1. The quality or condition of being singular.
2. A trait marking one as distinct from others; a peculiarity.
3. Something uncommon or unusual.
4. Astrophysics. A point in space-time at which gravitational forces cause matter to have infinite density and infinitesimal volume, and space and time to become infinitely distorted.
5. Mathematics. A point at which the derivative does not exist for a given function of a random variable but every neighborhood of which contains points for which the derivative exists. In this sense, also called singular point.
singularity: A region of spacetime where spacetime curvature becomes so strong that the general relativistic laws break down and the laws of quantum gravity take over. If one tries to describe a singularity using general relativity alone, one finds (incorrectly) that tidal gravity and spacetime curvature are infinitely strong there. Quantum gravity probably replaces these infinities by quantum foam.
There's a universe of potential, Lindsay, think of that. No rules, no limits.
- Bruce Sterling - _Schismatrix_
604 release _Singularity_ compilation CD on Flying
Vernor Vinge coined the term in the book, _Marooned in Real Time_
What is the Singularity?
Human history has been characterized by an accelerating rate of technological progress. It is caused by a positive feedback loop. A new technology, such as agriculture, allows an increase in population. A larger population has more brains at work, so the next technology is developed or discovered more quickly. We expect that this growth rate will slow down as some fundamental limits (the speed oflight, Planck's constant, etc.) are approached. This implies that there will be a time at which technological progress will be most rapid. This is a singular event in the sense that it happens once in human history.
Vernor Vinge, who popularized the concept in his book _Marooned in Real Time_ has a different definition. The pace of progress became very rapid, and then at some point mankind simply disappeared (as far as humans who missed the event by being in stasis too long could tell). He implied that they ascended to a more sophisticated level of existence. So that time horizon when we can no longer say anything useful about the future is Vinge's Singularity.
One would expect that his version of the Singularity would recede in time as time goes by, i.e. the horizon moves with us.
Singularity, the Seed
The singularity is an incomprehensibly small point which contains a near infinite amount of densely packed information. The singularity is a mathematical paradox because it is infinitely massive yet infinitely small. Its gravitational field is so dense that it causes space and time to bend, freeze, and reverse around the edges. Singularities are only found in black holes, subatomic nuclei, and in the first few nanoseconds of our early universe. The symbol for singularity is a single dot or one-dimensional point.
Any information entering a singularity instantly collapses under such intense pressure that it becomes encrypted within a mathematical paradox. From our perspective, the singularity is a one-way information valve. Any information entering a singularity is impossible to retrieve. Not even light can escape. Whatever goes in is compressed into ‘not-being’ and spit across a no-return hole in spacetime. Some theorists believe this information is just locked into the black hole forever; some say it will eventually evaporate away into particle decay.
Einstein and Rosen theorized that singularities could even be wormholes to alternate dimensions of reality. Unfortunately, no one will ever know because the compression makes it impossible to survive the journey.
The singularity of the early universe also represents the star seed, a hard-shelled courier of self-replicating, viral information. From this single seed, an entire universe erupted.
Because the singularity contains the infinite within the small, it can only begin to grow in a void that is big enough to hold it. This is true with all seeds. Each seed contains vast potential – but a seed can only germinate in very specific conditions.
The seed metaphor also exists in the dimension of pure idea. Any single idea can seed an infinite number of new ideas, but seeds of idea will only germinate in very particular conditions.
Like the singularity, the seed of idea seeks a silent, uncluttered place to plant its roots and become fully formed. In many theologies, the initial seed is not a theoretical object, it is simply God’s idea to fill the eternal void of loneliness.
The chakra which relates to the singularity is located between the navel and the pelvic bone. This point is not only the “essential” center of your being, it is also your center of gravity and the central furnace of your ki, the life force which flows through you and animates your body. The body position which corresponds to the seed is a tightly held tuck. Pull your knees up to your chin, roll your face down, and curl up into a ball. When you exhale, collapse and let your energy sink deeper and deeper into your central furnace.
