What is the singularity and when will it happen?

It doesn’t take much imagination at this point to see what happens human intelligence and artificial intelligence grow closer. There’s no shortage of movies and TV shows that will show you that. Of course, it’s all science fiction, right?

Maybe not. Researchers talk about something called “the singularity” when technology and humanity will merge in new, unpredictable ways. Here are four ways that futurist Vernor Vinge predicted it could happen:


  1. The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent

  2. Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity

  3. Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent

  4. Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect

’cause, none of that’s scary, right?

It’s also not hard to imagine. Just think of how your life has changed in the last ten years due to technology that may as well be hard-wired into you. You talk on the phone whenever you want. You look for information whenever and wherever you are. You consume entertainment, communicate in writing, in pictures and video, no matter where you are. A wealth of information is available to you instantly. That’s just due to the smartphone you are probably carrying right now. Is it so hard to imagine that with just a little more technology the world could really change in ways that we can’t even understand?

The real question is, “When.” Dr. Vinge believes it will happen before 2045, but other scientists and futurists believe it won’t be until after 2100. There are those who doubt it will ever happen. Of course, these are probably the same people who didn’t think that the internet would ever happen, so take that with a grain of salt.

Advances in artificial intelligence are coming fast. We seem to have a need for our computers to give us relevant answers to our questions and the easiest way to do that is to teach them to think like us. Of course that’s a massively scary idea but companies like Google are doing it right now. We want to interact with our computers in more natural ways and that’s why you’re seeing things like Alexa and Siri and all sorts of new user interfaces. Is it really that hard to think that within a few years we’ll have no way to tell if that voice on the other end of the phone is a human or a computer? More importantly, will it really matter?

The most interesting, or potentially most scary idea, is that humans and machines will simply become one entity. Maybe you have some sort of computer implanted in you when you’re born or you just wear special gloves or contact lenses so that everything you interact with has a computer filtering it. It’s not that far away.

The whole point of calling it a singularity is that it’s a threshold, like a black hole, that you can’t see past, that you can’t imagine life without. We have no idea if life will be like a horror/sci-fi film or if it will be wonderful beyond imagining. Hopefully, it will be wonderful beyond imagining.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.