The major venue for discussing this question is the 3rd Singularity Summit this Saturday in San Jose, Calif. The folks at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAS) are offering a $75 dollar discount off summit's registration fee for interested readers of Hit & Run (and other blogs) here.
So what is "the Singularity"? According to the SIAS:
The Singularity is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence…
A future that contains smarter-than-human minds is genuinely different in a way that goes beyond the usual visions of a future filled with bigger and better gadgets. 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.
Human intelligence is the foundation of human technology; all technology is ultimately the product of intelligence. If technology can turn around and enhance intelligence, this closes the loop, creating a positive feedback effect. Smarter minds will be more effective at building still smarter minds. This loop appears most clearly in the example of an Artificial Intelligence improving its own source code, but it would also arise, albeit initially on a slower timescale, from humans with direct brain-computer interfaces creating the next generation of brain-computer interfaces, or biologically augmented humans working on an Artificial Intelligence project.
The Singularity Summits gather tech luminaries to consider the implications of this view--if it's true and what might be done about it. Participants in this summit include:
* MIT's Cynthia Breazeal on the implications of robots with social intelligence.
* Peter Diamandis on materializing audacious goals with Mega X PRIZEs.
* Esther Dyson on the end of genetic ignorance – or was it bliss?
* Ray Kurzweil presenting his latest research, a more rigorous standard for the Turing Test, and discussing IEEE Spectrum's Singularity Report.
* Intel's CTO Justin Rattner on why the Singularity is a realistic possibility.
* Acclaimed author Vernor Vinge in conversation with CNBC's Bob Pisani.
Ray Kurzweil, inventor and author of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology explains:
What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian or dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself. Understanding the Singularity will alter our perspective on the significance of our past and the ramifications for our future. To truly understand it inherently changes one's view of life in general and one's own particular life.