- James Kent - _The Galactic Harmonic Primer_
book _The Spike: Accelerating Into The Unimaginable Future_ by Damien Broderick
And what of the arrival of the Singularity
itself? What can be said of its actual appearance? Since it involves an intellectual
runaway, it will probably occur faster than any technical revolution seen so
far... If networking
is widespread enough (into ubiquitous
embedded systems), it may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly wakened.
And what happens a month or two (or a day or two) after that? I have only analogies
to point to: The rise of humankind. We will be in the Post-Human era.
From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control. Developments that before were thought might only happen in "a million years" (if ever) will likely happen in the next century.
- Vernor Vinge
"Since ... an ultra intelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an `intelligence explosion' ... more probable than not ... within the 20th century." I.J.Good, 1965
`Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.' (Vernor Vinge, VISION-21 Symposium, 1993)
Fact One about the Singularity: It happens to everyone and it will happen to us. Fact Two about the Singularity: Singularities are rapid and complete. Or rather, the second stage of Singularity is rapid. First, and slower, is Singularity::Horizon, when the first transhuman (or a specialist, transhuman in at least one area) begins complicating history. Progress accelerates, wealth fluctuates upwards, social fabrics rupture, and the threat of nanowar makes nuclear annihilation look sane. (A quick-kill Singularity via AI avoids these dangers.) Pleasant or unpleasant for the race, the Horizon can continue for a generation. Then the first transhumans produce their successors. It usually takes under a year of Far Horizon to code a self-enhancing or "seed" AI, which begins the second stage: Singularity::Transcend, a.k.a. the Techno-Rapture or Final Dawn.
Transcendence occurs when the cycle of positive feedback - smarter intelligences building superintelligences, superintelligences rebuilding themselves - takes off, on a software level, and doesn't stop. The entire process can take a fraction of a second, and the seed can be far less than human. Runaway positive feedback defines the Singularity, whether it's the slow two-step loop of technology and intelligence ("Horizon"), or the incredibly rapid closure of self-enhancement ("Transcend"). Positive feedback rewriting the equation describing the feedback.
Fact Three about the Singularity: Singularities don't leave much of Life As We Know It behind. A common cognitive fault is asking how the Singularity will alter our world. To deal with the unknown, we export our default assumptions and simulate the imagined change. But to argue about life after Singularity, you must be able to program your argument into a blank-slate AI. Default assumptions don't exist in a vacuum. Defaults originate as observed norms, and norms are the abstracted result of a vast network of causality. These causal chains ultimately ground in evolution, the macroscopic laws of physics, or mortal game theory. None of these principles survive. Evolution is sometimes superior to intelligent design, but not superintelligent design. Dictates imposed by evolution will be annulled by superior force.
Macroscopic physics is hideously wasteful: A basketball in flight uses septillions of quantum-computing elements to perform a simple integral. Once the system collapses into a simulated basketball plus an octillion teraflops, it won't revert to the previous method. Game theory... regardless of whether super-agents can predict each other's actions, will there be conflicting goals? Or limited resources? Or more than one abstractable agent? Our world is too deeply grounded in stupidity to survive superintelligence. We may make it to the Other Side of Dawn, but human civilization won't. Our bodies, our stupidity, our physics, and our society will evaporate. Singularity debates center around six core questions. "Will the Singularity really happen?" "Can the Singularity be avoided?" "What will life be like after the Singularity?" I hope that my answers to the first three are now clear: "Yes", "No", and "Mu".
"Can we really program human-equivalent AIs?" Yes. The objections fail to consider this: We can cheat. First and foremost, seed AIs don't have to be human-equivalent. An acorn is not a tree. Second, we're allowed to steal code from DNA, observe developing brains... even build AIs out of human neurons if there's a fundamental Penrosian gap. Third, if unmodified humans don't rise to the challenge, that doesn't rule out transhumans or neurosurgically produced specialists. Coding an AI isn't an ideological argument. If a method works, we'll use it.
- Eliezer S. Yudkowsky - _Comments On Vinge's Singularity_
As we approach the lip of this cascade into concrescence, novelty, and completion, time seems to speed up and boundaries begin to dissolve. The more boundaries that dissolve, the closer to the concrescence we are. When we finally reach it, there will be no boundaries, only eternity as we become all space and time, alive and dead, here and there, before and after.
