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Read more Gerd Leonhard

futurist, author and

keynote speaker

Why the Singularity will

happen in my lifetime

I recently came to an important

realisation. I will most likely see the socalled Singularity happen in

my own

lifetime. I'm 56, and I believe that this

inflection point at which computers,

'thinking machines' and AI become

infinitely and recursively powerful is no

more than 20-25 years away, at most. It

might be as soon as 12-15 years.

We are at 'four' on the exponential curve, and

yes, this matters a lot because doubling a

small number such as 0.01 does not make

much of a difference while doubling

4-8-16-32-64 is another story altogether:

timing is essential, and the future is bound to

increasingly happen gradually, then suddenly

(Moore's Law).

What does 'the singularity' mean?

Here's a suitable definition: "In maths or

physics, the singularity is the point at which a

function takes an infinite value because it's

incomprehensibly large. The technological

singularity, as it is called, is the moment when

artificial intelligence takes off into 'artificial

super intelligence' and becomes

exponentially more intelligent more quickly.

I contest that the Singularity is the point in time

when 'thinking machines' become as

powerful as human brains: "the moment

when computers finally trump and then

quickly surpass human brains in computing


IA, Narrow AI and AGI

Right now, most artificially intelligent

machines work well for 'narrow' use cases,

such as in mapping apps or for the very

useful intelligent response options in Gmail

that debuted a few months ago. Most current

'AI'-related applications (such as intelligent

assistants like IPSoft's Amelia) are more like

'intelligent assistance' (IA, rather than AI) with

fancy user interfaces, or hugely scaleable

narrowly intelligent software paired with bruteforce hardware that can yield truly astounding

results, such as Deepmind's AlphaGo or

IBM's Watson Analytics.

Yet these machines though useful, are still

narrow in the sense that they generally cannot

transfer their learnings and abilities to other

tasks (DeepMind's AlphaGo only plays Go,

not Poker or even chess) and they certainly

cannot apply their 'intelligence' to unrelated

areas such as global warming, cancer

treatments, running NATO air-traffic or to

solving macro-economic issues.


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