note: the following post is about isaac asimov’s short story, “The Last Question.” if you would rather not read all of this post, just check out the story; it’s great.
the other day i cam across the term, “technological singularity.” Wikipedia (conveniently) describes the term as follows:
“Technological Singularity is the hypothesized creation, usually via AI or brain-computer interfaces, of smarter-than-human entities who rapidly accelerate technological progress beyond the capability of human beings to participate meaningfully in said progress.”
“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make (I.J. Good).”
this ultraintelligent machine has since been coined as the singularity. some futurists would argue that after said intelligence explosion and ultraintelligent machine is created, the so-called human era ends. the concept has been used in films and novels quite frequently, but more by the angle of fearing a robot revolt (thank you arnold and will smith). of course, whether this is possible or not depends on whether humans will be able to create the singularity.
the reason i bring this up is because the term made me think of two things. the first is of a kid i knew in middle school named paul g. he was kind of shunned by his peers because he was the quirky and overly animated kid, your resident neil schweiber. he was a nice guy. i sat next to him in english class and he would always be reading science fiction books (and in one case, batman: knightfall which i ended up borrowing). his favorite author might have been isaac asimov and i say this because i remember him being excited about going to his book signing at the library.
which leads me to the second thing that technological singularity brings to mind, that being a short story by isaac asimov called, “The Last Question.” we can all concede that asimov is quite possibly one of the most prolific and influential science fiction writers ever. “The Last Question” turns out to be his favorite science fiction story that he has ever written. The premise of the story is that humans have indeed created an ultraintelligent machine known as the Multivac that is able to answer all questions (Wikipedia?). over the course of billions of years, a common question is asked: “will the universe burn out and will mankind be able to reverse entropy?” the story has one of those endings where you are left pondering at length about what you have just read. i mean, it’s a simple plot idea, but a genius one. inventing the wheel makes sense, but not anyone can claim it.
i wonder what paul g. is doing these days and if he has ever read the short story. i wish i might have stuck up for him more when other kids teased him.