When we are cataloguing the pseudo-sciences, we often automatically include pessimistic and doom-mongering theories, but we rarely think to discuss ideas from the camp promoting the beneficial effects of scientific progress. However, the locus of viewpoints around “The Singularity” and “Teleportation” gives rise to some discussion points.
Let’s start with the Singularity. As a reminder, this is the hypothesis “that the invention of artificial intelligence would trigger a cascade of technological growth that will cause unforeseeable changes in human society.” Not a day passes without this idea being served up in the media as an inevitable fact and part of the predestined fate of mankind. The leading lights of the Big Five or GAFAM (in particular Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates) have lined up, with varying degrees of consideration, to send warnings to humankind.
Reading Jean-Gabriel Ganascia’s “Myth of Singularity”, brings us back down to Earth with a bump. According to Ganascia, this unique moment in the history of mankind is not only not imminent, but is very unlikely to ever happen at all – however disappointing this may be to transhumanists. As the author, the French expert in the field, observes, there are clear similarities between the current expectations, and the belief in Christ’s imminent return in the Middle Ages. « In 1993, the year 2023 was thirty years off, which allowed some time; by 2010, as the date came ever nearer, Ray Kurzweil proposed an extension to the time period, of just over thirty years into the future again, which avoided him having to give empirical guarantees of his claims. It’s happening just like it did in the Middle Ages, with predictions of the date of the End of Days.” J.G. Ganascia sets out a number of arguments to dismantle this theory, which is often presented as a definite fact.
In just one example, he identifies a significant obstacle to Moore’s law, which is often referred to by the proponents of this theory. As we are aware, this law assumes that machines continue to grow continuously and steadily (doubling the number of transistors in an electronic circuit at consistent prices every eighteen months or two years, doubling of performance, of speed or information storage capacity at an equivalent rate…). According to the author, who is a professor at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, “There is no direct link between the computing power of machines and their ability to simulate intelligence. As a result, even if Moore’s law continued to hold true which is, we have seen, purely hypothetical, this would not inevitably lead to the creation of ultra-intelligent machines…. “
Another theory which gives rise to some doubts, despite having all the hallmarks of science, is teleportation. In a popular science work from 1964, Norbert Wiener states ” […] It is possible to theoretically envisage sending a human being down a telegraph wire […]. At the moment and perhaps for the lifespan of the human species, this idea is impracticable but it is not inconceivable”
Once again, a possibility which some are convinced will happen as part of the continuous progress of science. For example Professor Michio Kaku of City University of New York claims that teleporting a living person to another part of the world or even into space will be possible in the near future. However there are far more sceptical experts, in the opposite camp to this optimistic vision, as in the case of the Singularity, such as the physicist Anton Zeilinger. The president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences is the first to have made an intercontinental and undecryptable communication with China, encrypted with what is known as a “quantum key”.
But when we asked this world-renowned quantum physicist – dubbed Mr Beam because of his experience in quantum teleportation – about the possibility of “teleporting a human being” his answer was categorical. He states that the amount of information contained in the particles that make up a human being is far too large to carry out such an operation. In a recent interview he said that if you burned this information on CDs and stacked them one on top of the other, you would get a tower that would stretch from the Sun to the centre of the Milky Way (“Würde man Sie alle auf CDs Brennen und Diese Aufstapeln, longest das einem Turm von der Sonne bis ins Zentrum der Milchstrasse. Vergessen. Beamen ist Pure sci-fi”)
“Forget it – ‘Beam me up’ is pure Sci Fi”
The Singularity and teleportation are two concepts that have contributed to the success of science fiction, and some scientists now say are actually possible, which shows how much Hollywood continues to influence science (and vice versa). But to set against these opinions, there are also more critical researchers who don’t seem about to be taken in. The two sceptical scientists we have namechecked are both Europeans. From which we may conclude that European scepticism is once again facing off against Hollywood science fiction: it’s just one small step, which we have boldly taken.
This post is also available in: FR (FR)