The concept of Singularity is popular for futurists and for science fiction writers. However, it is very vague. It is an intelligence or technology “explosion”. What does that mean? We don’t know. How do you measure it? I have a proposal.
I think it is more useful to define and quantify a Singularity as a Technological and economic next leveling of civilization. I would measure this via increased economic doublings over the baseline. Rail and Industrialization did next level the economic growth of civilization. We went from two doubling over 2000 years to a doubling every 25 years.
I disagree with the AI language translation company touting in Popular Mechanics that a more perfected translation of language as heralding the start of a Singularity.
The global baseline since rail and industrialization is doubling once every 25 years. We would expect 3 doublings or 8X the world economy from now to 2100.
There have been almost four doublings since WW2. The world economy was just short of $8 trillion (in today’s dollars) in 1940 and now $100-120 trillion.
$1.2 trillion in 1820 and $1.79 in 1870. $182B in 0AD and $200B in 1000 AD. 1700-1880 was the transition.
Tech prior to 1820 was increased population levels with stagnant per capita output and production. Agriculture improvements were almost all of what really mattered. Sanitation and clean water were the rest.
The World in WW2 was using about 16 times (4 doublings) less steel and oil than today. Germany was trying to get at a few days of our current oil production in the Caucasus.
The post-war baby boom added half of an extra doubling. The technology of society enabling sustainable population growth was the history of economic growth up to 1820. The first 30 doublings were about technology and society enabling population growth.
Computers and Internet Were Not Enough
Personal computing, the internet and smartphones did not add extra growth to the level of an extra doubling but just sustained global growth levels despite slower population growth. This proves that up to this point computing, internet and smartphones were not near Singularity level technology.
Technology has started to give economic doublings without the population doubling. At 8 billion people now and then pretty flat at 10 billion from 2050-2100. There were 2 billion people in 1927 and 4 billion in 1974. A doubling and half of the population since WW2 and economic per capita increased by about 5-6 times.
If all of the new technology and a 1.25X in population just let the economy double by 2050, then we have sustained the post-WW2 growth rate. If per capita income tripled by 2050 then we will have one extra doubling. 1.25 population and 3X economy would be 4X the total economy by 2050. Reminder, doubling the world economy in 25 years is normal for the past 100-150 years. This would be one extra doubling above normal.
1.25 population and 6X economy would be 8X which would be two extra doublings above normal (aka level 2 Singularity).
1.25 population and 12X economy would be 16X which is three doublings above normal baseline. I define this as a level 3 Singularity.
The extra doublings can be spread out of 50 years or 100 years or longer because we have a 150-year baseline for the expected pace of doubling. Sustaining the baseline growth is non-trivial, especially with population growth going from 100% of the economic growth effect to 50% and now to 25% and soon to 0%.
What Technologies Could Be Powerful Enough to Give Extra Doubling(s)?
1. Perfected and deployed self-driving electric cars and trucks. This could reduce the supply chain transportation costs from 10% of goods value to 2%. Electrification can reduce fuel costs by 80% which means per mile truck costs go from about $1.80 per mile to $1.50. But Platooning of vehicles can reduce that further especially if there are no drivers in the following trucks. Following robotic trucks would take per-mile costs down to about $0.6 per mile. Fully robotic vehicles could safely drive at 120-150 mph. This could be an extra doubling over 25-50 years.
2. Teslabot and fully automated factories.
Teslabot has 3% of the mass of a Tesla Model Y. If you can make 20 million EVs of Model Y class per year then the same production could build 6 billion Teslabots per year. Each year adding the equivalent of the human labor force if the Teslabot became as productive as a human.
3. What comes after ChatGPT and Alpha Fold 2 ? If advanced ChatGPT displaces or merges with Google Search. Alpha Fold X becomes the digital biology of humanity, microbiome, and the ecosystem.
4. Aging reversal. Making the 80 the new 35. Europe and Japan’s 30% seniors get back into the workforce and give a one-time doubling of the workforce. Long-term effects unknown based upon fertility impacts.
5. Fleet of fully reusable Starship Super Heavy deploying Teslabots, mining bots and automated replicating factories to Mars, Moon and asteroid belt and then Kuiper and Oort Cloud. This would let civilization rapidly access millions times the physical material (steel etc…) and trillions of times the energy. With rapid exponential expansion via self-replicating factories, the solar system could be accessed in hundreds of years to provide 20-40 extra doublings.
I had some videos that explain these ideas.
Being able to measure a Singularity and being able to quantify Singularity lets us think more clearly about what technology or changes would actually count as a technology that could up-level civilization.
The doubling scale and analysis works from the beginning of civilization to the far future.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.