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Home > iSGTW 19 March 2008 > iSGTW Opinion - Opinion: Distributed computing and the Singularity


Opinion - Distributed computing and the Singularity

The Singularity—that moment in time where exponential progress progresses exponentially—has stirred much debate and captured the imagination.  
Image courtesy of The Alieness GiselaGiardino23

Humans naturally see progress advancing along a linear path, when in fact this is often not the case.

Historical progress in key areas is exponential, not linear: Moore’s law, for example, describes exponential growth in the complexity of integrated circuits. The shrinking time periods between key events in human history, the growing number of nodes on the Internet, and the mass use of inventions can also be measured in this manner.

What will happen when this exponential growth reaches a critical point? Massive, unparalleled, incredible change. Called the Singularity, this describes a hypothesized point in the future where unprecedented acceleration of technological progress will trigger colossal change.

From supercomputing to superintelligence

One prediction of the Singularity is that artificial intelligence software will take advantage of exponentially accelerating computer hardware power to create a non-human entity more intelligent than a human. These entities will create others that are even more intelligent, in a feedback loop that leads to an intelligence explosion. The end result is the creation of superintelligence, orders of magnitude beyond that of humans. Analogous to the singularity of a black hole in physics, we cannot accurately predict the future beyond this point.

Could projects that increase scientific knowledge or free up economic resources accelerate progress and bring us closer to achieving Singularity?
Image courtesy of Rosetta@home

eScience for the future

Distributed computing plays an indirect, but important role in reaching the Singularity because of its ability to take advantage of exponentially increasing computer hardware capacity to solve scientific problems of greater complexity. The solution of complex scientific problems advances the technologies needed to reach the Singularity.

Distributed computing projects that have the largest effect in this regard are those that meet the following criteria:

Projects that increase general scientific knowledge
These projects quicken the pace at which we approach the Singularity by feeding the information feedback loop. Ray Kurzweil states in Kurzweil's Law: a particular evolutionary process (e.g., computation) becomes more effective (e.g., cost effective), greater resources are deployed towards the further progress of that process. This results in a second level of exponential growth (i.e., the rate of exponential growth itself grows exponentially).

Projects such as the Folding@home and Rosetta@home protein folding projects add to humankind’s general knowledge base and drive progress in exactly this recursive manner. These specific projects also provide information that is important to nanotechnology, a key Singularity technology.

Projects which free up economic resources
Although the FightAIDS@home project serves to primarily to advance knowledge in a specific area, a solution to this problem will reduce or eliminate the world economic drain of this epidemic. For example, the World Health Organization reports that the AIDS epidemic “may depress GDP by as much as 17% over the next decade” in South Africa. A solution to the AIDS problem will increase world productivity and allow economic resources to be devoted to other important issues facing humankind.

The coming decades will see solutions to enormously important problems on which the path to the Singularity depends. The distributed computing model provides a unique tool in the achievement of this goal.

- Chris K. Haley, Nested Universe


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