Critical perspectives on the Singularity from eminent computer scientist Ed Felten

Princeton's Ed Felten (previously) is one of America's preeminent computer scientists, having done turns as CTO of the FTC and deputy CTO of the White House.

He's just begun a series of articles criticizing the reasoning that underpins the idea of a technological singularity in which runaway advances in computer science coupled with AI creates a kind of shear with humanity's ability to cope with technological change, ushering in an era in which computers transcend humanity's ability to control or understand them, and humans and computers begin to merge.

I wrote about the Singularity as a kind of metaphor and spiritual belief system, the so-called Rapture of the Nerds. It's fascinating to flesh out those arguments with Felten's excellent, informed technical arguments.

Here's an example from AI. The graph below shows improvement in computer chess performance from the 1980s up to the present. The vertical axis shows Elo rating, the natural measure of chess-playing skill, which is defined so that if A is 100 Elo points above B, then A is expected to beat B 64% of the time. (source: EFF)

The result is remarkably linear over more than 30 years, despite exponential growth in underlying computing capacity and similar exponential growth in algorithm performance. Apparently, rapid exponential improvements in the inputs to AI chess-playing lead to merely linear improvement in the natural measure of output.

Why the Singularity is Not a Singularity [Ed Felten/Freedom to Tinker]

Singularity Skepticism 2: Why Self-Improvement Isn't Enough [Ed Felten/Freedom to Tinker]

(Images: Ohkami, CC-BY-SA)