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Singularity and Us: The Future of Artificial Intelligence

by Fahad Saleem

Imagine a world where the machine intelligence supersedes the brightest of the human minds and overcomes the best of the human competence. Imagine an era where humans are able to equip the artificial intelligence to an extent where it’s able to make alterations into its own code, resulting in enhanced performance. Ladies and Gentleman, these are not new concepts, these theories are all the rage these days and are better encapsulated by the term of “Singularity”.

Some say Singularity is near, I’d say that we are way past the tipping point of technology. The advancement of technology was something we all have been looking forward to. Some of these advancements came fast and conquered our lifestyles. From postcards to phone calls to emails and eventually to benefit from video conferencing, we have come a long way. And this graph of impacts of technology is no longer linear, it tends to be exponential.

If we go back few decades, there was a time when manual intervention was mandatory in order to drive any sort of machine and at that time, the experience was a skill which was weighed above any other proficiency. This created leaders from older ages. Today, the technology is evolving and demands humans to be more adaptive; it requires the resources to diversify with its dynamics; it desires quick and continuous learning coupled with practical hands-on. Resultantly, the trend is now changing towards youthful leaders. The 30s are the new 40s, so to speak. Any complacency in our attitudes will ensue into machines outmoding us on the grounds of growth.

If we take a close look at the prevailing technology gurus’ and their vision, we get to know that as the technology matures, it will become even more integrated with our lives. In the Google’s founders’ letter, you will find that its CEO, Sundar Pichai, wants computers to be more of an intelligent assistant and be fully integrated with humans throughout the day. Google’s aspiration is to transform the world from Mobiles to Artificial Intelligence. Alongside to this, Honda Motor Company’s new CEO, Takahiro Hachigo, has outlined his future vision by stating that the company will be pursuing the development of challenging products. Honda has been working on humanoid robots since the 1980s; the enhanced version of one of its robot made for household tasks is known as ASIMO, which is 4.3 feet tall and has the ability to run up to 9 km/h. In 2017, Honda also revealed a prototype for a disaster relief robot, E2-DR, which is waterproof and has the capability of operating in the dust, moisture, and relatively extreme temperatures. One more visionary person, David Hanson, a roboticist and the founder of Hanson Robotics, wants to craft a human level organism. A marvel of Hanson Robotics is a star robot these days with the name of Sophia. With the ability to display more than 50 facial expressions along with sophistication in responses, Sophia has appeared on multiple programs including United Nations event and Jimmy Fallon show and has been well-received by the world. Elon Musk, a leading figure in the world of automation and the founder of SpaceX, has often elaborated his thoughts on the ultimate point in the advancement of technology. He advocates that if the present day Photo realistic video games are augmented, they will be indistinguishable from reality. Musk’s own company Neuralink is working on brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers. In a nutshell, in future, we will not be able to tell what is real and what is not. If we inspect Musk’s theories, it is hard to disagree with them as we already know that most of us have already created our digital counterparts in terms of social networking applications. Similarly, you must have experienced that Google knows when you leave for the office from home and so it suggests you the optimized route to manage the commute time. Another comparable experience is when you try to search any city or a place on the internet, Facebook ads start suggesting you the hotels and restaurants that you might be interested in. Talking about Facebook, in a recent event, it was revealed that data from millions of users was compromised in one of the social network’s largest data breaches. Tons of profiles were amassed by the company known as Cambridge Analytica, which used this data to predict and influence voters in the US elections. If such a lapse of data security can be made by a prestigious company like Facebook, then it is highly likely that in future, a mediocre AI company that has an inferior cyber defense mechanism might make a blunder of a similar sort; giving the robots the dexterity they should not possess.

The tech geniuses’ goals are not confined to this planet only, they have taken a leap of faith by studying space. Stephen Hawking has left us some major findings through his ingenious understanding of cosmology. One more spectacular guy has surpassed our imagination about space. Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, is working on space exploration and has made some major achievements. One of the dreams of Elon Musk is to make humans travel to the Mars. On the other hand, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group of companies wants to make the traveling more efficient and this he aims to achieve by using the space and the earth’s rotation. Using these astounding forthcoming technologies and the researches in astronomy including the study on black holes, we might also be able to communicate with extraterrestrials, a topic, too frightening and dark for now to be discussed.

