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Sci Tech    H4'ed 3/15/23

Futurists predict a point where humans and machines become one. But will we see it coming?

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'The Technological Singularity'
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Most people are familiar with the deluge of artificial intelligence (AI) apps that seem designed to make us more efficient and creative.

We've got apps that take text prompts and generate art, and the controversial ChatGPT, which raises serious questions about originality, misinformation and plagiarism.

Despite these concerns, AI is becoming ever more pervasive and intrusive. It's the latest technology that will irreversibly change our lives.

The internet and smartphones were other examples. But unlike those technologies, many philosophers and scientists think AI could one day reach (or even go beyond) human-style "thinking". This possibility, coupled with our increasing dependence on AI, is at the root of a concept in futurism called "technological singularity".

This term has been around for a while, having been popularised by the US science fiction writer Vernor Vinge a few decades ago

Today, the "singularity" refers to a hypothetical point in time at which the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI) - that is, AI with human-level abilities - becomes so advanced that it will irreversibly change human civilisation.

It would mark the dawn of our inseparability from machines. From that moment on, we won't ever be able to live without them without turning our backs on civilisation entirely.

But if the singularity comes, will we even notice it?

Brain implants as the first stage

To understand why this isn't the stuff of fairy tales, we need only look as far as recent developments in brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

BCIs are a natural beginning to the singularity in the eyes of many futurists, because they meld mind and machine in a way no other technology so far can.

Elon Musk's company Neuralink is seeking permission from the US Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials for its BCI technology. This would involve implanting neural connectors into volunteers' brains so they can communicate instructions by thinking them.

Neuralink hopes to help paraplegic people walk and blind people see again. But beyond these goals are other ambitions.

Musk has long said he believes brain implants will allow telepathic communication, and lead to the co-evolution of humans and machines. He argues that unless we use such technology to augment our intellects, we risk being wiped out by super-intelligent AI.

Musk is understandably not everyone's go-to for tech expertise. But he's not alone in predicting a massive growth in AI's capabilities. Surveys show AI researchers overwhelmingly agree AI will achieve human-level "thinking" within this century. What they don't agree on is whether this implies consciousness or not, or whether this necessarily means AI will do us harm once it reaches this level.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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