Genius inventor Ray Kurzweil recently hosted the annual conference regarding artificial intelligence and the inevitable march toward human, earthly perfection as a result of its discovery. He calls this concept “The Singularity” and every year it gains more credence and attention as computing capabilities increase exponentially. The creators of The Terminator franchise refer to this phenomenon (perhaps more aptly) as “Judgment Day” when machines become self-aware, then promptly initiate a nuclear holocaust that wipes out nearly all of humanity save for a few plucky resistors dead set on an interminable number of sequels.
Recently I borrowed a copy of The Singularity Is Near by Kurzweil from my father-in-law and have pledged to plod through the dense text that will undoubtedly reach far above my head. Nevertheless, it seems like an appropriate book to begin the next decade because it can’t be any more confusing than what happened in the last one.
Change was the prevailing theme of the decade now laid to rest. All around us was movement. Thomas Friedman announced that the world was flat, and then added that it was hot and crowded. Billions of us milled about in cyberspace and in the real world, bumping into one another trying to make sense of the strange new freedoms brought forth by search engines and social networks. Along the way we relentlessly spewed carbon and shouted drivel at one another in 140 characters or less.
In business, you had to move. Shuck and jive, bob and weave. The decade left me wanting to pitch my business degrees into a heaping pile of five-year plans, old computer monitors and books with pages and set the whole experience ablaze and then blog about it. The newspaper business didn’t have its proverbial cheese moved as much as it was smashed to granules of parmesan and spread dismissively throughout the maze like a trail of breadcrumbs that lead to nowhere.
It was the decade when more citizens of the world officially resided in cities than in rural areas. We manufactured a record number of homes in resource challenged areas like Las Vegas and engineered livable realities in places like Dubai; but the decade ended with city skyline vistas not of skyscrapers but of hulking cranes looming over unfinished buildings like a hangman’s noose.
Ice caps melted. People shouted, pointed fingers and denied.
The information and technology age matured at the dawn of the millennium and left nothing untouched. We genetically altered our food to increase production, yet more people on Earth went hungry. Unmanned weapons and drones were to fight the battles of the future, yet Americans still returned in boxes draped with our flag.
And there’s the rub. If this past decade taught us anything, it’s that intelligence should be anything but artificial. Intelligence should be organic. Human.
Hopefully the true awakening or “Singularity” will be an organic rediscovery of our humanity. The rebirth of meaningful face-to-face conversations and handshakes that are more binding than checking a box of terms and conditions. An age where the Rockwellian portrait of a family hunched over a the glow of a candlelit dinner table and offering thanks isn’t replaced with an Orwellian digital image of a family hunched over the glow of their iPhones and sending text messages.
This is far from a naive plea to return to a simpler time; the trajectory of our ascent toward progressivism is as fixed as it is steep. It is more of an observation that the concept of “Singularity” seems to me to be contrary to the dogma of humanity. If we learn more from our mistakes than our successes, then what can we possibly garner from perfection?