The age of artificial intelligence is hurling towards us. 20 years ago, the internet was something a few hundred people used. Today, it’s a part of daily life to billions of people. 30 years ago, humanity was tethered to wires. Today, communication reaches the farthest corners of our earth. 100 years ago, people were still lighting up gas lamps and candles. Today, our planet is lit up, a faint star in space that is only getting brighter. The majority of scientists expect artificial intelligence to match human intelligence within our lifetime.
Let that possibility settle in for a second.
Life, as we know it, won’t be the same. In the upcoming decades, humanity’s creations will outpace its creators. Which brings me to the most exciting but frightening concept: the technological singularity.
According to wikipedia:
The technological singularity is the hypothetical advent of artificial general intelligence. Such a computer, computer network, or robot would theoretically be capable of recursive self-improvement. Repetitions of this cycle would likely result in a runaway effect — an intelligence explosion— where smart machines design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, creating intelligence far exceeding human intellectual capacity and control. Because the capabilities of such a superintelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events may become unpredictable, unfavorable, or even unfathomable.
What will this singularity bring? World peace, immortality, interstellar travel, and freedom from all work? Or will it bring, as many sci-fi films predict, the oppression or destruction of humanity from our robot overlords? Or perhaps somewhere in the middle? The future is uncertain and the direction we take in this next step of technological innovation is still in our hands.
Now, I could continue elaborating on my cautiously optimistic predictions about AI and my theoretical models on how build an AI kind to humanity, but this is a music blog. So I’ll leave that discussion for another place.
Let’s get to the music! How can I represent the singularity through music? What would be the soundtrack to the eventual destruction or transcendence of humanity?
There are four types of music that I associate with rapid technological advancement:
- Icelandic music - Countless films and shows have mystified the island in the frozen north. From the roving barren landscapes in Prometheus to the frozen mountaintops in Game of Thrones. Icelandic (and Scandinavian by extension) composers share the same mystical qualities; from moody piano to ambient sounds that transport you to the rolling green hills on an Icelandic spring morning. How does this relate to AI you might ask? Technology is as alien as the Icelandic landscapes, a foreign concept that captures our imaginations.
- Philip Glass - No composer has captured the feeling of technology advancing a millions miles per second like Philip Glass. He is a master of creating soundscapes that are minimal, chaotic, uplifting, and beautiful.
- Clint Mansel’s score to The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky’s polarizing film is all about the quest for immortality. The protagonist, played by Hugh Jackman, says in the film various times that “Death is a disease.” The Fountain ponders on humanity’s constant struggle to transcend death. Even in a world where AI can transcend our biological limitations, can we still escape death? Supernovas, black holes, and the eventual death of the universe are still out of our control. The technological singularity will never make us immortal, it will just delay the inevitable a bit more.
Our connection to technology is not only limited to the realm of science. We also develop an emotional connection to the technology we create and use. Friendships form via Facebook. Romances spark via dating websites, text messages, and endless internet connections. Video messaging brings families separated by thousands of miles together. Technology is not only a tool used to learn about the world, it’s a tool to learn about ourselves. There’s a dark side to technology as well. Car accidents, hacking of bank accounts, invasion of privacy, and many terrible things that lie in the depths of the dark web. But we continue trusting technology with the most intimate details of our lives. Why? There’s the other side of the coin in this entire singularity business: vulnerability.
Steve Wozniak once said:
“Never trust a computer you can’t throw out a window.”
Humanity is torn about it’s opinion of technology. We blame technology for the loss of jobs, for the overconsumption of media, and for our invasion of privacy. But, we also praise technology for treating serious illnesses, connecting people across continents, and creating a global consciousness. The advent of AI is bringing a whirlwind of excitement and fear. For million years, we were in control our technological creations. But now we’re creating technology that is beyond our control. Could humanity bear that vulnerability?
There’s another reason why I choose these songs. They invoke a sense of opening ourselves up to the unknown.
As with human relationships, there is always a fear that lingers in the back of our head that we are setting ourselves up for heartbreak. We open our hearts, our most intimate details of our lives, to someone we think we trust. To someone we want to trust. It’s that feeling of excitement and fear at the same time. Those butterflies in our stomachs. That moment when we take a leap into the unknown.
Our relationship with technology is going to significantly change in upcoming years. No longer are we in control of our fate. We are entrusting our creations to help us become the best version of ourselves and that will take an amount of vulnerability. When the moment comes, will we open ourselves up to technology or we will seek to destroy it? Only time will tell. But whatever the outcome, we will learn something about humanity that we haven’t learned before.
Without any further adieu, here’s my soundtrack for the singularity. For the best experience, listen to this playlist in its intended order. This is a journey from today’s world to the moment when the singularity begins. Enjoy!
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