What is the Singularity?

Many people scoff and have problems even understanding the Singularity.  With credit to Charlie Stross the singularity is defined as a specific 13 year period from 2047 through 2060.  Here is a chart of the computational speed of the fastest computer in the world, as measured in floating point operations per second.  You can see that today we have a computer rated at 8.16 petaflops. A human brain has the computational power of approximately 100 petaflops.  So even today the most powerful computer is an imbecile as compared with a human.  It will be 2016 before the fastest computer can claim to match the power of a human brain.  That is NOT the beginning of the singularity.

The population of this planet will soon peak out at 9 billion souls.   9 billion people have the computing power of about 10^27 flops (1000 yottaflops).  Does that sound like a lot?

According to this chart in the year 2047 the fasted computer in the world will have the capacity of 1% of all existing human brains.  13 years later the fastest computer in the world will be 100 times more powerful than all human brains combined.  This sudden transition of the dominant computing species on Earth is the Singularity.  That's it.  It's pretty easy.  It's going to happen unless we destroy our computer chip manufacturing infrastructure.

A more radical view is to use the top curve, the sum computer power of the 500 fastest computers in the world.  Next year this sum will match a human brain.  The singularity (the transition from 1% to 99%) will span the years 2042 to 2055.  A pessimistic view says that a human brain has more like 1000 petaflops, or even 10,000.  That just pushes the singularity out another 5-10 years.  It does not even remotely change this argument.

If you don't believe this will happen then you need to give a very good, very technical reason why this growth curve will stop.  It cannot just slow down, that only delays the transition a few years.  If you do not have a well defined technical reason for proving this computing growth curve will stop then you have no argument against the singularity.

We simply cannot know or predict the consequences when 1000 yottaflop intelligence is actively rewriting its own software and designing its own offspring, when exaflop and zettaflop constructs are free to think and create for themselves.  Anyone who says they know what will happen is simply wrong.  The real truth is that we really do not know, we cannot know.  How will we even communicate when less than 0.01% of the computing in our solar system is done by human brains?

And a final note.  These beings will grow 1000 times more powerful every 11 years.  Unless our population suddenly grows 1000x every 11 years then we cannot even conceive of keeping up.  By the 22nd century human brains will be an infinitesimal portion of the computing power of this solar system.  If you want to know what it might look like read Accelerando by Charlie Stross.  This might be the most important book ever written.

Science Fiction for Smart People

Charlie Stross writes in Accelerando about a variety of topics which challenge even the most technically savvy readers. First he mentions a Matrioshka brain, a massive extension of the Dyson Sphere. Imagine a Dyson Sphere is built which consists almost entirely of computational nodes. Each node will radiate a little waste heat so the entire sphere could be as bright as the star it contains. Orient the radiators on the external surface of the sphere and build another Dyson Sphere around the first which again is composed of computational nodes. This sphere will radiate energy but probably less than the inner one, thus it will be cooler. A series of concentric shells extends further from the stellar core, each shell absorbing and emitting radiant energy. After 10-100 of these the outer shell will be so cool that there is no efficient way to gather the emitted radiation and convert it to computational power. What would a brain do with that much computational power ? It would be the equal of roughly 6 quadrillion human brains or 10^35 petaflops.  Would it think, would it create, would it warp the spacetime continuum?  Would it create time travel? How would we detect such an entity? The object could appear cooler than a brown dwarf, rendering it almost invisible. There could be a few of these within 100 light years of us and we might never find them.

Next Stross mentions the Kardashev civilizations. A Dyson sphere is a Type II Kardashev civilization. A Type I group will harness all the energy present on their planet (solar, nuclear, wind, and geothermal). But the most impressive idea of all is the Type III civilization which gathers and uses the sum total energy output of an entire galaxy, roughly 10^37 watts. I wonder if the final stages of absorbing all the galactic energy would produce a visible redshift? Older galaxies would have higher redshifts as their inhabitants have had more time to absorb all the energy. Wouldn't it be cool to see the Hubble recession theory discredited because most galactic redshifts result from sentient races using all the energy from their galaxies!!

And what about dark matter?  Could it be that most stars and most galaxies are dark Kardashev communities?  Perhaps the calculations on the baryon density of the universe are wrong, and dark matter can really be baryons.  Or perhaps even more interesting, could advanced technology convert unstable baryons to something which is not a baryon?  Is dark matter the end product of an advanced Type II Kardashev civilization?

Accelerando is a good novel but it could do with a little more editing.  Many pages have sentences and paragraphs which spew jargon and techno-babble in a stream of conciousness mode that doesn't contribute to the essence of the story.  Here's an example:  "The whole ubicomp environment, dust-sized chips, and utility fog and hazy clouds of diamond-bright optical processors in the soil and the air and her skin, which is growing blotchy andy sluggish, thrashing under load of whatever Amber....."

The story teases about uncovering what a group of really old Matrioshka brains are doing, but doesn't really answer the question.  Stross is probably fertilizing the soil for a sequel.