Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

August 22, 2010

Swarm Intelligence, Ethics and the ‘Singularity’

Filed under: CyberKill,Frank Remarks — Frank Fiore @ 8:24 PM

Are mankind’s days numbered as the dominant intelligence on planet earth?

Artificial intelligence has been explored in stories and movies from the Golden Age of Science Fiction with the likes of Isaac Asimov in ‘I Robot’ to Spielberg’s movie A.I.

I’ve explored the deviant side of A.I. in my novel CyberKill.

Now, two recent news articles explore the possible future of intelligence on this planet and decided that mankind may not be in the equation.

Take the “Singularity”’.

Ray Kurzweil has written several books. One of the most recent, called ‘The Singularity Is Near’, and predicts that by the year 2050 nonbiological artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence, creating a hybrid of man and technology. He states, “What I am predicting is that we will have machines—we are going to need a different word because these are not like the machines we are used to. These are going to be machines that will seem as human, as real, as conscious, as any actual human being.”

In other words, the “Singularity” is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence. There are several technologies that are often mentioned as heading in this direction. The most commonly mentioned is probably Artificial Intelligence, but there are others: direct brain-computer interfaces, biological augmentation of the brain, genetic engineering, ultra-high-resolution scans of the brain followed by computer emulation. Some of these technologies seem likely to arrive much earlier than the others, but there are nonetheless several independent technologies all heading in the direction of the Singularity – several different technologies which, if they reached a threshold level of sophistication, would enable the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence.”

Vernor Vinge originally coined the term “Singularity” in observing that, just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the center of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains entities smarter than human.

But what about the ethical implications?

What troubles Christian Brugger the most is the notion that technology will one day replace God. “If we start to think about technology as a kind of savior, is it going to overcome our misguided ambitions? Is it going to overcome those kinds of prejudices that cause us to hate our neighbor? To many of us who follow a religion, we’d say that God would help us to overcome those things.”

In response, Kurzweil has said, “We are the species that does change ourselves. We didn’t stay on the ground. We didn’t stay on the planet. We didn’t stay with the limits of our biology. If you want to speak in religious terms you can say that’s what God intended us to do.”

But will this “Singularity” be in the form of what normally comes to mind – individual robots?

Not necessarily.

The Economist has an excellent article on what is called “Swarm Intelligence”.  Swarm intelligence is the collective, decentralized intelligence found in ant colonies and bee hives, where the community acts intelligently but there is no individual or group planning or leading.

It turns out that swarm intelligence is a great fit for AI, and explains how simple, inexpensive agents (robots) can one day handle complex, or otherwise impossible tasks.

For example:

Digital ants and birds, then, are good at thinking up solutions to problems, but Dr Dorigo is now working on something that can act as well as think: robots. A swarm of small, cheap robots can achieve through co-operation the same results as individual big, expensive robots—and with more flexibility and robustness; if one robot goes down, the swarm keeps going. Later this summer, he will be ready to demonstrate his “Swarmanoid” project. This is based on three sorts of small, simple robot, each with a different function, that co-operate in exploring an environment. Eye-bots take a look around and locate interesting objects. Foot-bots then give hand-bots a ride to places identified by the eye-bots. The hand-bots pick up the objects of interest. And they all run home.

When the “Singularity” arrives in whatever form, where would mankind fit in?

Or to paraphrase one Golden Age Science Fiction author — man will create the perfect artificial intelligence and that will be the last thing he will be allowed to create.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: