Signs of the Singularity

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, January 22, 2015

Futurists and science fiction writers talk about The Singularity – the moment when Artificial Intelligence (AI) catches up with human intelligence. Of course, they also assume, right after AI minds will blow past us – humans will feel like we’re standing still.

I think it will look something like Deepmind in this video, which is a program that knows how to learn. Google bought DeepMind last year. DeepMind is part of Deep Learning, which used to be called Neural Networks, one of the many branches of AI.

You really should take the time to watch this video – it will be worth it.

At 60 minutes of practice it does pretty good, returning the breakout ball 30% of the time, a human could still beat it. At 120 minutes DeepMind is better than any human. Then they let it practice 240 minutes. At 120 minutes DeepMind was freakishly fast. At 240 it was freakishly clever. Then watch the algorithm play other Atari games. It’s not programmed to play each of these games, but to study the pixels for patterns.

Here’s another approach, but the video is longer, explaining how it’s done. This is a grad student inventing his own system. It’s doesn’t have the WOW factor of the first video unless you watch it all the way through. This video is more about thinking how to develop a learning algorithm.

If you’re thinking this is only video games, think again. Watch this TED Talk with Jeremy Howard. It’s about how Deep Learning can be applied to many fields of study.

There are other approaches to learning. Here’s an example of Adaptive Learning.

What happens when Mario becomes self-aware? Will he develop his own ontological theories about his video game world?

Many futurists are predicting The Singularity will arrive in the late 2020s or 2030s. That’s not far away. And, if you look at what’s happening now, we’re nowhere close to having a self-aware artificial mind. What we do have is a lot of pieces. Robots that imitate various kinds of animals and human bodies, self-driving cars, speech recognition, text recognition, artificial sight, and so on. As we put these things together, and add programs like Deep Learning and other pattern recognition systems, it’s not hard to believe The Singularity isn’t around the corner.

There are folks like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking who are preaching the sky is falling warnings about AI. I don’t feel that paranoia, but AI will transform society like the Industrial Revolution or our present Digital Revolution. The thing is, we never stop progress. That’s why I think The Singularity will happen no matter what.