Achieving the Singularity



Aimee Daniells, via Flickr

Will computers become more intelligent than people? Christy VanArragon and Joshua Leo look at the Singularity.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight.  I’m Christy VanArragon.

Voice 2 

And I’m Joshua Leo.  Spotlight uses a special method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Every day, Ray Kurzweil swallows 160 vitamin tablets. These small, hard pills contain healthy substances, usually found in food. But Kurzweil is eating huge amounts of vitamins.

Voice 2 

Every week, Kurzweil goes to a medical center. The medical workers put a sharp needle in his arm. Medicine slowly enters his blood, and travels through his whole body. This treatment cleans chemicals and metals from his blood.

Voice 1 

Kurzweil eats the best healthy food. He exercises every day. He is hoping to stay strong and healthy for many years. Kurzweil has a particular reason to try to live as long as possible. He is part of a small group of people preparing for one special event. They do not know when it will happen. But they do not want to die before it happens. They call this event the “Singularity”. Today’s Spotlight is on the Singularity.

Voice 2 

In some ways, the Singularity is a simple idea. It is the idea that, in the future, computers will become more intelligent than people. People now use computers as tools. Computers may seem powerful. But they only do what people tell them to do. They follow their programs. But scientists think that in the future, computers will make their own programs. They will not depend on people. Computers will be able to think and act for themselves. The Singularity is this event.

Voice 1 

Scientists have many theories about what this event will be, and how it will happen. However, for many people, the first question is this: can computers actually be smarter than people? Can computers act without people directing them?

Voice 2 

Scientists call this computer ability “artificial intelligence” - that is, intelligence that people create. Some computer programmers and scientists think that this is possible. When people first invented computers, the computers could only do a few things. The computers could only run very simple programs, and they were very slow. Very quickly, people found ways to make computers that could do more, and more! Computers now can operate more complicated programs. They can operate more programs at one time. And computer programmers can use this ability to make even stronger computers - computers that can do even more complicated and difficult things. Many programmers, including Ray Kurzweil, are working on programs to create artificial intelligence.

Voice 1 

This idea may sound like science fiction - just a story, imagined by a writer. And many writers have imagined things like this. Even ancient Greek writers imagined machines that were alive! Vernor Vinge is a science-fiction writer. In 1993, he was one of the first people to use the name “The Singularity”.  Then other writers, scientists, and thinkers began to use the name too. They believed that it could happen.

Voice 2 

Many books, films, and television shows have been written about the Singularity. These stories ask important questions. What makes humans human? What does it mean to be alive? Can computers and machines be alive?

Voice 1 

One television show about this is called “Battlestar Galactica.” This story is set many years in the future, after the Singularity has already happened. Computers become independent from people. And the computers decide that people are corrupt and evil. The computers make physical bodies – robots. And then the computers attempt to destroy all human life. But some people survive. And they have many questions. What separates people from the computers and robots? Most importantly, the show asks what makes any person moral? What makes a creature able to understand right and wrong?

Voice 2 

Other science fiction stories explore similar questions about the Singularity. They try to understand human life by looking to the future. They imagine what the future may be like, after the Singularity. Maybe you have seen or read stories like these.

Voice 1 

There is a group of people who talk about these issues. They are the Singularity Institute. The Institute formed in the year 2000.  They meet every year. Scientists and futurists talk about how to influence the Singularity. They believe it will happen - and it will happen soon. They hope to prevent future problems. They support work to create friendly artificial intelligence.

Voice 2 

Ray Kurzweil is part of this group. Kurzweil is a respected computer programmer. We talked about him at the beginning of the program. He has also written several books about the Singularity. He often makes predictions about the future. He uses his knowledge to guess what may happen. He told the BBC,

Voice 3 

“We will be able to achieve human level artificial intelligence by 2029. It will be like human intelligence, including emotions. We already use our technology to expand our physical and mental abilities. This will expand those abilities more.”

Voice 1 

Kurzweil also thinks that the Singularity will help humans to live longer. In particular, Kurzweil is very interested in nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the science of very small things. This is mainly very small particles of things like silver. Nano particles of silver can clean a wound. But scientists are also developing very small machines. These machines could do many things - for example, cleaning dangerous chemicals from the environment. But Kurzweil also believes that these nanobots can repair damage in the human body. And they could do something even more surprising.  He said,

Voice 3 

“We will have intelligent nanobots go into our brains, and connect directly with our brains. They will make us smarter, and remember things better.”

Voice 2 

Kurzweil even believes that in the future, computers may be able to save memories from our brains. In this way, computers and people will come together, and make something new. This is why he is taking so many vitamins, and trying other extreme health treatments. He does not want to die before the Singularity happens.

Voice 1 

However, many scientists disagree with Kurzweil. They do not believe the Singularity will happen this way. They do not believe that computers will become as intelligent as humans. Kurzweil’s ideas are very specific - many things will have to happen in particular ways. Other scientists say that the future between humans and computers could develop in a very different way.

Voice 2 

What do you think? Do you think computers can ever be like people? Do you believe The Singularity will happen? Share your comments on the script page for this program on our website, at www.radioenglish.net.

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Johanna Poole. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Achieving the Singularity’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you think computers can ever be like people? Why or why not?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Andres Rujel
said on June 20, 2012

I’m learnin english in this moment, and to be glad with spotlight. About the lecture, I think isn’t possible this for now. may be to pass meny years for this, we haven’t technology for this, the computer is not enoug, to think, to felling… need us more than a computer o thausand of computers whit its complex programs. The human is a baby yet in tecnologhy, specially nanotechnology…. excusme my bad writer..

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Avrora
said on July 29, 2013

Human can do anything. He is reasonable of all the creatures wich existed and currently existing on Earth. I think that in the future he will reach greater heights and achievements. Human has come a long way of evolution from the Stone Age to the present. There were times when human could only dream of flying in the sky like a birds, he now has reached more. He not only can soar on the sky, he can fly around the Earth, fly to the moon and even to other planets.
Computers - another amazing achievement of Human. I am sure that in the further future people will reach incredible! After all, people can do almost anything when he dreams and wishes! Humans dream is invincible and all-powerful!
But there is only one thing that a human can not do: become immortal. Although who knows?

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Pablo Nicholas Lopez
said on August 02, 2013

I just found about this program. I am learning English and I believe this is a great tool for listening and writing practices. Thank you very much for sharing this with us.

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0
said on August 03, 2013

I did not know these futuristic ideas about computers become as smart as humans had a specific name: Singularity.

Well, i’m a programmer and I believe this scenario is still far away. But, I do not think it’s impossible.

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Honneur
said on May 20, 2018

I think we do not know very well our own brain. The way off our brain uses to perform jobs is so complex that we could not describe it with absolute certainty. So, with the knowledge we have now, I don’t think humans can create artificial intelligence like we realize intelligence…

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agaz
said on August 14, 2018

I think it is possible to computer can have artificial intelligence. We can see more and more things machines is able to do. Robots can clean our flat or home, can speak with us and etc. I believe that in the future computer and robots will create more complex computers. People create artificial intelligence on the example of a man. This intelligence will be the same like human intelligence.