From the perspective of the planet Earth, humans have existed for about three seconds. In those three seconds, we've made such astounding technological leaps that, at present, we actually have articles written in light, by electricity and broadcast instantaneously all over the globe, complaining about the fact that we don't have flying skateboards yet. Compared to the technological progress of, say, the dinosaurs during their tens of millions of years on Earth, we?re the equivalent of a guy who shows up at a party already hammered, shoots a liter of heroin and asks if they have any medical-grade adrenaline kicking around in the back. Clearly, we?re a little impatient when it comes to getting our next hit of sweet, sweet progress. The problem is, our toys don?t always come with instructions, or even those ?recommended for species aged 1-100 million years? stickers. And on occasion we end up with shit that, quite frankly, maybe we shouldn?t have access to. The atomic bomb, high fructose corn syrup, Star Wars III, what have you. And according to a growing number of science fiction authors and, more importantly, a few actual scientists, that bad habit may catch up with us, and soon. That moment--when technology renders humans obsolete--even has a name. It?s called the Technological Singularity, and it?s basically the point at which our toys start to consider us toys, and life as we know it starts losing its shit. Here are a few of the ways it could feasibly shake out.
5Robots Rise Up, Blah Blah, Etc.
This is your most basic version of the Technological Singularity, the one popularized by countless movies and feared ever since Pinocchio became self-aware and murdered his father (I didn?t watch much Disney as a kid).
The basic idea goes like this: One day in the future, a team of scientists working at a robot factory (let?s say Japanese scientists, because, hey, who are we kidding?) finally invent a robot that?s smarter than a human being, if only by an infinitesimal amount. It?ll still probably be a robot dog, but that?s fine; the point is, it?s the robot we?ve all been imagining all these years.
Then let?s say--since Japanese scientists are so notoriously lazy--they take the rest of the day off and have the newborn Mr. Roboto design more robots instead of doing it themselves. Makes sense after all: why do a job the hard way when there?s a tool that can do it faster and better than you? It?s kind of the basis of all human civilization, and, some would argue, our current unemployment rate, but shut the fuck up because robots are cool.
So while Mrs. Yakahara and the Morimoto twins are guzzling sake at the commissary, Mr. Roboto dutifully uses his superhuman brain to design the best robot he can, a robot that, as you?d expect--because he?s smarter than the people who designed him--is even smarter than he is. This continues for a couple hours, at which point Mr. Roboto?s great-great-grand-robo-children are so smart, they decide the best way to deal with ?the human problem? is to send an android back in time to murder Sarah Connor.
5Robots Rise Up, Blah Blah, Etc.
Voila! Humans are obsolete. Why It?s Plausible: The big question here is whether you believe it?s theoretically possible for humans to create a robot as sophisticated as a human. If you?re a person of faith, you?ve got the whole immaterial soul thing to throw a monkey wrench into the works, at least until we manage to replicate the human soul using a powerful lens, some magnets and the tears of an orphan. Even if you?re not religious, creating a robot that functions on the same level as a human being seems like a tall order, but think about it this way: the guy who built Deep Blue could probably shit a diamond more easily than beat it at a game of chess. And I?m guessing the guy who invented the hydraulic press couldn?t crush a car, either. And just try to recreate two midgets having sex with a horse more realistically than your computer monitor. Not gonna happen. The fact is, we?ve made plenty of technologies that are more capable and efficient than we are at particular tasks. And the rate at which our technology has improved is only increasing. Is it too much to believe that at some point in the future we will build a machine that can problem solve and predict better than we can? That can actually think? And is it too much to believe that that machine will then immediately wage war on us with laser cannons? I submit that it is not. Upside: OK, so there?s no particular reason our robot superiors should instantly want to kill or enslave us, other than that it makes for a much more entertaining movie than Bicentennial Man. Assuming we could retain control of our robots as they got ever smarter and more powerful--say, with some Asimov-style laws hard-wired in--there?s a chance we?d actually come out of this with a willing race of slaves who know everything and can do anything. Not the worst deal ever. Downside: Of course, that?s quite an assumption. As machines design smarter and smarter versions of themselves, there will come a point when your robot butler is smarter and more sophisticated than your puny human mind can even comprehend. And with all that brainpower, there seems to be a pretty decent chance he?ll figure out a way to circumvent the feeble ?safety seals? the manufacturer slapped on at the factory. Then you?ve got omnipotent rogue robots on your hands, and ones so smart they probably view humans the way we view ants. Namely, good for observational study and fun to set on fire. But the real negative here is how inevitable it all seems. If you grant that it's even theoretically possible to make an android of greater than human intelligence, then it seems pretty damn likely that it's going to happen at some point. And that's scary. Yes, you could pass laws against developing intelligent machines, but has the law ever prevented humanity from diddling with a dangerous new technology? Maybe for a little while, but if you don?t think anyone's ever going to try to clone a human, you clearly haven't met my friend "Michael Swaim Backup Alpha." And what if China develops a super-intelligent robot before we do? National security DEMANDS an American robo-man! Human nature being what it is (greedy and paranoid), it seems pretty clear that if it's possible for us to make a robot as smart as a human, we?ll do it, if only to marvel at our own ingenuity before our windpipes are crushed beneath the treaded boots of our metal masters.
