Imagine this. In 2020, Elias van Dorne, the CEO of a robotics company, unleashes his supercomputer Kronos, created to end all war on Earth. But when Kronos comes online, the computer considers mankind the biggest threat and goes about launching an attack. Led by Kronos, robots begin to eradicate all humans from the planet.

This is not my vision for the future, but this is the plot of a recent science fiction film called Singularity. The movie is loosely based on the Singularity, a theory that is much more serious than you would expect.

What is the Singularity?

I am talking about the “Singularity” concept, popularized by former computer science professor Vernor Vinge, who also happens to be a sci-fi writer. In a famous 1993 essay, Vinge predicted that this Singularity would signal the end of the human era.

The Singularity is the vision of the future that artificial intelligence (AI) will develop in such an incredibly fast way that humanity will be superseded. Some futurists are even afraid that hyper-intelligent machines will oppress us in the near future.

Stephen Hawking on the Singularity

Believe me, even scientists who don’t write science fiction take this scenario seriously. Take world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who passed away recently.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Hawking told an interviewer some years ago. “It would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow, biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

However, there is also a more optimistic vision. Yes, we should address the frightening issues Vinge and Hawking raise., But we should also not forget the many benefits that an explosion in AI will speed up the evolution of humans. In this article I want to focus on the bright side of the Singularity.

1. The Singularity Will Make Mankind Smarter

Even though it is theoretically possible that AI will outgrow mankind’s intelligence one day, there are ways human beings can benefit when this happens. By linking our brains to AI, we will be more intelligent than ever before and still capable of outsmarting the machines. In this scenario, there will never be a point of total Singularity because humans will forever stay ahead of the game.

And this scenario is almost possible. Backed by Elon Musk, startup Neuralink has the goal to create devices that can be implanted in the human brain. These devices have the potential to help human beings merge with software and keep pace with advancements in AI.

2. The Singularity Means Freedom

If the Singularity becomes a reality, automation and AI will take on so many tasks that the whole economy will be transformed. The number of manual, simple jobs will possibly diminish. Yet, at the same time, creative and innovative thinkers will always be needed − even more so than today.

This will fundamentally change the way we organize labor and social welfare. A basic income for all citizens is a likely consequence. It may also open up many opportunities because many people will have more time for personal development, hobbies and social interaction.

3. The Singularity Will Bring Safety

I don’t think we will find a solution for huge issues such as war and crime in the next 20 years. But, maybe the superintelligence of the Singularity will give us a chance after that.

Take the war against terrorism. According to the British think-tank Chatham House, algorithms with powerful predictive abilities might predict terrorist activity or individual involvement in terrorism.

And the same smart software can be a major weapon in stopping crime, for example, by analyzing Mafia-like networks. Offering our law enforcement agencies many new opportunities.

Furthermore, the highly intelligent, and at the same time cheap, computer of the future will help us be more safe. Flight safety is a case in point. According to Flight Safety Australia, AI systems could easily extend to digital cockpit assistants that interpret weather radar images, or continuously monitor published forecasts and compare them with the human pilot’s flight plan. Furthermore, such virtual assistants could calculate optimal descent profiles based on aircraft weight and speed.

And yes, we still have a long way to go as is illustrated by the recent tragic accident with the autonomous Uber car. And privacy will become an even bigger concern than today, even when battling terrorism, but I am sure our society will find a way to adapt to this inevitable new reality.

4. The Singularity Will Improve Our Health and Life Expectancy

According to biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, humans will live for 1,000 years in the future. That may be a little bit too optimistic, but I certainly think the Singularity will extend our life expectancy considerably.

Even today, your personal data can tell if you are pregnant before you know it yourself. Imagine what the future of predictive health can be: Early warning signs may tell you to adjust your behavior and eating patterns.

Furthermore, there is the hope of a better understanding of major diseases by combining and analyzing Big Data. According to Professor Klaus A. Kuhn (Chair of Medical Informatics, Technical University Munich), this will enable medical professionals to tailor treatment precisely to individual patients. Another key aim is to gain a better understanding of the way diseases develop and progress.

Though we will never become immortal, AI will certainly make our lives longer and healthier.

Great Potential of the Singularity

Though I admire Vernor Vinge and Stephen Hawking as brilliant thinkers, I am convinced that both scientists are/were too pessimistic. In my opinion, the Singularity, when applied wisely, will bring humanity great development potential.

And the one thing we know for sure is that technological developments are always going way faster than we had expected. So as visionary as this future may seem, it is probably already being developed as we speak. The big challenge for today’s businesses, medical doctors and government agencies is to understand the true potential of the Singularity and make sure they jump on this train before it is out of sight.

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