Because this singularity
can simultaneously co-exist in states that are contradictory, it is something
which transcends rational apprehension. But it gives the universe meaning,
because all processes
can be seen to be seeking and moving in an effort to approximate, connect
with, and append to this transcendental object at the end of time.
One way of thinking about it is to compare it to one of those mirrored disco balls, which sends out thousands of reflections off of everybody and everything in the room. The mirrored disco ball is the transcendental object at the end of time, and those reflected twinkling, refractive lights are religions, scientific theories, gurus, works of art, poetry, great orgasms, great souffles, great paintings, etc. Anything that has, in Nietszche's phrase, the "spark of divinity within it," is in fact, referent to the original force of the spark of all divinity unfolding itself within the confines of three-dimensional space.
- Terence McKenna - _Timewave Zero And Language_
The transcendent other casts an enormous shadow across the lower dimensional landscape of time. The stirring of the earliest life forms in the Devonian seas caught the call and every step that has been taken since then has been ever quicker, ever quicker toward the transcendental other, it beckons us and history is haunted by this thing. History is the shock wave of eschatology. History is a process that lasts, let's be generous, 25,000 years, the wink of an eye in geological time, and in that 25,000 years religions rise and fall, governmental systems, teachers come and go and there is a sense of being caught in a whirlpool that is spinning us toward fusion with the unimaginable. This is why the skies of Earth are haunted by flying saucers, they aren't coming from other solar systems, they are scintillas, remember this alchemical term - sparks - they are scintillas being thrown off the alchemical quintessence which lies like a great attractor at the end of time and the purpose of science and techni and electronic media and information transfer and all of this stuff is to knit us together, to dissolve our boundaries and to bring us to a point of singularity where language fails, where we lean over meanings' edge and feel the dizziness of things unsaid.
- Terence McKenna from a
lecture on Alchemy
(A very intense man is talking in his office, gesturing wildly)
If we're looking at the highlights of human development, you have to look at the evolution of the organism, and then at the development of its interaction with the environment. Evolution of the organism begins with the evolution of life, proceeds through the hominid, coming to the evolution of mankind: Neanderthal and Cro-magnon man. Now interestingly, what you're looking at here are three strains: biological, anthropological -- development of the cities -- and culture, which is human expression.
Now what you've seen here is the evolution of populations, not so much the evolution of individuals. And in addition, if you look at the time scales that are involved here, two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, 100,000 years for mankind as we know it, you're beginning to see the telescopic nature of the evolutionary timeline. And then when you get to agriculture, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you're looking at 10,0000 years, 400 years, 150 years, and you're seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it's going to telescope to the point we should be able to manifest it within our lifetime, within a generation.
The new evolution stems from information. And it stems from two types of information, digital and analog. The digital is artificial intelligence, the analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism, and you knit the two together with neurobiology. Before, on the old evolutionary paradigm, one would die and the other would grow and dominate. But under the new paradigm, they would exist as a mutually supportive, non-competitive grouping, independent from the external.
And what's interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually centered process emanating from the needs and desires of the individual, and not an external process, a passive process, where the individual is just at the whim of the collective. So you produce a neo-human, okay, with a new individuality, a new consciousness. But that's only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle, because as the next cycle proceeds, the input is now this new intelligence. As intelligence piles on intelligence, as ability piles upon ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until we reach a crescendo. In a way, it could almost be imagined as an almost instantaneous fulfillment of human and neo-human potential. It could be something totally different. It could be the amplification of the individual, the multiplication of individual existences. Parallel existences. Now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space.
And the manifestations of this neo-human type evolution, the manifestations could be dramatically counter-intuitive. That's the interesting part. The old evolution is cold, it's sterile, it's efficient, and its manifestations are those of social adaptation: we're talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, war, predation. These will be subject to de-emphasis. These will be subject to de-evolution. The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution. And that is what we would hope to see. Yes, that would be nice.
- film _Waking Life_ directed by Richard Linklater
The Singularity atFuture, c/o Kheper