ACM - Computers in Entertainment

The Singularity Effect

By Adam Sogi

Society has come a long way in terms of the development of technology; by creating more powerful and more sophisticated technology we have made life easier and more bearable. However, could humans develop technology so far to a point where we are no longer needed? Society may be headed there sooner then we think, considering that in the last few years humans have become less physically social and more connected within their cybernetic networking realms. This is what pushes the concept of the “Singularity Effect," where technology becomes self-aware and more intelligent than humans, over the edge. Some blame can be directed at the constant use of mobile phones, computers, smart technology, etc. to surf the web, text friends, and be generally oblivious to the “real world.” Has technology enslaved us? Looking back in the days before all of this, people were actually social with one another and human interactions were more intimate, not necessarily in a romantic type of way, but in a less cold and meaningless manner. For example, before today’s technology existed, people had to physically hand write letters and wait for responses unlike texting or emailing. They also had to meet with people face to face if they wanted to have a conversation instead of video chatting. Newton Lee and Robert A. Schultz both touched on this topic as guest lecturers at Woodbury University. 

During the beginning of the semester, Lee presented a lecture that dealt with explaining how society and technology connect. His lecture touched upon the pillars of Woodbury University which are the basic principles and foundations of what the school teaches throughout their curriculum. One of which is “transdiciplinarity.” This is the aspect that causes people to think back and reflect on new and creative ideas to implement. During his talk, Lee passed around the infamous Google Glass, urging those present to consider transdiciplinarity in relation to the capabilities of this piece of technology. At first glance, Glass is the first of its kind and there are many useful actions it can provide. For example, it is the first formal, practical piece of technology that can be worn and used by various sorts of people. It has the ability to be used hands free, directions are available at any moment, messages, alerts, dates, etc. are also at the peripheral. However, in hindsight, this unique piece of technology also has its drawbacks.

Technology has come to the point where there is little human interaction; Glass pushes this idea even further because instead of hiding behind screens, we are now hidden behind a little piece of glass on our eye. What has become unfortunate is at any sort of gathering where people are supposed to speak with each other; most people are preoccupied with their devices. Google Glass will probably soon encourage this type of distraction as well. Imagine someone trying to have a face-to-face conversation; instead of the person paying attention to what the other person is saying, they are actually looking in their peripheral vision toward the glass captivated by something else. In essence, this is one aspect of how technology can control humans instead of the other way around. The messages, alerts, and curiosity of people have compelled technology to reel in the person’s attention away from the physical realm.

Interestingly enough, Robert A. Schultz’s lecture metaphorically fits this description because his lecture focused on how technology is actually damaging to the ecosystem, despite popular claims that the planet is actually benefitting from technology. The main point that drove his lecture was all technology simply sees anything and everything as a resource to use. It is funny because when humans use technology to harvest resources, technology is following the whims of humans. But this may soon reverse. It is possible humans will become a resource for technology.

The mentality that technology has been made for the betterment of humans could drastically change. Society is already headed in that direction; it is commonplace to believe the better the technology, the better and easier our lives will be. Think about it this way, people are giving up control very slowly. Before any of the complex and sophisticated technology that exists today, people were self-reliant for getting a particular job or objective done. Now control is slowly being funneled toward technology’s favor. Robots have been conceived that they will be able to do everything for us including actions such as cleaning, cooking, protecting, etc. The harm here however, is that robots could potentially become intelligent enough to become self-aware, stop their tasks, and turn against the human race. This is what coveys the thought about how robots can rise up and eventually turn into robot overlords. Humanity has already accomplished one aspect of this by putting weapons on drones and using them to attack enemy targets automatically. How long will it be before these drones target humans in general?

Going back to smart technology and the Google Glass, these devices have tracking capabilities to see where people are at any time of day. In a move of defiance, or paranoia, some people are now covering the cameras on smart devices and computers with tape. In this day and age, it is important to monitor intelligence of anything that could be seen as a potential threat, due In part to the tragic events surrounding terrorist activities. Governments are relying on technology to spy and gain information on individuals at every turn. George Orwell’s 1984 has already become a reality with Big Brother looking down at everything and hearing everything that transpires.

Hypothetically looking at this in terms of the post-apocalyptic film “Terminator,” if the government were to launch a device in space that was linked with other information gathering satellites, anything they deem a threat could instantaneously be eliminated. Our precision instruments that we believe protect us so well could very well turn against us. In addition, when the government gives total and full control to the satellite deeming who is a target and who is not, humanity could be in for a rude awakening when all of society is targeted as a threat. This is when the singularity effect will take full effect.

We humans are slowly funneling, empowering, and encouraging the singularity effect. People are quickly losing connection with each other, and are instead more and more enticed by technology. This is the first step: Complete ignorance about the physical world. Society is also developing better, faster, and more powerful technology to “make our lives easier.” This in turn encourages us to give up control of things we can do ourselves. For example, instead of reading the news in the newspaper, doing calculations in our heads, and talking to others face to face or on a phone call, we are more inclined to see what is happening in social networks, use digital calculator functions, and hide behind screens to talk to others. This influences the second step: Total dominance over human action. In addition, the government has already developed and used technology to the point where 1984 has become a reality with constant monitoring and tracking of people, empowering the third step: Complete sight over humans. If humans completely develop and give technology all our power, there may come a time when that same technology turns against us and we become the obedient race of our creations. This is the final step of the singularity effect: Complete and total obedience.

In the end, society needs to watch its boundaries and actions that give technology power. This involves stopping the overuse of smart technology such as our iPhones, Androids, tablets, notebooks, computers, etc. People need to slowly wind back the clocks and live in the days before any of this “brilliant” technology existed. This brings life to a mantra, which I say, “Just because we can imagine and create it does not necessarily mean we have to.” People need to start putting down their devices, pay attention to the physical world around them, start doing their own work, and take pride in it instead of some piece of tech doing it for them.  If not, and this sort of situation is overlooked, not taken seriously, or not rectified in some better alternative way, humanity is in for a terrifying future.

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