The Pace of Innovation – Is Singularity Possible?

Resistance is futile. Over the last century our society has innovated at an ever increasing rate  and machines have come to play a dominate role in our homes and every commercial industry. In just 12 decades mankind has seen the advancement of the first diesel engine, jet propulsion, nuclear power, manned space flight, mass long distance communication (TV, radio, Internet), the first personal computer, the first computer programming language, laser guided bombs, 6K rounds a minute machine guns, real-time video streams, robotic surgery and now machines that build new machines from your living room (MakerBot).

If you continue this list of machine aided advancements you’ll quickly realize that not only do they already outnumber us, but their intelligence is rapidly increasing and our dependence on their services has never been greater. Despite being in the during the worst recession since the “great depression”, there is so much money flowing into the Technology industry that experts are warning of a second bubble . This focus on technology has swamped the USPTO with applications (it can now take over 4 years to receive an acceptance/denial notice). The bottom line: machines optimized to maximize our comfort and minimize commodity costs run almost every aspect of our lives.

It was only 3 decades ago that the first portable personal computer hit the market, known as the Osborne 1. This revolutionary machine weighed ~24 pounds and came equip with 64 Kb of memory and an 8-bit 4 MHz processor. The company went bankrupt only two years after its release. None-the-less it is the origins of the 3 pound 8GB of memory and 64-bit 2.4 GHz dual core processor sitting in my lap at the moment.

As a recent co-founder of an HCI company I’ve starting hearing the term Technological Singularity for the first time. To grossly undervalue and summarize the concept for those who don’t know, the Singularity is a point in time in the near future (~50 years) where Technology is expected to be capable of innovating on its own without human intervention. The premise of the theory is based on the notion that it’s possible for engineers to write an AI algorithm that is capable of finding flaws in a design and optimize itself to no longer have those flaws. As a result, the pace on innovation would in essence occur at the speed of light.

To be honest, when I first heard of the Singularity I laughed and dismissed it as complete bullshit. I’m not so sure anymore… It might sound far-fetched but our society is already starting to use similar real-time optimization algorithms in online search engines, marketing campaigns, and even Walmart distribution channels. Having recently spent a lot of time around the machine learning experts in the software engineering industry, I’ve seen firsthand that they are very good at teaching machines to learn. Even though the field of AI has yet to see its own Einstine, its only a matter of time before one emerges and AI becomes the new split atom.

def Singularity():
     while True:
          result = measure()