4Teh Intr4net Pwns U
One of the main problems with the robot theory is how freaking amazing the human brain is, and therefore how hard it is to believe it could actually be replicated. Naturally, there?s a lot of disagreement about the exact processing power and storage capacity of the brain. But a conservative estimate--made by a mathematician who thinks the Technological Singularity will happen as soon as 2030--puts it at around 100 times today?s best supercomputers, despite the existence of Internet comments.
That means the guy across from you at the bus depot grunting in frustration as he rips up today's Junior Jumble is as smart as, say, 58 supercomputers. And with some of the new barriers microchip developers have been running up against, it could be quite a while before we can house that much smart in a single box. And even if we could, we?d probably just use it to play Halo 19 or something.
That?s why some futurists--fancy word for guys who get stoned and write books using math to predict ridiculous things like those on this list--think a much more probable road to the Technological Singularity runs straight through Cracked.com. Or the Internet as a whole. Whatever.
The Internet, if reckoned as one big fatty computer, is the most powerful thinking machine on the planet. Think of it like a network of neurons firing across an Earth-sized cerebrum. The problem is, it?s the cerebrum of a kid with ADHD who spends most of his time thinking about pornography or celebrity gossip and routinely shuts down sections of his mind for ?maintenance.?
4Teh Intr4net Pwns U
But imagine all that processing power working towards the same goals, or conducted as a single entity. Although, assuming people won?t stop masturbating long enough for that, you should actually imagine a LAN party of 150 supercomputers designed to work in perfect tandem. That?s still a long way from a robot named ?Terry? who will tell you stories and cure AIDS, but the raw materials, the tools, will finally exist. Then it just takes time, dedication and a willingness to work on AI algorithms between bouts of running the coolest Crysis physics demos ever. Why It?s Plausible: Well, the Internet existing is a pretty good indicator. And the "Internet gains self-awareness" scenario just seems to grow more smoothly out of our present conditions than a walkin? talkin? robot. Although perhaps the theory would seem more ludicrous if it had been featured in movies more often. Basically you?ve just got War Games and that 70s movie, The Colossus. And while I?m not saying I necessarily endorse this theory, I do have to admit it feels a lot more plausible ever since Google came into existence. Every time I load up Firefox, part of me expects my homepage to be a white screen with multicolored letters reading ?OBEY_OR?? Upside: An animate Internet, being essentially a bunch of boxes of electronics, wouldn?t necessarily be able to pull off any of the more physically threatening maneuvers inherent to an evil robot. Like, say ?moving? or ?seeing.? So in that sense, it might be a safer bet for humanity. Downside: However, it would be able to pull off more abstract maneuvers like ?zeroing the world's bank accounts? or ?firing the rockets.? And as a conscious entity that lives entirely in a black void of pure thought, it?s even less likely than a robot to have any sense of kinship with the ?strange, slimy creatures that scream when I bomb them.?
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