Semantics – November, 2011

Singularity Lecture
By: Richard Brown

Welcome to “Technological Singularity;” semantics and society.

In this lecture, I will be examining the term “Technological Singularity” in an attempt  to clarify and update it’s generally accepted meaning, and assess it’s current accuracy. when applied to 21st. century society and emerging technologies.

By focusing on “signifiers” the (words, phrases, signs, and symbols) used in language, and their “denotata,” (what those words or symbols stand for) we can study the true intent, or meaning, of the information the communicator is attempting to convey.

Although getting a clear understanding of any communication is always the goal, it isn’t always the result.

This is especially true when a statement is used that has been allowed to grow in it’s interpretation or understanding to a point where it’s meaning has become so broad that use of the phrase is often challenged on technicalities, and not intent. Not only is this frustrating, but time-consuming as well, just trying to straighten things out.

Since the vocabularies that typically support the definition never firmly set up themselves either, the arguments to each side seemingly go indefinitely as neither side of the debate can hold firm ground. So let’s take a look at ours.


In today’s world, society hears this term occasionally. Most of the time as background information the media might use when reporting on a story about “The next Big Thing” in computer technology, or how there’s recently been a significant jump in chip speed, computational power, chip design.

Or if they were fortunate enough to be interviewing Ray Kurzweil.

Mention it any further and you will typically get a quizzical look, and someone who doesn’t understand, finds it “interesting,” or just shuts down communication all together until the subject is changed.

This is because mainstream doesn’t use the term much, it’s unfamiliar, and the typical concepts behind its use can often times be associated incorrectly with main stream imagery seen in such pieces of fiction as “The terminator,“or “Blade Runner.

But in our relative fields, we hear it all the time. It’s used at times when speaking about the projected advancements of outside fields. Or to help define or describe a predicted future of technology that has association to our own idea or concept. And sometimes to “fill in the blanks” when we try explaining how monumental advancements are happening daily in “all fields,”

As advancements in technology occur more and more often, in more and more labs, and in more and more industries, the use of these types of phrases will also increase. As will conversations about them. This will serve to cause a “semantic change,” or a point where the word or phrase has changed beyond its original meaning. (Kind of like a singularity!)

Now, Websters defines “Singularity” as:
…” The quality or condition of being singular. as is a separate unit,”
…” an :unusual or distinctive manner or behavior : a peculiarity.”
…” the quality or state of being singular.”

And in Mathematics, a Singularity, or a “Singular point” is;
…” a point at which the derivative does not exist for a given function, but every neighborhood of which contains points for which the derivative exists. Used in applied mathematics to indicate that a conventional way of modelling a certain physical process mathematically leads to consequences which for some reasons cannot be accepted. A point at which a given mathematical object is not defined or not well-behaved.”

In Physics, a singularity would be described as;
…” a point in space-time at which gravitational forces cause matter to have infinite density and infinitesimal volume, and space and time to become infinitely distorted. Or, more specifically, a quantity which approaches infinity as another parameter goes to zero.”

But where do “we” fit in?
What field of study ties so directly to our use of the word, that we can use it at its “accepted” definition?
How do we defend our use of the term when speaking to those that wish to use “semantics” against us in their argument?
How do we defend against those that wish to tie us down by specifics used in our statements?

In the case of the technological singularity, it makes more sense to think of it as more of a concept and not a law or a specific definition. Since it refers to the “hypothetical” future emergence of greater than human intelligence through technological means; and not a specific definition.

Verner Vinge, describes the singularity is …”a point where continuing advancements in technology will reach a point where technology creates entities with greater than human intelligence. The precise cause of this change is the eminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. This will mark the point at which quote is human error will be ended such that no current models of reality are sufficient to predict beyond it. This change would be comparable to the rise of human life on earth.”

Ray Kurzweil, however proposes that the law of accelerating returns effects and influences Moore’s law as it relates to the long-term trend in the history of computing hardware and that the number of transistors which can be placed inexpensively on integrated circuits doubles about every two years. And that technological advances in “chip speed,” and “cost effectiveness,” will be exponential as well.

Culminating in three technologies, genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics, (including A.I.) that will within a few decades surpass human intelligence leading to the singularity.

…”technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and non biological intelligence, immoral. Software-based humans, and ultra high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light creating the singularity.”

He goes on to state, …”a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human rights will be fewer personally transformed. Although neither utopian or dystopian, it’s a thoughtful transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.”


Published on September 7, 2012 at 2:34 am  Leave a Comment  

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