To astronomers, a singularity is a point in space where matter has gotten so dense that it is a black hole. Matter is so dense, lots and lots of it with lots of other matter to interact with. So much matter to matter interaction that this part of the Universe vastly different from the rest.
To technologists, a singularity is a metaphor and maybe a hope. Instead of something extraordinary and powerful coming from super-dense matter; it would be something equally as profound coming from super-dense information. All of human knowledge is being dumped as fast as we can into the Internet. As we gather more data, and as it is able to move faster; maybe we will have an information singularity. Maybe we already did.
When you hear geeks talk about singularity, it ranges from Terminator’s Skynet to some sort of technological Nerdvana. It is always about human consciousness and how we will change with it.
I say that if this happens, it won’t be Earth’s first information singularity, but at least our second; and we probably won’t even notice.
The First Singularity
Information processing on this planet started long before humanity; in fact, long before life. Little atoms started to link up and form complicated molecules. Just as the laws of electromagnetism captures data onto disks and chips, the same laws capture data into molecular bonds.
Carl Sagan famously compressed all the known time in the universe into a single year in his Cosmic Calendar. From January to August, matter was just kind of hanging around and then the Earth formed. In less than a month, we had life. It took from September to Christmas day to get from life to mammals. Humanity didn’t show up until 9:24pm, New Year’s Eve.
It was sometime in September when Earth had its first information singularity. Energy from the Sun was fueling more complex structures. In my favorite theory, long chains of chemicals formed in ancient ice. Ice would melt and re-freeze, freeing the chains and starting again. Finally, chains got complicated enough to reproduce on their own. And in that single cosmic month, it went from chains of carbon and friends to life.
Did the Atoms Notice
Just like the super-dense matter in the black holes; did the atoms know that they were part of a singularity? To the carbon in a cell to the carbon in a rock, did the Universe change in September? Did they notice that the information stored in their bonds coupled with the billions and billions of neighboring bonds had grown to enough complexity to give rise to a totally new and profound phenomina?
Nothing about the way matter worked had changed. Nothing about the way molecules could store information had increased. DNA follows the same rules and patterns as simple table salt. It is just that in DNA there is so much more data, so closely together. All that information is life, while NaCl is just salty.
Would We Notice?
Instead of atomic bonds, the information medium for the next singularity is humanity. So much human knowledge so closely packed together that a new layer or ecosystem will emerge. Humanity will be part of it; but would we even be able to notice?
Would such a phenomena operate at a meta-level beyond our ability to participate? As a race, we cannot even agree about our climate. Climate works at our information level. Could we perceive something higher? There is no reason to think that humans would evolve to meet the new singularity, just as atoms didn’t evolve to become alive. Life was a phenomena that happens utilizing and beyond simple atoms. The next singularity may utilize human information and likewise be just as beyond it. Maybe the second singularity already happened and will never know.