A reader writes:
I would take Bruce Sterling’s comments about the Singularity with a grain of salt. In a recent book called Race Against the Machine, Harvard Professor Eric Brynjolfsson recounts a 2004 book written by an economist from Harvard and one from MIT. Their book, The New Division of Labor, looked at the comparative capabilities of humans and computers and present a spectrum of information processing tasks. On the one end of the spectrum are straightforward applications of existing rules, such as math, at which computers are very good, and which can easily be automated. At the other end they identify pattern recognition tasks where rules cannot easily be inferred.
The authors specifically refer to driving in traffic as a difficult pattern recognition type of problem, and they assert – in 2004 – that it is not automatable. Fast forward less than 10 years, when Google and others have driverless cars driving automatically over hundreds of thousands of miles. Without one accident. Oh, and those cars have now been on the road for several years, meaning they were introduced just a couple of years after the 2004 book by Harvard economists said it was basically impossible.
The future is unknowable, but one thing we know is that change sometimes comes fast. Things that are unimaginable become reality in the space of only a few years. So, can I comprehend the Singularity? Not really. Do I fear it? Of course. Do I doubt it ever happens? Absolutely not.