5 Future Technology Myths


The Technological Singularity Approaches

Ray Kurzweil is a prominent singularitarian, believing that the singularity could lead to a kind of utopia.
Ray Kurzweil is a prominent singularitarian, believing that the singularity could lead to a kind of utopia.
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

In recent years, prominent futurists like Ray Kurzweil have argued that we are approaching the singularity, perhaps as soon as 2030. There are many different conceptions of just what exactly the singularity is or will be. Some say it's a true artificial intelligence that can rival humans in independent thinking and creativity. In other words, machines will surpass humans in intelligence and as the planet's dominant species, capable of creating their own new, smarter machines. Others contend that it will involve such an explosion in computing power that somehow humans and machines will merge to create something new, such as by uploading our minds onto a shared neural network.

Critics of the singularity, such as writer and academic Douglas Hofstadter, claim that these are "science-fiction scenarios" that are essentially speculative. Hofstadter calls them vague and useless in contemporary discussions of what makes a human being and our relationships with technology [source: Ross]. There is also little evidence that the sort of "tidal wave" of technological innovation predicted by Kurzweil and other futurists is imminent [source: Ross].

Mitch Kapor, the former CEO of Lotus, called the singularity "intelligent design for the IQ 140 people" [source: O'Keefe]. One magazine called it "the Rapture of the geeks" -- hardly a complimentary term [source: Hassler]. Computer scientist Jeff Hawkins contends that while we may create highly intelligent machines -- far greater than anything we have now -- true intelligence relies on "experience and training," rather than just advanced programming and advanced processing power [source: IEEE].

Doubters point to the numerous sci-fi fantasies and predictions of the past that still have not come true as evidence that the singularity is just another pie-in-the-sky dream -- for example, we don't have moon bases or artificial gravity yet. They also argue that understanding the nature of consciousness is impossible, much less creating this capability within machines. Finally, the impending coming of the singularity depends in large part on the continuation of Moore's Law, which, as we discuss on the next page, may be in jeopardy. (It should also be noted that Gordon Moore himself is not a believer in the singularity [source: IEEE].)