X-Message-Number: 21607
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2003 21:58:56 -0400
From: Francois <>
Subject: Musings on the Singularity

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Sometime in the not too distant future, humans should create true artificial 
intelligence. Being based on machines instead of flesh and blood, that 
intelligence will have the potential to quickly expand to an almost limiteless 
degree of speed and creativity. In order to survive, it is very possible that 
humans themselves will transfer their own minds into this new realm, creating 
hybrid entities that will bring together the best of both world. I have no doubt
that new kinds of problems will also emerge from this new mode of existence, 
but its very nature precludes us from ever coming up with meaningfull 
speculations about it, except in the most general terms.

This process has been called the Singularity, and it will result in a "humanity"
that will, for all intents and purposes, have all the attributes of the 
Divinity. The question that comes to mind is, why has it not happened already? I
mean, we live in a big universe, a universe that contains plenty of stars, 
planets and, presumably, lifeforms. If we limit ourselves to what we know for a 
fact, then we should focus our attention on stars like the Sun. We know that 
such stars can have planets on which intelligent life evolves because here we 
are. In our Galaxy, there are millions of such stars. Their ages currently range
from a few million years to about 8 billion years. Younger stars have not yet 
stabilized and older stars were formed at a time when not enough elements 
heavier than helium were available.

Again, if we limit ourselves to what is known, we can ignore any star younger 
than the Sun. Intelligence would not have had time to evolve on any of their 
planets. The older stars however are a completely different matter. Lifeforms on
their planets would have had a big evolutionary headstart on us, a headstart 
measured in millions and even billions of years. We seem to be very close to 
reaching the Singularity, so why do we not observe the results of such an event 
happening a long time ago on at least one of those other stars?

This is far from a trivial question. As I said, once a civilization succesfully 
goes through a Singularity, it acquires Godlike powers and attributes. Some have
postulated that such a civilization enters a mode of existence that makes it 
effectively invisible to us. It is simply too different from us to be recognized
as a civilization. I disagree with this. Whatever ultimate form they settle 
into, they will still be sentient living creatures and, as such, will perform 
the three following functions. They will process information, they will process 
energy and they will replicate. We can recognize all three in whatever form they
occur. Furthermore, their advanced technology will permit them to completely 
process their native solar system into an habitat better suited to their needs. 
Their increasing numbers will then require them to seek new places to live. 
Neighboring star system will therefore be processed in the same way, and then 
they will expand outward at near the speed of light, completey converting their 
own Galaxy, then neighboring Galaxies, and ultimately the entire Universe into 
habitats and artifacts. That is the mindbogling but inescapable end product of 
the Singularity.

Now, obviously, our Galaxy has not been so colonized. The stars and other 
objects we observe in it are completely natural and unprocessed entities. This 
means that nobody has reached the Singularity stage anywhere within our Galaxy. 
Astronomical observations allow us to reach the same conclusion for a volume of 
space billions of lightyears in radius. There are billions of galaxies in that 
volume, and in all that immense territory nobody has managed to reach the 
Singularity stage. This is a very puzzling observation since that vast volume 
contains many suitable worlds with a considerable headstarts on us. What 

One possibility is that no civilization can successfully go through a 
Singularity event. All, without exception, are destroyed by it. This is a rather
pessimistic view and it does not bode well for our own chances. Another 
possibility is that life is a very unlikely event that happened only here on 
Earth. But what we know about life suggests that it appears easily and quickly 
wherever conditions are suitable. Intelligent life could be different though. 
Its existence depends of evolutionary processes that may not have a strong 
tendency to achieve it. After all, Earth harbored life for billions of year 
before a sentient creature appeared on it. Still, I consider it unlikely that 
the evolution of sentience would be THAT difficult to achieve. Or maybe, the 
Singularity did occur, a long time ago, and the Universe has indeed been 
processed by the resulting Godlike intelligences. In that case, why do we still 
observe a wild universe? It could be because we live in a computer emulation of 
such a universe,  set up for our own benefit by these more or less benevolent 
Entities, something they would have done with all the planet harboring lifeforms
that they would have encountered. That's an interesting concept in and of 

I'm sure there are many other possibilities and I will not try to make an 
exhaustive list here. My aim in writing this was mainly to show that our 
imaginations are often deficient when it comes to charting the future. Cryonic 
people unconciously expect to wake up in a world not too different from our own,
something that looks like the StarTrek universe maybe. But the world they do 
wake up into will in all probabilty be very different from that simple 
expectation. Musings like these are needed to open up our minds to the 
possibilities and to prepare us to the shock they will inevitable endure.

No lifespan shorter than eternity is acceptable


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