What Is the Technological Singularity Timeline?

October 3, 2019 • Devin Partida


If you’re a science-fiction fan, you’ve probably gotten engrossed in at least a few storylines where robots, computers or other gadgets become smarter than humans and proceed to rule the world. Some people don’t think that’s merely a far-fetched fantasy, especially when discussing the technological singularity timeline.

What Should You Know About the Technological Singularity Timeline?

When individuals define the technological singularity timeline, they typically say it’s the point in time when technology becomes so advanced that its growth gets out of control, and it becomes impossible to reverse the progress.

This event is purely hypothetical for now, but people believe that when it happens, the effects will forever impact humanity.

Not a New Idea

The concept of the technological singularity timeline is not something that came about recently. Ray Kurzweil published a book in 2005 called “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” that dove into the topic.

Kurzweil used the non-fiction work to talk about the Law of Accelerating Returns, which anticipates an exponential increase in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and nanotechnology.

Moreover, Kurzweil said when the singularity happens, the intelligence of machines would be more powerful than the combined intelligence of all the humans in the world. There would also be cases of people merging with machines.

Besides authoring several books, Kurzweil is Google’s Director of Engineering. That suggests he’s at the forefront of where technology is going, and what’s happening with it. So, you’re probably wondering, what date does Kurzweil put on the technological singularity timeline?

While speaking at a conference in 2017, Kurzweil said he believed that machines would have human-level intelligence by 2029. But, he explained that the process has already started.

What About an “Intelligence Explosion”?

Ray Kurzweil is arguably one of the people most often associated with the technological singularity timeline, but he’s not the only one, nor the first to ponder this idea. In 1965, a statistician named I.J.

Good proposed the possibility of an “intelligence explosion.” Basically, it would occur when a machine exists that’s smarter than any human and — crucially — it can design other gadgets that are even smarter than itself.

In that case, machines would get more advanced without human intervention. Scientific advancements have already demonstrated examples of how computers can do certain tasks better than humans.

Some diagnose cancerous tumors with more accuracy than trained medical professionals. Others dig through data and reach conclusions in minutes, but it would take humans weeks or more to do the same.

If an intelligence explosion happens, some people who support that belief say it’d take place shortly after the singularity event, or, in other words, not until at least decades from now.

Even so, several signs suggest that the technological singularity timeline is shorter than some people might expect. In addition to the robots that handle some aspects of human jobs, scientists have a gene-editing tool called CRISPR that enables them to do the task cost-efficiently and with relative ease.

Remember Kurzweil’s prediction whereby humans and machines would become one? That may not be far away either.

A professor at the University of Chicago is working on a wearable that electrically stimulates a person’s muscles to help them do things. Eventually, they may be able to use the wearable to play a musical instrument or use a complicated tool, even without prior training.

Mixed Views on the Technological Singularity Timeline

Beyond the input from Ray Kurzweil and I.J. Good, analysts can’t reach a well-defined agreement about whether this impending tech takeover will happen soon, or even while we’re alive. 

One poll of AI researchers conducted by Emerj found that the majority (62%) thought it would happen sometime before 2100, with 17% believing it’d happen sometime after that year. But, there were also 21% of respondents who said it’d never happen.

William Nordhaus, a Nobel Prize winner, wrote about singularity in 2015 and said he couldn’t see any signs of it then. In contrast, futurist Gerd Leonhard is in his late 50s now and believes the singularity will happen in his lifetime. Something important to remember is that any predicted technological singularity will not happen overnight. Instead, if it happens, it will be after technology becomes more advanced, as is already happening.

Even people who are firmly within the tech world do not always have a favorable view of technology’s increasing influence on society. For example, Elon Musk says there’s a 5-10% chance of making “safe” artificial intelligence. He also thinks some companies are developing that technology too fast.

Keeping the Balance

For now, it seems like avoiding a scenario where technology invades society and potentially harms it requires trying to maintain a balance between the influence of humans and machines. Striving to develop ethical tech is essential, too.