Daniel Altman
Chief Economist, Big Think
01:53

The Singularity Can't Bail Us Out

The Singularity Can't Bail Us Out

While there is a chance that many of the scientific innovations that have been forecast will come true, even within our lifetime, we still can't count on them. We have to make sure that we keep doing the small stuff.

Daniel Altman

Daniel Altman is Big Think's Chief Economist and an adjunct faculty member at New York University's Stern School of Business.  Daniel wrote economic commentary for The Economist, The New York Times, and The International Herald Tribune before founding North Yard Economics, a non-profit consulting firm serving developing countries, in 2008.  In between, he served as an economic advisor in the British government and wrote four books, most recently Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy.

Transcript

Daniel Altman: So you may have heard a lot of people talking about something called the singularity.  And this is supposed to be the moment when human and machine intelligence converge so that we're all just one huge pulsating organism that's able to fulfill all our needs with our boundless intelligence.  And there's even an institution called Singularity University, which is out in California.  And they do a lot of cool stuff out there.  They talk about what the future might be like in terms of our energy usage, what we eat, how we communicate, how we even get to space and find out more about our universe.

But they have taken on a sort of evangelical tone.  It's almost become a cult. Because they’re talking about this wonderful time that's not so far away where all of our needs will be taken care of.  And we won’t really even have to lift a finger.  We could even be immortal if we wanted to.  In fact they say that the first person who may be immortal has already been born today.

So the question is are they just blowing smoke like some other evangelists talking about the promised land that some of us may never see?  Well, perhaps, perhaps not.  You know, there really is a chance that some of these great scientific innovations that they're talking about will come true.  And they will come true within our lifetime.  But we can't count on them.  

As a result we have to make sure that we keep doing the small stuff.  We have to keep conserving energy.  We have to keep trying to figure out alternative ways to fuel ourselves and to feed ourselves.  Because we can’t count on the timing of these innovations that may some day come.  If we could have then there would never have been an Irish potato famine.  We never would of ran out of oil during the 70s.  We would of had innovations that would deal with those problems before they got so acute.

But the fact is people did suffer a lot during both of those episodes and many more where we've had resource shortages and other problems during human history.  So we know already that we can't count on innovation to bail us out every time, but he hope that we'll get there some day.

Directed/Produced by  Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


 

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