Fandango PQ47

Fandango asks, “Do you think the singularity will occur? If so, what time frame do you think it will happen in and how will it impact humanity? Alternatively, do you think or care at all about the potential for reaching singularity?”  A technological singularity is described as a hypothetical future point in time when technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.  This equates to a point in time where machines have become smarter than man.

Quantum mechanics is weird and filled with bizarre phenomena, such as theoretical cats that are simultaneously dead and alive, entangled photons kilometers apart that can nonetheless communicate instantaneously, and indecisive photons that somehow go two directions at once.  Without the technological advances that were made from quantum mechanics there would be no transistors, and no personal computers.  Humans started learning so much in such a short period of time, it was like somebody opened up the floodgates on knowledge.

The electron was only discovered in 1897 by J. J. Thomson. In 1900, before we had computers and the internet, German physicist Max Planck proposed quantization while working on the “Ultraviolet Catastrophe” and he published his groundbreaking study of the effect of radiation on a “blackbody” substance, and the quantum theory of modern physics was born.  Einstein’s theory of relativity eventually replaced Newtonian mechanics, and scientists started realizing that their knowledge was far from complete.  Niels Bohr wrote a revolutionary paper on the hydrogen atom and constructed a theory of atomic structure based on quantum ideas.  In the early 1900s, mathematics had a big influence on quantum mechanics, once Hilbert created abstract mathematical structures.

Heisenberg wrote down one set of commutation relations for three space and three momentum variables reinventing matrices in his quest to develop a mathematical formalism for quantum mechanics.  In October 1925, Paul Dirac a theoretical physicist was worried by the fact that according to his formulation of quantum mechanics, the dynamical variables did not commute, that is, for two variables u and v, uv is not the same as vu.  He took Heisenberg’s ideas and found the fundamental insight into what it means to “quantize” a classical mechanical system feeling there were exciting possibilities there which lead to some big new idea.  Dirac worked on trying to get a connection between the Heisenberg formulas and while he was thinking about this dilemma, it occurred to him that the commutator might be the analogue of the Poisson bracket.  It being a Sunday and Dirac living out in the country, he was not able to look up any information and he had to wait impatiently through that night without knowing whether this Poisson bracket idea was any good or not, but he was confident that it could work.

The next morning, he hurried along to one of the libraries as soon as it was open and then he looked up Poisson brackets and found that they were just what he needed, as they provided the perfect analogy with the commutator.  Dirac discovered that the equation for the operators in the Heisenberg representation, where operators evolve with time and the wavefunctions remain constant, closely translates to classical equations for the dynamics of certain quantities in the Hamiltonian formalism of classical mechanics, when one expresses them through Poisson brackets, a procedure now known as canonical quantization.  Later Warner Heisenberg came up with his Uncertainty Principle that states the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time.  The more you know about a particle’s energy, the less you know about the time of the energy (and vice versa.)

In the center of a black hole is a gravitational singularity, a one-dimensional point which contains a huge mass in an infinitely small space, where density and gravity become infinite and space-time curves infinitely, and where the laws of physics as we know them cease to operate.  In astrophysics, an event horizon is a boundary beyond which events cannot affect an observer on the opposite side of it.  An event horizon is most commonly associated with black holes, where gravitational forces are so strong that light cannot escape.  A technological singularity will occur when machines cross the event horizon of artificial intelligence and become smarter than people.

In 1987, Norman Margolus and Tommaso Toffoli developed the idea of computronium where matter can be programmable.  Computronium is defined by some as a substance which approaches the theoretical limit of computational power that we can achieve through engineering of the matter around us.  It would mean that every atom of a piece of matter would be put to useful work doing computation. Such a system would reside at the ultimate limits of efficiency, and the smallest amount of energy possible would be wasted through the generation of heat.  I feel that as we continue to work on creating nanobots and if computronium is ever achieved, we will have reached a technological singularity such that learning growth is uncontrollable and irreversible and mankind will be forever changed.  If wormholes are discovered or some other means allows us to travel faster than the speed of light, than look out universe, mankind is coming.  As long as the machines don’t behave like the ones in Terminator or the Matrix, I am not worried about the technological singularity.

Written for Fandango’s Provocative Question #47 about the technological singularity.

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