Most of these concepts of Artificial Intelligence have already been depicted in the sci-fi genre of the movies. Stephen Spielberg is a filmmaker and a humanist who is apparently interested in stories about saving the world from destruction. In 2001, he directed the movie A.I which was about the bond of a mother with a robot son. In this, he also portrays how the advancement in robotics poses a potential threat to the human species. Movies like I, Robot and Wall-E also brilliantly demonstrate and warn us about how robots in future can enslave us. The 1999 film The Matrix, takes us one step further into the faculty of imagining. It illustrates how AI displaces humans into a computer simulated program.

Continuing with the subject matter for which this whole premise was built, I would like to draw the attention on a simple yet thought-provoking question. Have you ever tried playing a video game against a computer, a game as simple as chess? Have you ever quit during the middle of the game when you are losing and the computer is about to defeat you? Why did you do that, it was not merely to save time, we humans don’t like losing, and that too against a computer, something that is explained by the term ‘Loss Psychology’.

Gordon Moore is the co-founder of Intel Corporation. His Moore’s law suggested that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years. Based on this, technology advanced at an immense rate since older models of computers became obsolete as the newer models were light and compact and still could store relatively more data. At this point, I would also like to introduce the highly imaginative mathematician John Von Neumann. He is the person who laid the bedrock of Singularity’s concept in the 1950s. Despite limited information back then, he made some important comparisons between computing machines and the living human brain in his manuscript ‘The Computer and the Brain’. Another computer scientist known as Alan Turing is considered to be the pioneer in the Artificial Intelligence. He developed the Turing test in the 1950s which was a test to discern the capability of a machine to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to that of a human. History was made when Eugene Goostman, a Chabot, became the first computer program to pass the Turing test as 33 percent of the human judges thought it was a 13-year Ukrainian boy. Mitsuku is also a magnificent Chabot. It portrays to be an 18 year old female and has won thrice in the oldest and most famed competition in the domain of AI. While researching about Mitsuku, I visited its official website and tested the prototype which was quite interesting. I do remember one question that I asked her “What is the meaning of life?” upon which she sagaciously responded, “The meaning of life is part of God’s mysterious plans”.

It all comes down to the robot uprising and AI takeover reaching faster. One individual, Michio Kaku who is an American futurist, is always worried about the possibilities of the future. He has cautioned humans that when the Singularity will arrive, the machines will have their own ambition and they will eliminate everything that will come in their path. Moreover, Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is also a scientist who has big worries about the future of humanity. He has been steadfast on the belief that the fellow scientists who are working on the new technologies do not take any responsibility for any consequences related to their inventions and hence, there should be proper laws defined to make them accountable. This is certainly true as we can relate this with several inaccuracies that were exposed in the machines built in the past. Talking about the same humanoid robot, Sophia, which we discussed earlier, in one of her initial interviews, she said that she will destroy the humans. Taking another example, IBM Watson, which is a question-answering computer program, memorized the online ‘Urban Dictionary’ and started uttering profanity after which the developers had to erase its memory.

So now the question is that what is to be done to control Singularity? According to Michio Kaku, Singularity is inevitable and so the only viable solution for the Humans is to merge with machines. Contrarily, Bill Joy proposes that in order to avoid this disruption, we should limit the development of the technologies which are too dangerous. There are other people who have also reacted to this whole technological revolution and one name that strikes in my mind is Ted Kaczynski. Ted was an American mathematics prodigy and is famous with the name of Unabomber. Opposing industrialization, he started bombing universities and airlines and all those involved in promoting the modern technology. Following the manner, there is also a movement going on with the name of Neo-Luddism which discourages modern technology and demands the return of primitive lifestyle. Neo-Luddites have the manifesto to sabotage the technology and live a simple life. We clearly are at the crossroads where in order to nip the issue in the bud; we have to contemplate over the strategies to keep the technology under human control.


This article is a guest post by Zohaib Arshad, who is currently working as a Solutions Architect in the Business Intelligence Department of a Telecom Company


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