The Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Post-Human Future
Alan Turing, whose Turing Test set the initial standard for artificial intelligence, mused towards the end of his life on the prospects of a truly superintelligent machine: “it seems probable that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers…At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control…” Such a scenario, seemingly implicit in the very concept of artificial intelligence, we now call “the Singularity”—a technological regime, as futurist Vernor Vinge puts it, “as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals.” For some, the prospect is potentially liberatory; for others, it’s an existential threat; for others still, it’s simply unlikely. What is “the Singularity,” and what intellectual tools might we use to interrogate it?
In this course, students will approach these fundamental questions through a series of smaller investigations. First, we will explore the foundational texts on the subject by Turing, Vernor Vinge, I.J. Good, Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrom, and others. Then, we will consider “the Singularity” within a broader intellectual horizon from a number of angles. For instance, given what we know now about computation and human intelligence, is this idea technologically feasible? If so, on what time scale? What are the underlying philosophical assumptions and how might we assess them? Is the concept of the Singularity truly novel, or does it have roots in previous philosophical, political, or religious efforts to liberate the mind from the “limitations” of the flesh? Furthermore, how should we understand “the Singularity” movement in relation to alternative, contemporary attempts to understand the role and importance of the body for technological efforts to transcend it? Students will consider these and related questions through a close reading of selections taken from a diverse set of disciplines and critical perspective such as the philosophy of computation, feminist theory, the philosophy of transhumanism (and its critics), phenomenology, theology, and religious studies.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
July 21 — August 11, 2020