Full transcript of novelist David Simpson’s talk titled “Our Post-Human Future” at TEDxSantoDomingo conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
David Simpson: Hello. Are you guys ready to hear about the craziest subject that you have ever heard about?
David Simpson: Yeah? I’m ready to tell you about it. They say that you don’t really choose your passions; your passions choose you.
And when I was a 27-year-old graduate student at the University of British Columbia, my passion chose me big-time. And it was because I heard about the topic – the topic I’m going to be telling you guys about today – and it just changed me forever. This is how much it’s changed me; it changed me so much that since then, I’ve actually written six books on the subject, I’ve directed a short film on the subject, I’m doing this TEDx on this subject, I’m adapting a graphic novel on this subject.
And I’m just going to keep writing about it and talking about it because once you learn about it, it will change your view of the world so much, so profoundly, you can’t unlearn what you’re going to learn today. Isn’t that exciting?
David Simpson: You can’t unlearn this. It will change the way you think about the future; it will change the way you think about humanity; it’ll change the way you think about fabric of the universe. It’s really amazing, and that topic is ‘the technological singularity.’
Okay, so, for anybody who hasn’t heard about the term before, some of you might be a little bit familiar, I’ll take a stab at trying to describe what it is. A lot of people have talked about it but basically what it is, is pretty simple, really, is that within about the next 15 years, the human species is actually going to develop superhuman level machine intelligence.
Now, I’m in the camp that believes this is actually true; and some of the wealthiest tech billionaires in the world are also in that camp, some of the most famous scientists are also in that camp. Now, once that’s happened, that’s going to really change the fabric of what it means to be human. I want to give you an example.
If we were to use, say Albert Einstein, as our litmus test. If Albert Einstein were our guru for smartest person who ever lived, think about the impact that Albert Einstein’s intelligence had on humanity. He was able to undo 200 years of Newtonian physics. How incredible is that. He was able to figure out black holes; he was able to figure out the time was relative; he was able to change our view of the universe itself.
Now, what if we had access to a superhuman level intelligence that was just Einstein plus 50 percent, or what if we had access to Einstein times 2 or Einstein times 10? And the truth is that you really would not be able to comprehend it; you wouldn’t be able to comprehend it unless somehow your own intelligence was actually amplified as well.
And the amazing thing is, this is coming soon. So says the man who coined the term, Vernor Vinge. Now, Vernor Vinge was a math professor; I say was, he’s still alive, he’s just retired. And he was a computer science and mathematics professor, but he’s also a damn good science fiction novelist. And he wrote a paper back in 1993, and it’s important to do the math on this actually; this 1993, it’s 22 years ago, and the paper was called ‘The coming technological singularity: how to survive the post-human era.”
Now, I’m going to sort of paraphrase what his abstract was, but it was pretty blunt. And it was within the next thirty years, we will have achieved superhuman level machine intelligence, shortly thereafter, the human era will have ended.
Now remember, within thirty years; it was 22 years ago. Now, he was a little bit more specific though. He said he’d be surprised if it happened before 2005, which obviously it didn’t. But he also said he’d be surprised if it happened later than 2030. This is pretty amazing stuff.
Now, when we talk about the human era having ended, that can terrify some people. So, today, I don’t want you to be afraid. Please don’t be scared. I’m not here to tell you to stock up on shotgun shells and hide underground. That’s not what we’re trying to do today.
There is enough dystopian and post-apocalyptic literature and film out there. I don’t really want to add to that today. What I want to do is talk about a different sort of version of the future; a version of the future where we actually successfully manage to achieve superhuman level of machine intelligence, and it doesn’t kill us all. That’d be kind of nice, right? It’s a good plan.
And I’ll posit a plan for this that, I think, will actually make a lot of sense; we’ll talk about that. And what I promise you is this; the version of the future that I’m going to be talking to you about today is going to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen in popular media before, because the truth is we can’t really conceptualize what would be a post-singularity future; we can’t unless we were, you know, upgraded, but why don’t we try anyway.
Yeah, let’s give it a shot and it’ll be fun. It really is something incredible. But I also can be honest with you. I have to be honest with you. Technology is always a double-edged sword, so if I just told you, “Hey, we got utopia on the way,” I’d be lying to you.
I think superhuman level intelligence is very comparable. A good analogy would be fire. Fire obviously was overall a very good thing for the human species; it allowed us to be able to see in the dark, to stay warm. We were able to fashion tools with it, cook our food. But of course, we also used it for weapons. And sometimes people just died because of accidents as well.
So, it changed the world for the better but there was a downside; there were dangers. Superhuman level machine intelligence should change the world for the better, and far more profoundly and exponentially than fire did. But there are dangers, so we are going to talk about those a little bit.
But before I get to that, you’re probably wondering how the heck did this guy come to believe these crazy things and come to TED and start telling us this. And how is it that these tech billionaires and these people who are the most famous scientists alive, I’ll name some of them, you know, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, how did they come to believe that we’re so close to achieving superhuman level machine intelligence? And it has to do with this fellow, his name is Gordon Moore.
Back in 1965, Gordon Moore was just asked to write a really innocuous little paper, because he worked at an R&D department for a company that built semiconductors. And they said; “Well, what do you think the trends will be in the next few years?”
And while he was doing research, he noticed something; and what he noticed was that every year, the amount of components that you could fit on an integrated circuit doubled. Now, this is incredible. It means that computers actually double in processing power roughly every year. And this has more profound implications than just simply that your iPad or your iPhone will be twice as powerful than the previous generation, although that’s really cool.