At this point in the history of human civilization, everybody has heard the phrase «technological singularity», or will hear it soon. Since its popularity is increasing at vertiginous pace through cinema, talks conducted by transhumanist luminaries, as well as other media. Hot techie stuff.
It’s needless to say that the claims are bold and somehow driven by deception. Despite the sci-fi glints emanated by this inspiring horizon of evolution, there are too many key ontological issues that are overlooked or systematically oversimplified. I’ll highlight only three of these ontological struggles.
Emergence as an explanation of evolutionary leaps. The notion new orders of reality—or new kinds of materiality—emerging due to an increase in complexity is a matter of faith. Of course, the basic misunderstanding comes from the Material Monism bias, blind to the plural nature of matter. So, at most, we can explain at certain degree of confidence the composition of new physical structures with their control hierarchies, while the main ontological issues remain untouched. The same faith applies to an hypothetical purpose which drives evolution in a positive or negative direction (v.g. see Monod’s teleonomy). We’re not denying in any way the irreducible properties of chaotic regimes in the mathematical modeling of complex systems. Yet, from these formulations we cannot infer unequivocally the reality of emergence from an ontological perspective. Stating that kinds of materiality—i.e. plurality of the ontological planes of materiality—are there from beginning, instead of appearing and disappearing with structures associated to phenomenological fields that enigmatically sustain themselves in vacuum, would be a more viable hypothesis.
Mechanic externalism of intelligence. Denying the datum of one’s own consciousness, thoughts, aims, emotions, desires, etc. is a blatant attempt to avoid transcendental concerns. We’re implicated in the experience of a surrounding, mediated by an undeniable sensory distance, in reference to a phenomenological position. What makes the difference in regard to human intelligence is the ability to think critically from a conscious experience. The essential point is that consciousness is always experienced by “someone” immersed in a world. The question of how a machine will dwell in the sphere of the self, usually is answered metaphorically: the awakening of machines. This so-called awakening requires the construction of an immersive center of significance which coincides with the world as experienced reality. In other words, equaling emotions to computations, is like studying the chemical composition of a chalk to derive the meaning of an equation written on a blackboard.
The will of things. First, we state that a program, including a replicating or a self-modifying one, executes diachronically the will of a programmer—not always, as you know. Regardless, the machines are tools subordinate to the aims of a knower with an inner sense of meaning and purpose—or its lack in case of depression. We cannot take seriously the speculation about the cars using humans as means to replicate themselves. Let me illustrate this with an example. Suppose we build a machine with precise instructions to generate pleasant sound compositions, what about the aesthetic experience of the machine? Maybe we can code a clever algorithm to optimize the harmony of songs, an algorithm that evolves with unsupervised learning, it really doesn’t matter. Still, the meaningful purpose of its products—the aesthetic experience—is radically alien to its mechanics. Of course, we can turn ourselves into machines to close the gap. By the way, are we sure that there’s no will in the world of objects? A silent vengeance?
Taking into account the magnitude and obscurity of the problems that we’re facing, it’s not risky to say that the machines will stay being tools for a long, long time. Although, likely the human intelligence—in a broad sense—will decline to reach an automaton level in the following centuries, this will make the Singularity an empirical fact. What do you think?
Nevertheless, have fun watching the movie and don’t forget to bring popcorn!