But what if the singularity is benign?

Ray Kurzweil predicted that:

The technological singularity occurs as artificial intelligences surpass human beings as the smartest and most capable life forms on the Earth. Technological development is taken over by the machines, who can think, act and communicate so quickly that normal humans cannot even comprehend what is going on. The machines enter into a “runaway reaction” of self-improvement cycles, with each new generation of A.I.s appearing faster and faster. From this point onwards, technological advancement is explosive, under the control of the machines, and thus cannot be accurately predicted (hence the term “Singularity”).
— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictions_made_by_Ray_Kurzweil#2045:_The_Singularity
 Too protective by half? Picture from pixabay.com CC0

Too protective by half? Picture from pixabay.com CC0

This idea is sometimes used by people to predict that machines, having no further use for us, will decide to get rid of us once and for all.

But what if intelligent computers decide, instead, to look after us, and protect us from ourselves?

For example, if we extrapolate from the existence of driverless cars, will there come a time when we won't be able to drive -- because either our laws or our machines won't allow us to? No doubt the number and severity of road accidents would be cut, which would be an advantage. But what about those of us who not only enjoy driving, but are pretty good at it?

What would be good, I think, would be to introduce a law whereby passing your driving test isn't enough -- mainly because if our cars won't let us drive then driving tests are irrelevant. However, for those of us willing to put the time and effort into undertaking -- and passing -- an advanced driving course, there should be a dispensation of some sort. That is to say, such people should be permitted to drive if they wish.

This is just one area in which the singularity might be characterised by computers being so protective of us that life is simply not lived to the full.

We can glean some feeling of this from what is already happening with kids. I've been watching a tv programme called Back in Time for the Weekend, in which a typical British family spends a week living through a previous decade.

During their period in the 1960s (I think), the youngest, who is about 12, said that he had been allowed to play in the park with his friends, without his parents around, for the first time in his life. An article in the Daily Mail newspaper in 2013 bears this out:

Half of adults played outside at least seven times a week when they were growing up - but less than a quarter of children are allowed as much freedom today.
— http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2385722/Parents-anxieties-children-playing-indoors-Fears-traffic-strangers-leading-creeping-disappearance-youngsters-parks.html

Imagine being in the situation where your kitchen won't allow you to rustle up an egg in case you burn yourself, your car won't allow you to drive to the shops to get the eggs in the first place, and if you try to contact a few friends to invite them over for an eggy breakfast your computerised contacts system won't allow you to because sometimes they wind you up and raise your blood pressure.


There are a couple of interesting articles about intelligent computers in a recent edition of the Digital Education newsletter that you may find interesting. Rose Luckin writes about artificial intelligence, and Dave Gibbs reports on robots.

To sign up for the newsletter, which is free, just click the button below and complete the form. I use a double opt-in system, meaning that you will be asked to confirm that you really would like to subscribe.