liberty and justice for all”? It’s a fair question, about which there should be a national debate.

    Eric, I agree the enthusiasm about the singularity begins to sound like a religious movement. But maybe that kind of enthusiasm is what is needed for a social movement that will create a utopian, rather than a dystopian future. Have you checked out the information on

  • Mike Bock

    Kevin S.: Another thought: I think a president could argue that the advent of the singularity would pose a credible and potentially devastating blow to our constitutional republic. This tremendous new power must be within the democratic control , etc … Such a line of thinking could be very convincing — that if, if there is a chance for the singularity to appear in the near future, then we should begin to take measures to protect ourselves. To show there is not simply a reasonable chance, but, in fact, there is near certainty that we are headed for the singularity, I think Kurzweil’s logic and facts are overwhelming. And, if we agree we are headed for the singularity, there is a compelling case, with ample evidence, that the singularity, once formed, will challenge the future of our constitutional government and the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

    I’m thinking an appeal to fear may be what works in the political arena. There are many movie scripts that are possible around this general theme. I’m thinking it might be fun to attempt a speech by a presidential candidate about the coming singularity, using some of these ideas — as part of the book I am contemplating, “The Destiny Of Character.”

  • Stan Hirtle

    People don’t need computers the size of red blood cells. People need to deal with the anxiety and fear of others that our society generates, the need for guns, the greed that dominates global capitalism, the willingness of those who are able to grab everything to become incredibly rich and leave others with little, the willingness to blow yourself up in a mosque or to blow up people across the world with drones or abuse your child. People need to love their neighbors, be employed at worthwile activities, stop feeding their capacity for evil, understand the meaning of life and death. What is all this computing power going to do to change this?

  • Mike Bock

    Stan, you point out how fear, primitive thinking, small mindedness, and ignorance undermine the human race, and, indicate that a big increase in computing power, by itself, will not make things better.

    I fear the big increase in computer power will more likely make things much worse, rather than make things better. It will give the crazy graduate student the capacity to create WMD’s in his or her basement, and will empower the rise of repression beyond Orwellian nightmares.

    Yes, technology could bring the world almost unlimited wealth and could eradicate poverty, and by today’s standards, make everyone rich. It is in humanity’s hands to make a wonderful world. Technology could eliminate disease and greatly increase the quality and length of life, transforming life for all humans. But such a glowing future is not likely — because, so many humans, as you point out, are steeped in a toxic mind set. The huge anticipated increase in the power of technology, it is sad to say, will most likely simply hasten our ultimate annihilation.

    The notion of the coming singularity is so shocking, the hope for humanity is that its contemplation will sufficiently transform human thinking and will give new urgency to vitalizing our democracy, new inspiration to making the huge effort needed to create a transforming era of enlightenment, new impetus to doing the hard work of healing the many broken people and flawed institutions in our world. Humanity’s hope, as always, is within its children. The children of today will come to maturity at the culmination of human history — we need to implement an educational philosophy and educational system that will prepare them.

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