David Chalmers Discusses the Singularity

Most people I talk to have never heard of the Singularity. The concept of a singularity is an absolutely unique, unprecedented event: the Big Bang, the emergence of the first living organism in the cosmos, the first eukaryotic cells, the first conscious organisms, the first self-conscious, self-reflective, or moral primates. These are all singularities.

“The” Singulary (with the definite article) refers to a hypothetical event in the near-future. The Singularity is a moment when humanity transcends itself or when “technological evolution” outpaces biological evolution. The concept and term were popularized by Ray Kurzweil, a now researcher at Alphabet Inc. (formerly Google).

The people who anticipate the coming of the singularity are called (with a bit of tongue-in-cheek) “Singularitarians” – (pr: SING-gu-LAIR-i-TAIR-i-ans). Singularitarians either expect it soon like it or not, or they desire it, or they have committed to advance its coming – usually, some combination of the three. For example, I am a Singularitarian in the sense that I take the concept seriously and am persuaded the Singularity is nigh – however, I do not relish its proximity and indeed am actively committed to helping people understand what it might mean for our race and how to protect ourselves from potential harms it might bring. In that sense, I am a “Singularity skeptic”.

Because of the sometimes fanciful-sounding nature of discussions about “technological evolution” and human nature in bioethics, Artificial Intelligence studies, futurism, and transhumanism, the Singularity is widely disregarded by those who first encounter it. However, singularitarians are deadly serious. They tend to be elite technology folks, tech billionaires, hackers, programmers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and so on. As it happens, such folks do not tend to care what the unwashed masses think about their silly sounding theories. So they don’t necessarily bother explaining the Singularity in terms that are easier to digest.

Singularitarians also tend to be atheists or agnostics. They think the singularity will be something new, but not something supernatural. Eliezer Yudkowsky specifies that the Singularity is “a natural, non-mystical, technologically triggered event.”1

So, to take the Singularity seriously requires that you occupy a pretty narrow set of parameters. And to explain the Singularity to those who are skeptical or uninformed takes occupying an even narrower niche.

Philosopher, atheist, and tech nerd David Chalmers fits the bill. He takes the Singularity seriously. He commissioned reflection from 26 other philosophers. Here are his takeways. David Chalmers on the Singularity

  1. Cf. http://www.yudkowsky.net/singularity