Ordinary people, and even older and more educated ones, disbelieve in a technological Singularity for three major reasons. In looking at the following reasons, we should remember that, since youngsters, middle aged persons have been listening to different predictions about the future and nothing has happened around them.
In the 60s it was claimed that space travel and colonization would be a reality.
In the 70s it was claimed that robotics and automation would be a reality.
In the 80s it was claimed that genetics (gene therapy and stem cell therapy) would be a reality.
At the time, I became very tired of the naysayers, especially by 1991. There was a tiny reportage of extremely important events and an almost total lack of policy implications at any real level. There was especially a lack of notice at the governmental level, to which I can attest. I refer specifically to experiments on lifespan extension that were reported in the back pages of newspapers in three paragraphs. Or sometimes two.
In the 90s, computerization and the Internet did happen and have since extended themselves throughout everyone’s living environment. Therefore the fact that things are happening in this field, well this is certainly beginning to be believed by the doubters in all sectors of society in terms of leadership cores. That is, these leadership cores have a slight tendency to believe there is something to the idea of Artificial Intelligence and thus provide a small amount of capital towards research.
This emotional landscape of doubt has had direct impacts on funding and planning by politicians, particularly in a new political world where it was believed that private enterprise could achieve quick results and government intervention was inappropriate. Although private enterprises have had their successes, this has resulted in a temporarily delayed manifestation of big projects (ones facing huge technical barriers) such as the three first mentioned above. This has meant that our technological Singularity appears more conservative, but in fact as more profound changes accumulate anyway at their later stages without regard to earlier delay, it will eventually mean a less smooth transition emotionally for many of the population. By expanding our working hours rather than robotics our leaders have set up more of a culture shock when the post scarcity economy arrives.
Soon we shalll see a reverse countdown of the 60s, 70s and 80s. (Some will say I am wrong about the timing, but all these things will happen at some stage regardless.)
Firstly, genetics will soon be a reality, starting with youthful appearance by the middle of the decade, which is not too far away. For example through regrown teeth (animal models are already successful) and with skin and hair repair, and then moving into the general elimination of most major diseases, starting with for example diabetes. Anti-obesity treatments will be available.
Secondly, robots and automation will intrude into every area of life very soon after the genetic events, for example in automated trucks and automated drones/flyers (including ones with arms) on farms and robot toys for kids and robot butlers for the rich.
Thirdly, an intermediary transport system will be chosen to get into space cheaply in the absence of a full space elevator, possibly an inflatable or buoyant system in combination with a sea gun for materials.
By this stage it is nearing the end of the decade. People accept something is happening. In particular youthful appearance has sent shock waves through society.
At the end of the decade Narrow AI has accelerated humanity’s ability to implement quicker physical change. Also, in particular, the effects of robotics in the future have been underestimated by present day thinkers. Robots will increase our ability to speed up projects. Narrow AI will also be used to accelerate the development of computational nanotechnology, which provides a level of sophistication not possible with 3D printers and cutters and micro automation.
With programmable nanotechnology, everything, and particularly robots, becomes cheap and the lived, felt, emotional world becomes magically malleable. True expansion into space occurs at crazy speeds by our current standards and medicine throws away the many of the few remaining scalpels.
Then another seeming plateau is reached while the population struggles to absorb the notions of mild true space colonization, a post scarcity economy (presumably transitional in some places for political reasons) and the continual curing of remaining major diseases with some delays in some cases due to conservative testing regimes.
While using assemblers to make robots and space elevators and most products is easy, cell repair machines are slightly harder. Also, while medical stabilization is easy, modifications such as blue hair for example, or informational input into optic nerves, are slightly more difficult. (In this context, also bear in mind that some current research has already made extraordinary advances. For example: research regarding making very small holes in the skull for wiring, in Germany; research for utilizing HIFU – high intensity focused ultrasound waves; and optical tweezers for DNA manipulation.) Much programmable nanotechnology including advanced assemblers and bush robots and utility fogs and claytronics will be guarded at various levels by governments while nanophotonics and wellstone and cell repair machines and rod logic molecular computers will not be. There will be new areas of computational nanotechnology not fully envisaged yet relating to the plethora of nanomaterials and the new physics of the 2000s. Quantum entanglement will be a key technology. Narrow AI for engineering will be a key technology. Topological quantum computing will be achieved somewhat more easily than some have predicted.
The irony of the above scenario is that space travel will have had the longest delay despite being started first.
All delays are due to the structural limitations of their classes of knowledge and physical conditions within their relevant environments making it difficult to manipulate objects: for example, modelling quantum effects in protein folding; the complexity of robotic vision, grasping and walking; or designing a strong material like carbon nanotubes.
Sadly, much of the delay with nanotechnological assemblers or diamondoid mechanosynthesis or molecular assembly has been due to an almost complete lack of political support and funding for primary research and initial development, for example Congress’s 2003 rejection of funding, led by Senator John McCain and Newt Gingrich and the NanoBusiness Alliance (a consortium of materials nanotechnology business interests). Materials nanotechnology has received many billions of dollars every year from the US, EU, Japan and China, but creating even a basic asembler will require on the order of $US900 million (Frietas).
True physical immortaltiy and true AI including through femtotech and beyond are the very most complicated things and will come last, and after topological quantum computing.
Of course, strictly speaking, the entire edifice of the technological Singularity has been a long time coming for the pioneers of the 20s and 30s who envisaged robots, space travel and immortality almost on the spot. To them it has been a long wait. In the year 2015 there should be about just over 70,000 Americans who were 20 in 1935 so some who read Buck Rogers will get to see the dream come alive and walk.
My the end of this decade there will have been about twenty years of literary science fiction that will more smoothly fit the new technological world. We may find that the science fiction movie writing tradition moves more into line with the scientifically plausible field of sf literature. This lack of development in popular science fiction movies has been one of the key elements in the ongoing cultural denial of the technological Singularity.
Perhaps Neuromancer by William Gibson will be one of the first of these better movies when it is released. Pre-production is under way with a budget of $US60 million.
Sign up for the Humanity+ newsletter:
Joining Humanity+ as a Full, Plus or Sponsor Member enables you to participate in Humanity+ governance and decision-making - an important role in the growing Transhumanist movement. It also, of course, gives you the opportunity to support us in the work Humanity+ does!