Technological Singularity - in Popular Culture

In Popular Culture

See also: List of fictional computers

Isaac Asimov's 1950 story "The Evitable Conflict", (the last part of the I, Robot collection) features the Machines, four supercomputers managing the world's economy. The computers are incomprehensible to humans and are impossible to analyze for errors, having been created through 10 stages of bootstrapping. In the end of the story, it is implied that from now on (it occurs in 2052), no major conflict can occur, and the Machines are going to guide humanity toward a better future, one only they are capable of seeing (and know to truly be the best). Susan Calvin states that "For all time, all conflicts are finally evitable. Only the Machines, from now on, are inevitable!"

James P. Hogan's 1979 novel The Two Faces of Tomorrow is an explicit description of what is now called the Singularity. An artificial intelligence system solves an excavation problem on the moon in a brilliant and novel way, but nearly kills a work crew in the process. Realizing that systems are becoming too sophisticated and complex to predict or manage, a scientific team sets out to teach a sophisticated computer network how to think more humanly. The story documents the rise of self-awareness in the computer system, the humans' loss of control and failed attempts to shut down the experiment as the computer desperately defends itself, and the computer intelligence reaching maturity.

While discussing the singularity's growing recognition, Vernor Vinge wrote in 1993 that "it was the science-fiction writers who felt the first concrete impact." In addition to his own short story "Bookworm, Run!", whose protagonist is a chimpanzee with intelligence augmented by a government experiment, he cites Greg Bear's novel Blood Music (1983) as an example of the singularity in fiction. Vinge described surviving the singularity in his 1986 novel Marooned in Realtime. Vinge later expanded the notion of the singularity to a galactic scale in A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), a novel populated by transcendent beings, each the product of a different race and possessed of distinct agendas and overwhelming power.

In William Gibson's 1984 novel Neuromancer, artificial intelligences capable of improving their own programs are strictly regulated by special "Turing police" to ensure they never exceed a certain level of intelligence, and the plot centers on the efforts of one such AI to circumvent their control. The 1994 novel The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect features an AI that augments itself so quickly as to gain low-level control of all matter in the universe in a matter of hours.

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's alternate history Steampunk novel The Difference Engine ends with a vision of the singularity occurring in 1991 with a superintelligent computer that has merged its mind with the inhabitants of London.

A more malevolent AI achieves similar levels of omnipotence in Harlan Ellison's short story I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1967).

William Thomas Quick's novels Dreams of Flesh and Sand (1988), Dreams of Gods and Men (1989), and Singularities (1990) present an account of the transition through the singularity; in the last novel, one of the characters states that mankind's survival requires it to integrate with the emerging machine intelligences, or it will be crushed under the dominance of the machines—the greatest risk to the survival of a species reaching this point (and alluding to large numbers of other species that either survived or failed this test, although no actual contact with alien species occurs in the novels).

The singularity is sometimes addressed in fictional works to explain the event's absence. Neal Asher's Gridlinked series features a future where humans living in the Polity are governed by AIs and while some are resentful, most believe that they are far better governors than any human. In the fourth novel, Polity Agent, it is mentioned that the singularity is far overdue yet most AIs have decided not to partake in it for reasons that only they know. A flashback character in Ken MacLeod's 1998 novel The Cassini Division dismissively refers to the singularity as "the Rapture for nerds", though the singularity goes on to happen anyway.

Popular movies in which computers become intelligent and violently overpower the human race include Colossus: The Forbin Project, the Terminator series, the very loose film adaptation of I, Robot, and The Matrix series. The television series Battlestar Galactica also explores these themes.

Isaac Asimov expressed ideas similar to a post-Kurzweilian singularity in his short story "The Last Question". Asimov's future envisions a reality where a combination of strong artificial intelligence and post-humans consume the cosmos, during a time Kurzweil describes as when "the universe wakes up", the last of his six stages of cosmic evolution as described in The Singularity is Near. Post-human entities throughout various time periods of the story inquire of the artificial intelligence within the story as to how entropy death will be avoided. The AI responds that it lacks sufficient information to come to a conclusion, until the end of the story when the AI does indeed arrive at a solution. Notably, it does so in order to fulfill its duty to answer the humans' question.

St. Edward's University chemist Eamonn Healy discusses accelerating change in the film Waking Life. He divides history into increasingly shorter periods, estimating "two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, a hundred-thousand years for mankind as we know it". He proceeds to human cultural evolution, giving time scales of ten thousand years for agriculture, four hundred years for the scientific revolution, and one hundred fifty years for the industrial revolution. Information is emphasized as providing the basis for the new evolutionary paradigm, with artificial intelligence its culmination. He concludes we will eventually create "neohumans" which will usurp humanity’s present role in scientific and technological progress and allow the exponential trend of accelerating change to continue past the limits of human ability.

Accelerating progress features in some science fiction works, and is a central theme in Charles Stross's Accelerando. Other notable authors that address singularity-related issues include Karl Schroeder, Greg Egan, Ken MacLeod, Rudy Rucker, David Brin, Iain M. Banks, Neal Stephenson, Tony Ballantyne, Bruce Sterling, Dan Simmons, Damien Broderick, Fredric Brown, Jacek Dukaj, Stanislav Lem, Nagaru Tanigawa, Douglas Adams, Michael Crichton and Ian McDonald.

The feature-length documentary film Transcendent Man by Barry Ptolemy is based on Kurzweil and his book The Singularity Is Near. The film documents Kurzweil's quest to reveal what he believes to be mankind's destiny. Another documentary, Plug & Pray, focuses on the promise, problems and ethics of artificial intelligence and robotics, with Joseph Weizenbaum and Kurzweil as the main subjects of the film.

In 2009, scientists at Aberystwyth University in Wales and the U.K's University of Cambridge designed a robot called Adam that they believe to be the first machine to independently discover new scientific findings. Also in 2009, researchers at Cornell developed a computer program that extrapolated the laws of motion from a pendulum's swings.

A Tamil film Enthiran deals with a humanoid robot having an intelligence equivalent to that of a human and wrecking havoc causing a struggle for existence

The web comic Dresden Codak deals with trans-humanistic themes and the singularity.

The plot of an episode of the TV program The Big Bang Theory (season 4, episode 2, "The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification") revolves around the anticipated date of the coming Singularity.

The seventeenth episode of the sixth season of the TV sitcom Futurama, "Benderama" references Bender reaching the technological singularity and being able to infinitely produce smaller versions of himself to wreak havoc on the world.

Industrial/Steampunk entertainer Doctor Steel weaves the concept of a technological singularity into his music and videos, even having a song entitled The Singularity. He has been interviewed on his views by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and has also authored a paper on the subject.

In 2012, concept band SOLA-MI, released "NEXUS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)," an album about the first waking machine.

In the sci-fi webseries Sync, a computer virus takes over a computerized human and becomes a singularity.

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