A singularity of information

By Kevin Yank

I was talking with a friend over coffee last night. He’d just read an article in which the author posited that we are approaching a ‘singularity’ – a point in time where technology transforms the very nature of human life.

This isn’t a new idea. There have been conferences and papers and books written about this stuff for years. But the tie-ins with some of the Web 2.0 concepts of harnessing collective intelligence have led many Web developers to wonder if the Web will be where this singularity makes its debut.

Every day, people invent new ways to get things done on the Web. For my particular job, the biggest problem I have to solve is staying on top of the ever-rising tide of news, products and ideas swirling through the world of Web development. Were a technological singularity to come about, all that information would somehow be filtered and streamed directly into my consciousness.

Personally, I believe that what will hinder the arrival of a technological singularity will not be the speed of technological innovation, but the rate at which people are willing to adopt that technology. Many futurists predict humanity’s merging with computers at a biological level within the next fifty years. But how many of the children being born today do you believe will be willing to adopt technology that changes they way their brains work?

Cybernetic implants aside, the utopian future of effortlessly linked information promised by the Semantic Web and beginning to be delivered by Web 2.0 is certainly a singularity of sorts. But rather than a technological singularity, what I’m talking about is a singularity of information — ensuring anyone can find the information that interests them at any time from any place.

Now that’s a singularity I can get on board with. And as Web developers, we will be responsible for bringing it about.

  • mattymcg

    Now I feel like I’m about to become the Borg.

  • charmedlover

    I’m sick of seeing content in the blogs and newsletter…

  • Anonymously

    I agree that the key barrier to ‘singularity’ is the collective/individual ATTITUDE of it and the other being patterns of conflict resulting from limited resources – both of Ray Kurzweil attempts to address in the book.

    Further, I would say the pure ‘singularity’ is impossible – like Zen is – and that the core concept is exponential growth in the efficiency of information markets… and as a result how long we live, how we collect and use resources.

    This said, Kurzweil interest is clearly due to the fact that he is coming to terms with his own death. His early books were focused on creating a mutually beneficial relationship with artificial intelligence (e.g. finding a friend/partner to share life with).

    The end is near, end is here – SO beware ;)

  • Anonymously

    I’m sick of seeing content in the blogs and newsletter…

    So stop reading them…

  • mungojelly

    I don’t think you understand yet how strange the Singularity is. It’s not just another technology, or another set of technologies, or another way of using technology. It is going to change who we are. Fifty years is going to be long enough for us to make all sorts of dramatic changes, because by then very few people will think in ways that are anything like the way people have done most of their thinking so far. We will have completely changed.

    The “singularity of information” that you are noticing is just a very small part of the overall picture. As technology moves forward, it is tripping various switches that change the organization of society. The main relevance of the information-age transformations that we’re undergoing now is that they are going to make it possible for people to be brought in contact with the future waves of transformation more easily. (Information technology is unique in that each wave makes the next wave easier and therefore quicker– that’s the entire point.)

  • Octal

    Now I feel like I’m about to become the Borg

    More probable than creating an AI that will wipe us out I think.

  • Anonymously

    @ mungojelly

    It does not feel like anyone truely understands what the singularity will be – even Ray Kurzweil – we just know it is on the horizon. Singularity is NOT about technology, it is about the end of man…

  • Darko

    I am thinking that Technology in future will just show what we could do without technology.
    Psychological inner space of human is not well known and explored. Science is too occupied with interest of various industries and lobbies and their goal for more profit.
    We don’t really understand anything about it.
    Our Brain emits Alpha, Beta, Gamma waves (and who knows what else) for witch science today think can go beyond our perception of time and space (reality). These waves contain enormous amount of energy and it is form of information which can influence space.
    When I think about future, I look trough past.
    I have watched TV show about one off biggest minds in the history, Nikola Tesla. That man has before 100 years developed wireless(beside other things like radio, etc) technology. They (Edisson and Co.) didn’t want that (especially not to give for free to mankind like Nikola who has give about 200 patents to mankind) and they stop (or at least they didn’t do anything to help) him to transfer wireless energy from USA to Europe (he claimed without loss of energy), just not investing 7.000 $ in his project. Not to mention suspicious fire in his lab. And after him they layed billions of tons of wire in and on the ground. :)

    What IT industry doing now? 100 years later? They make standards a, b, c, d, g, max, min null etc. that can not pass few km. Funny.

    This really pisses me off.

    And you think in 50 yr they will make implants?

    p.s.sorry for bad typing

  • David Unsworth

    Great article, as usual, but a couple of your points made me think….

    Firstly, you ask “how many of the children being born today do you believe will be willing to adopt technology that changes they way their brains work?”
    Without seeming trite I think this question must be referring to hardware as “technology” as children seem only too keen on technologies that change their brains, one way or another. You could argue that designer sports drugs fall into this category, so it’s not just recreational changes. So the question is whether they would extend this preparedness to non-chemical approaches. Well, if you suffered extreme narcolepsy or autism and there were devices that could alter the chemical secretions necessary to counter-balance these conditions you might say yes if it were not for the intrusive surgery, so whilst I too doubt Kurzweil’s cyborg-human convergence just as you do, I think the barriers are safety and maturity of the technology, rather than something more deep-seated.

    Secondly, regarding the “singularity” and Web 2.0, I feel it’s one of those issues about History in the making, where only retrospective analysis can discover singularities. This is widely recognised in the Humanities, where great art or literature is extremely hard to identify in it’s contemporary setting, so I suspect this difficulty may also be present in the sciences, and certainly in the social sciences, where technology and people meet.

    Take Web 2.0 for example. Any programmer looking at A9, Allurent, Google/ig, gmail, flickr etc etc will see a paradign shift immediately, it’s very powerful to see.But on this occasion there is customer recognition too. It’s starting to show in the uptake… that’s where you see it. Over here in Europe we have seen a massive growth in Skype (did you see Mary Meeker’s slides from the Web 2.0 conference?), and in the US the uptake is there for things like flickr, netflix etc etc and so the fact that many offline folk don’t see it and people in the public sector don’t see it may not mean this is not a turning pioint after all. We’ll only know it was a turning point at the end of the season!

  • Anonymous

    The biggest question will not so much be a ethical one (implants or no implants) but about who will be able to afford it.

    Another point is: technology will not only change us today, but will continue to do so as long as its part of our lives.

  • sinister

    The book “Nano” implies that after the singularity we won’t need money everything we could want could be made in a matter of seconds on demand. So if we can afford it would solely be up to the enity that controls the tech. unless the tech. outpaces its own ability to comprehend it. then anybody could do anything at anytime.



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