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January 5, 2013

Did Kurzweil Leave Out An Acronym To Describe Singularity Technology?

The Singularity

The Singularity
In Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near, he discusses three main technologies that will impact the future: G, N and R for genetics, nanotechnology and robotics (which includes the most powerful technology, AI). But did the futurist leave out one very important development that is presently impacting society, economics and people's lives in a very substantial way?
Ray Kurzweil carefully explained in The Singularity Is Near how Genetics (G), Nanotechnology (N) and Robotics (R) are the primary exponential technologies of the coming Singularity.

These "the three overlapping revolutions," he says they will characterize the first half of the twenty-first century. He goes on to say, "These (GNR technologies) will usher in the beginning of the Singularity. We are in the early stages of the 'G' revolution today. By understanding the information processes underlying life, we are starting to learn to reprogram our biology to achieve the virtual elimination of disease, dramatic expansion of human potential, and radical life extension."

Kurzweil then says regarding nanotechnology, "The 'N' revolution will enable us to redesign and rebuild - molecule by molecule - our bodies and brains and the world with which we interact, going far beyond the limitations of biology."

 Of the three (GNR), Ray Kurzweil believes that the most powerful impending revolution is the 'R' revolution as it encompasses artificial intelligence.   He writes, "Human-level robots with their intelligence derived from our own but redesigned to far exceed human capabilities represent the most significant transformation, because intelligence is the most powerful 'force' in the universe.  Intelligence, if sufficiently advanced, is, well, smart enough to anticipate and overcome any obstacles that stand in its path." —

The 'R' acronym essentially encompasses I.J. Goode's "intelligence explosion," that is for many itself synonymous with the Singularity.

Are the GNR technologies enough though?  Could Kurzweil have overlooked other factors that will power and accelerate the technological Singularity?

One possible acronym that might be 'C' for connectedness, or connectivity, communication, or even cooperation.

We are now well into the development and implementation of 'C' technologies from the telegraph to the telephone, to the internet. As these technologies continually become faster, cheaper and closer to direct incorporation into our bodies and minds, they are a key component of the technological Singularity.

Consider the impact of the internet itself.  In The Singularity Is Near, Kurzweil does not really lump the Internet into a G, N or R category, and obviously the world-wide-web impacts all of these areas, from allowing scientists and researchers to communicate there ideas with unprecedented speed and reach.

For nanotechnology, Kurzweil also mentions that the devices we will implant into our own bloodstreams will communicate with intelligent software and other online services.  Artificial intelligence systems will obviously interact and communicate with people and other AIs via the internet as well.

In Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis also explore 'C' technologies that are empowering the Singularity from competitions, to crowd sourcing and on-line education.  These tools empower the technophilanthopists and DIY innovators Diamadis and Kotler describe to further accelerate technological development.  Information and communications technologies are, as a result, key building blocks of their Abundance Pyramid.
Abundance Pyramid - Kotler and Diamandis

Another 'C' acronym word that might even be included is culture.  As Ronald Wright points out in Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny:
Next humans started with a completely second kind of evolution: cultural evolution (the evolutions of ideas, memes, and technologies).  Amazingly, that evolution has sustained the trajectory that biological evolution has established towards greater complexity and cooperation.

Kotler and Diamandis point out that the cultural evolution brought about the most powerful tools for cooperation the world has ever seen.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs also points out, "In the world's most remote villages the conversation now often turns to the most up-to-date political and cultural events, all empowered by cell phones even more than radio and television."

Possibly a 'C' could also represent the rise of the global brain.  The global represents the worldwide intelligent network formed by all the individuals of this planet, together with the information and communication technologies that connect them into a self-organizing whole.

According the Wikipedia definition of the global brain: as the internet becomes faster, more intelligent, and more encompassing, it increasingly ties us together into a single information processing system, which functions like a nervous system for the planet Earth. The intelligence of this network is collective or distributed: it is not centralized or localized in any particular individual, organization or computer system. It rather emerges from the dynamic networks of interactions between its components, a property typical of complex adaptive systems.

Global Brain
Image Source: Stefan Larsson
Cybernetisist Cliff Joslyn points out that,
We are seeing a vast increase in the variety of kinds of activities and information available to individuals. This does not just facilitate human freedom, it effectively is human freedom in the sense of there being an increasing variety of possible states of human experience and actions. But on the other hand, constraints are introduced from the global level through economic and technological processes, and “canalization” and self-organizing around norms, protocols, and economic structures. 
The 'C' technologies that are helping give rise to the global brain will also make use of the cognitive surplus, a term conceived of  by Clay Shirky who notes that we are experiencing an era where people like to produce and share just as much, if not more than they like to consume. With technology allowing the production and sharing as never before we will see a new era of participation that will lead to big change.

As the newly formed Global Brain Institute looks to the phenomenon of the global brain,
We see people, machines and software systems as agents that communicate via a complex network of communication links. Problems, observations, questions or opportunities define challenges that may incite these agents to act.

Challenges that cannot be fully resolved by a single agent are normally propagated to one or more other agents, along the links in the network. These agents contribute their own expertise to resolving the challenge, and if necessary propagate the challenge further, until it is fully resolved. Thus, the skills and knowledge of the different agents are pooled into a collective intelligence much more powerful than the one of its individual members.

The propagation of challenges across the global network is a complex, self-organizing process, similar to the "spreading activation" that characterizes thinking in the human brain. This process will typically change the network by reinforcing useful links, while weakening the others. Thus, the network learns or adapts to new challenges, becoming more intelligent in the process.

With the Internet of Things also bringing our machines online it is essential that the thinking around 'C' technologies not be limited to person-to-person communication or cooperation.  Today, there are about two Internet-connected devices for every man, woman and child on the planet. By 2025, analysts are forecasting that this ratio will rise past six. Therefore can expect to grow to nearly 50 billion Internet-connected devices in the next decade.

"Eventually," Kurzweil writes "we will merge with these technologies." At that point, the Singularity, humans will become immortal and capable of changing their forms and environments at will, Kurzweil believes.

"There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine nor between physical and virtual reality," Kurzweil writes in his book.

As Eric Savitz from Forbes points out, "This fabric of technology will allow us to measure systems on a global scale and at the same time offer a never before seen resolution. This capability to bring the big picture into sharp focus enables us to provide a real-time digital representation of our constantly changing world. This is the first step in a journey to explain the world will live in, our role in it and our impact upon it."

The connectedness expressed via concepts like the global brain, to this end, represents also how humanity will potentially merge with machine intelligence.  Based on the idea that the global brain will arise from the connections as a new form of intelligence, perhaps it belongs as part of Kurzweil's 'R' technologies?

There is no denying that GNR technologies are powering the exponential growth of human capbility that will ultimately create a technoligical Singularity, but without 'C' technologies as well, none of the others would be possible, or even matter. What else do you think Kurzweil potentially left out of his definition of  the Singularity?

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