SHADES OF GREY: An essay by Extropia DaSilva


Transhumanists and related groups tend to imagine that the arrival of the Singularity will be unmistakable, pretty much the Book of Revelation rewritten for people who trust in the word of William Gibson, rather than St. John the Divine. Is this necessarily the case? I would argue that, if the Singularity arrives on the back of ‘Internet AI’, the transition to a post-human reality could be so subtle, most people won’t notice.

The transition from Internet to Omninet (or global brain, or Earthweb, or Metaverse, choose your favourite buzzword) has at least three trends that might conspire to push technology past the Singularity without we humans noticing. The first trend, networking embedded computers using extreme-bandwidth telecommunications, will make the technological infrastructure underlying the Singularity invisible, thanks to its utter ubiquity. Generally speaking, we only notice technology when it fails us, and it seems to me that, before we can realistically entertain thoughts of Godlike AI, we would first have to establish vast ecologies of ‘narrow’ AIs that manage the technological infrastructure with silent efficiency.

The second trend is the growing collaboration between the ’human-computing layer’ of people using the Web, and the search software, knowledge databases etc. that are allowing us to share insights, work with increasingly large and diverse amounts of information, and are bringing together hitherto unrelated interests. Vinge noted that ‘every time our ability to access information and communicate it to others is improved, in some sense we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence’. The question this observation provokes is ‘can we really pinpoint the moment when our augmented ability to access information and collaborate on ideas is producing knowledge/technology that belongs in the post-human category’? Finally, if the Internet is really due to become a free-thinking entity, loosely analogous to the ‘organism’ of the ant colony, would we be any more likely to be aware of its deep thoughts than an ant appreciates the decentralized and emergent intelligence of its society?

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