The Singularity is not Our Future

Ray Kurzweil is a pioneer in both optical character recognition (computers learning to read) and voice recognition (computers learning to hear). After writing about “Spiritual Machines” in 1999, he released his 2005 book titled, The Singularity is Near. In this book, he makes the claim that we are very near to the point where computers become conscious. He doesn’t predict Terminator-type Armageddon, but a kinder, gentler, coexistence between intelligent machines and mankind. I was enthralled by his concepts. I cannot doubt his brilliance. I did think his answer was incomplete. Garry Kasparov, at about the same time, was working on a real world experiment that seemed far more representative of the future of man and intelligent machines.

ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumb[1] Kasparaov was the chess grandmaster who lost to IBM’s Big Blue back in 1997. While the rest of the world heralded the event as the end of man as the most intelligent “creature” on the planet, Kasparov wondered about a re-match. When it became clear that IBM (or anybody else with a big chess playing supercomputer) intended to retire as champion rather than risk their hard-won publicity, Kasparov tried something different. He created a freestyle chess tournament, where the players could use any resource available to them. The contestants fell into three basic groups: chess playing supercomputers, chess grandmasters aided by chess playing supercomputers, and regular Joes using regular computers with chess playing software. The winner was a couple of regular Joes with three laptops running off-the-shelf chess software. It turned out that mediocre human intelligence with mediocre machine intelligence was superior to any other combination.

And that, I believe, is the future of intelligent and ubiquitous computing. The winners will be the people who know when their computers can help and when they can hurt. It starts with realizing that we don’t have to be (can’t be) always on all the time. Sometimes we have to unplug from the grid. Not just on vacation but for a period every day. It’s why I don’t text. It’s too immediate for almost everything it’s used for. Think about how much stress you add to your day by having all those alerts and reminders going off around you: new mail, new text, next appointment, voicemail alert, etc.

Get rid of them! Use the technology to help you be better instead of letting it wear you down.


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