The Social Singularity

This is one of those posts that wakes you up to get written.  I meant to come back and ‘ground’ it a little but after 6 weeks it hasn’t happened so I’m publishing it ‘as-is’ to move things along.  Feel free let loose on it.

The singularity, if you hadn’t already heard, is a hypothesised point in the near future where technological progress effectively comes to a head.  Graphs of technological progress appear exponential: not only is technology advancing but the rate at which is does so is constantly increasing. This is natural since our new tools allow us to build better tools faster.  Simply carrying on the curve does something funny around the middle part of this century: it goes vertical.

A standard interpretation for period is framed as an AI that bit smarter than us and which goes ahead with improving itself way beyond our comprehension. Then it becomes god or at least something from which scary but fun and compelling movies are made.  Alas, there’s the paradox of the world advancing beyond recognition overnight.  The latest device brought in the morning becomes relatively stone-age by tea time. Physics makes such scenarios implausible. Artifacts are just products of technology as organisms are disposable vehicles in the larger continuous process of life.

There is a trend but its driver is rooted in social interactions rather than technical innovation. The latter trails the former. Speech allowed ideas to spread to anyone within earshot, physical text preserved them across space and time, electronic networks made it straightforward to forge arbitrary new connections.  In this way we freed intelligence from the limited confines of the individual and released it into the social domain.  I believe the next stage will see it organising itself through us. Our thoughts will become joined up and continuous as thoughts flow between us almost seamlessly. Our self-identity remains intact yet our social awareness develops beyond recognition.

The technology that will support this is in the works but you’ll sense it’s approach in those serendipitous sparks of technology-mediated fruitful connections where strangers meet for some mission. These goals will become increasingly trivial as the effort in finding the right people drops away. Whether you are creating something or looking to dispose of something.  Finding immediate answers to questions will expand beyond Internet databases to include what is known but not transcribed digitally. Trivially, you will know what book or film or conversation to experience next. It’ll be like the Borg’s collective intelligence but in a nice way.

The individual benefits are enormous and inclusive as society effectively starts to think for itself.  In summary: the singularity is not about what we invent so much as how we connect.  That’s what makes it really exciting.  It won’t be a magic, hyper-intelligent box: it will be a new form of society that is reflective and intelligent to the point of being virtually self-aware.

Postscript:Just finished the initial dump of this post and popped on to Twitter.  Somewhat bemused to see @stef had tweeted about the new Singularity University almost exactly the same time I started drafting.  I’m predicting many more of these spooky ‘coincidences’ in the future to the point where people started to get rather freaked out.

One thought on “The Social Singularity

  1. Sounds a lot like Foucault’s ideas about discourse, coupled with an idea that as communication increases, ways of thinking tend to flatten out: accents and dialects disappear, information gets normalised.

    MAybe it will work out as you say. I’m up for things going in directions that might be construed as ‘wrong’ in the same way that Zittrain writes about generativity.

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