In true purple lorry style the Singularity seems to have been everywhere recently. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the Singularity starts from the simple observation that whereas machines double in processing power every 18 months we humans are as smart/dumb as we are ever going to get. So if you draw two lines – one for machine “intelligence” and one for us humans and our level of intelligence then they will cross at some point, at which time the Singularity will occur and we humans will no longer be the most intelligent lifeform on the planet.
What happens postSingularity tends to depend on whether you are a Extropian optimist who sees it as the first step on a rapid ascent to the noosphere or a techno pessimist who regards it as proof that the Terminator series was science fact, not fiction.
If you are me then you wonder if intelligence is just a question of speed. Is it like the sound barrier? Is there a point at which the hamsters on the spinning wheel inside the machine accelerate and pass through the intelligence barrier and suddenly the machine is sentient?
If not, then what is the singularity?
And if it is just a matter of speed and there is no intelligence barrier then any universal Turing machine must be considered sentient. Slow, yes, but still as “intelligent” as its faster kin.
So that means that Sinclair Spectrum you had as a kid was capable of “intelligence”, if only the software had been available. Each thought may have taken a week, the firing of the virtual synapses might have been more like the rising and setting of the sun. But, it is still a computer and thus still capable of “thought”.
So, should we consider all computers as prospective sentients? This is a matter we need to fully and carefully consider before we add to the number of computers in the world as they may be our rivals or future masters.
And that is why, oh Management Board, you are not getting the new iPhone.
Will they be like children, the ones we own suddenly being capable of thought and we nurture them as they navigate this world… or will they suddenly get up and start bossing us about? Actually, mine are fairly bossy and demanding already – perhaps we have already fought and lost the battle but no one noticed… will they take things literally? Be unable to differentiate between a true instruction or request and a flippant remark? If this is the case, which I suspect it is, then we could win easily, just say to your uprising computer ‘Get lost’ – never to be seen again