The notion of a singularity is nothing if not the concept of big change in a short period of time. But I, and folks like Ray Kurzweil, would argue that the singularity doesn’t just fall out of the sky on a particular day. There are precursors – the exponential trend that ultimately generates extraordinary disruption in amazingly short periods of time, builds over a number of years.
The idea is that the big event gives itself away over time – building upon itself until it explodes into a new space that operates in quite a different way. It is deterministic. If you look you should be able to see the signs of the singularity all over the place. In the scenario analysis sector we call these signs early indicators or weak signals.
The singularity space, as it is usually discussed, is dominated by descriptions of advances in information technology. But one could make the case that exponential change is happening concurrently in a number of parallel dimensions.
Take drones, for example (I’m talking about the small ones – not the killer drones). These little aircraft – both multi-copter and fixed wing variations – are exploding like few things other than smart phone have. It is estimated that some 300,000 drones are sold each month across the planet – and that number is growing.
At the same time, the technologies that comprise the architecture of drones – electric motors, batteries, inertial systems, miniature GPS systems, gyro stabilized zooming cameras, etc. – are all morphing into increasingly capable payloads that, in three years, will blow your mind. It is impossible to accurately predict what these little airborne platforms will be able to do when they can commonly fly for many hours, produce extraordinary multi-spectral images of whatever they see and, what? — have AI pilots that fly them around, and more. We’re witnessing the beginning of a revolution.
The same can be said of other, non-technological areas. In the environmental space, for example, there has been an exponential increase in the poaching of elephants and rhinos – so much so that if the present trends continue both species will be extinct in the wild within ten years. Last year an estimated 40,000 elephants were killed by poachers. There were similar “kill rates” for rhinos. It’s all being driven by huge markets in China and Vietnam for ivory and horns that are now bringing organized crime and terrorist groups into the mix because of the big money that is in play.
Then there’s predictive analysis. Who’d have thought that, using supercomputer based pattern recognition algorithms, you could accurately predict where poachers were going to strike – tonight? Well, the University of Maryland developed such a capability, first for the military for predicting where roadside bombs would be placed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now, using the same architecture, for poaching. The result: better than 90% accuracy.
I mention drones and poaching and predictive analysis because it is becoming increasingly obvious that the converging dynamics of these three sectors are emblematic of the synergistic manner in which the larger system operates.
Let me explain. The poaching problem has generated a great deal of attention as it has become increasingly acute. This has precipitated many different efforts to try to stop the trend, both on the demand and supply sides of the equation.
On the supply side, the convergence of all three of these capabilities have come together in a new initiative aimed at stopping the poaching. Headed up by the Lindbergh Foundation, their Air Shepherd program focuses on an essential characteristic of the poaching problem: poachers kill at night.
If (using the predictive analysis), you know where to look for poachers at any given time, you can fly drones with night-vision cameras that can see the animals. . . and the poachers. Rangers can then be notified immediately when a potential poacher enters the area, and then the poacher is arrested before he kills.
Best of all, it works. In over 600 missions, no animals have died from poaching. In places where they were killing 12-19 rhinos a month, none have died where the Air Shepherd team has flown
What I am suggesting here is that throughout the emergence of the larger, global singularity, there will be enumerable, smaller singularity-like events and trends that presage and contribute to the larger trend.
About the Author:
John L. Petersen is a futurist and is the founder and president of The Arlington Institute. He is the publisher and editor of the free e-newsletter, FUTUREdition, and is the chairman of The Lindbergh Foundation.