/ weltanschauung

The Incoming Storm

"What do you want to be", my friends would ask. "Happy", is the answer I usually give -- followed by "taste-tester at the chocolate factory", if they are persistent enough. But I redirect these questions not because I do not know the answer to them, but because to answer them truthfully I would need to explain my worldview. And that is a dangerous thing -- because as any adults can attest, it is nigh-impossible for any seventeen-year-old to have a rationally consistent worldview, let alone one that is useful enough to share.

But in order for me to write about the Singularity, I would need to write about what it means for my worldview. Because, like any other teen -- my view of the world and my place within it is shaped by the giants in my life. And I grew up under the looming shadows of the Singularity -- a giant that dwarfs all else.

Everybody has giants, even though they may not call them so. A hobby, a sport, the death of a family member -- from the personal to the generational -- we all have events or realizations that influenced the course of our life, and defined our calling. But my giant is strange, and of a peculiar nature -- so I'll have to explain this future of mine. And in order to explain the future, we would need to step into the past -- into the unspeaking depths of prehistory, and move forth from there.

It took humanity more than 200,000 years to invent agriculture, counting from the start of the anatomically modern human. But yet, it took us less than 8,000 years after to create a vast and vibrant civilization, complete with record-keeping, administration, literacy, and taxes. From then on, the progression of change only sped further.

Sumer begatt Akkad, and Akkad beget Empire. For the next change halved the interval between changes, where only 4,000 years passed from the first city-state to the first great Empire. The armies of Akkadia swept down the Persian Gulf, bearing roads, literature, and conquest to the myriad tribes of Arabia.

Yet, even as the glory of the Akkadian kings waned, history marched without skipping a step. For great water wheels tamed the Nile in Alexandria, even as the fires burnt in Akkad's plundered ruins, the rate of change marched on, and at increasing speeds still. Only 2,000 years passed from the first water wheels and oxen-driven gearshafts, to the invention of the first steam engine.

I think we both see the pattern here. Because, the secret of change is that it is not linear, but rather exponential, and as our lives today can attest, we are definitely nearing the tail-end, of this exponential curve.

You see, only 200 years passed between the invention of the steam engine, to the aeroplane. And from the aeroplane, it took the span of a single lifetime -- only 66 years, that went from the first two-seaters to mankind landing on the moon. The invention of computing introduced a paradigm shift, one that's as important and fundamental as the industrial revolution itself -- where the pace of human cognition was no longer limited by our own bodies, but is supplemented by the power of machines.

And from now on, the rate of change became faster still. The Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC), once the state-of-the-art of an entire generation -- was outmatched by the IBM Personal Computer (PC), released only twelve years later. And computing, once the mainstay of vast corporations and massive machines, soon went into every office, then into every home -- and now computers reside in every pocket, each as powerful as the supercomputers of the era before, and more than ten times smaller.

This is where we stand today.

Now, every single indication of economic activity, technological and societal progress, from the density of integrated circuits to the growth of the world GDP to the resolution of astronomical telescopes, all indicate an accelerating rate of change, of which we are rapidly nearing the hard wall of future-shock when the curve of our graph shoots upwards to infinity.

That is the Singularity.

And this idea, the concept of a time in our near future, where the rate of change will speed forth to a dizzying verticality, is an idea that lit a fire inside me that will never die. Because, I am born in one of the most exciting eras in the whole of human history, the end of a chapter where societal changes and paradigm shifts happen in the span of decades, rather than that of lifetimes.

But the singularity is not just a comforting utopia to be expected in our future.

It is, rather -- an incoming storm. One that has to be weathered, and survived.

Because ultimately, I don't see the singularity as rapture, where all of humanity will be saved from the issues that plague us today. It is not the utopia that we can hope for. But rather, it is judgment. A test, a crucible -- that will determine the course of human history to come. It may result either in our immortality, or our extinction, where the rise of artificial intelligence and unimaginably powerful technology is an existential risk, for our species.

We will all have a role to play in the upcoming decades that lead to the final pages of this chapter in the human condition. And it is my hope, my calling that I will be able to play my role, in whichever way I can -- once the storm comes. Because, ultimately -- I am an optimist. And I hope, that the Singularity -- when it comes, is the end of a chapter in this great, collective story of humanity. And not of the book itself.