“”There is not the slightest reason to believe in a coming singularity. The fact that you can visualize a future in your imagination is not evidence that it is likely or even possible. Look at domed cities, jet-pack commuting, underwater cities, mile-high buildings, and nuclear-powered automobiles--all staples of futuristic fantasies when I was a child that have never arrived. Sheer processing power is not a pixie dust that magically solves all your problems.
|—Steven Pinker |
A singularity, as most commonly used, is a point at which expected rules break down. The term comes from mathematics, where a point on a curve that has a sudden break in slope is considered to have a slope of undefined or infinite value; such a point is known as a singularity.
The term has extended into other fields; the most notable use is in astrophysics, where a singularity is a point (usually, but perhaps not exclusively, at the center a of black hole) where the escape velocity and mass approaches infinity. A singularity has no dimensions because it contains all dimensions, and it also contains all the laws of physics, leading some to theorize that the big bang was caused by an unfolding singularity, releasing the physical laws we know of today.
This article, however, is not about the mathematical or physics uses of the term, so much as the hijacking of it by various futurists.
 Technological singularity
“”It's intelligent design for the IQ 140 people. This proposition that we're heading to this point at which everything is going to be just unimaginably different - it's fundamentally, in my view, driven by a religious impulse. And all of the frantic arm-waving can't obscure that fact for me, no matter what numbers he marshals in favor of it. He's very good at having a lot of curves that point up to the right.
|—Mitch Kapor on Ray Kurzweil|
In transhumanist belief, the "technological singularity" refers to a hypothetical point beyond which human technology and civilization is no longer comprehensible to the current human mind. The theory of technological singularity states that at some point in time humans will invent a machine that through the use of artificial intelligence will be smarter than any human could ever be. This machine in turn will be capable of inventing new technologies that are even smarter. This event will trigger an exponential explosion of technological advances of which the outcome and effect on humankind is heavily debated by transhumanists and singularists.
Many proponents of the theory believe that the machines eventually will see no use for humans on Earth and simply wipe us out — their intelligence being far superior to humans, there would be probably nothing we could do about it. They also fear that the use of extremely intelligent machines to solve complex mathematical problems may lead to our extinction. The machine may theoretically respond to our question by turning all matter in our solar system or our galaxy into a giant calculator, thus destroying all of humankind.
Critics, however, believe that humans will never be able to invent a machine that will match human intelligence, let alone exceed it. They also attack the methodology that is used to "prove" the theory by suggesting that Moore's Law may be subject to the law of diminishing returns, or that other metrics used by proponents to measure progress are totally subjective and meaningless. Theorists like Theodore Mudis argue that progress measured in metrics such as CPU clock speeds is decreasing, refuting Moore's Law.
Transhumanist thinkers see a chance of the technological singularity arriving on Earth within the twenty first century, a concept that most rationalists either consider a little too messianic in nature or ignore outright. Some of the wishful thinking may simply be the expression of a desire to avoid death, since the singularity is supposed to bring the technology to reverse human aging, or to upload human minds into computers.
Don't bother quoting Ray Kurzweil to anyone who knows a damn thing about human cognition or, indeed, biology. He's a computer science genius who has difficulty in perceiving when he's well out of his area of expertise.
 Three major singularity schools
Eliezer Yudkowsky identifies three major schools of thinking when it comes to the singularity. While all share common ground in advancing intelligence and rapidly developing technology, they differ in how the singularity will occur and the evidence to support the position.
 Accelerating change
Under this school of thought, it is assumed that change and development of technology and human (or AI assisted) intelligence will accelerate at an exponential rate. So change a decade ago was much faster than change a century ago, which was faster than a millennium ago. While thinking in exponential terms can lead to predictions about the future and the developments that will occur, it does mean that past events are an unreliable source of evidence for making these predictions.
 Event horizon
The "event horizon" school posits that the post-singularity world would be unpredictable. Here, the creation of a super-human artificial intelligence will change the world so dramatically that it would bear no resemblance to the current world, or even the wildest science fiction. This school of thought sees the singularity most like a single point event rather than a process — indeed, it is this thesis that spawned the term "singularity." However, this view of the singularity does treat transhuman intelligence as some kind of magic.
 Intelligence explosion
This posits that the singularity is driven by a feedback cycle between intelligence enhancing technology and intelligence itself. As Yudkowsky (who endorses this view) "What would humans with brain-computer interfaces do with their augmented intelligence? One good bet is that they’d design the next generation of brain-computer interfaces." When this feedback loop of technology and intelligence begins to increase rapidly, the singularity is upon us.
 The fourth singularity school
 Extraterrestrial singularity
Extraterrestrial technological singularities might become evident from acts of stellar/cosmic engineering. One such possibility for example would be the construction of Dyson Spheres that would result in the altering of a star's electromagnetic spectrum in a way detectable from Earth. Both SETI and Fermilab have incorporated that possibility into their searches for alien life. 
A different view of the concept of singularity is explored in the science fiction book Dragon's Egg by Robert Lull Forward, in which an alien civilization on the surface of a neutron star, being observed by human space explorers, goes from Stone Age to technological singularity in the space of about an hour in human time, leaving behind a large quantity of encrypted data for the human explorers that are expected to take over a million years (for humanity) to even develop the technology to decrypt.
 See also
- Science Saturday: The Great Singularity Debate, Eliezer Yudkowsky vs. Massimo Pigliucci, Blogging Heads
- One-Half of a Manifesto, Jaron Lanier, edge.org
- Michael E. Zimmerman. The Singularity: A Crucial Phase in Divine Self Actualization? Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 4, No 1-2 (2008)
- I Am the Very Model of a Singularitarian
- it's flying car bullshit
- ↑ http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/tech-luminaries-address-singularity
- ↑ PZ Myers' rant on the subject
- ↑ Yudkowsky.net - Three Major Singularity Schools
- ↑ http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/this-weeks-finds-week-311/
- ↑ http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2010/06/23/singularity-schtick-hi-tech-moguls-and-the-new-york-times-may-buy-it-but-you-shouldnt/
- ↑ http://home.fnal.gov/~carrigan/infrared_astronomy/Fermilab_search.htm
- ↑ http://archive.seti.org/pdfs/Shostak-spring2009-EnS.pdf