Singularity and a Robot to make Wozniak a Cup of Coffee

According to the wikibook, Dictionary of Robotics Terminology, Singularity is defined as “A position in the robot’s workspace where one or more joints no longer represent independent controlling variables. Commonly used to indicate a position where a particular mathematical formulation fails.”

That’s not what I’m talking about in this post though. 

To astrophysicists Singularity is used to describe the center of a black hole at which matter is crushed to an infinite density, the pull of gravity is infinitely strong, and the space-time curvature becomes infinitely large.

I’m not talking about that either.

In his fascinating book, “The Singularity is Near”, author Ray Kurzweil talks about it in the very first paragraph.

singularity is near

I am not sure when I first became aware of the Singularity. I’d have to say it was a progressive
awakening. In the almost half century that I’ve immersed myself in computer and related technologies,
I’ve sought to understand the meaning and purpose of the continual upheaval that I have witnessed at
many levels. Gradually, I’ve become aware of a transforming event looming in the first half of the twenty-first
century. Just as a black hole in space dramatically alters the patterns of matter and energy accelerating
toward its event horizon, this impending Singularity in our future is increasingly transforming every
institution and aspect of human life, from sexuality to spirituality.
What, then, is the Singularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will
be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.

He is talking about machines getting smarter than us.

Yesterday, while addressing attendees of the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston, Dr. Kurzweil described what he thinks the world will be like in the not so distant future. He said that sometime during the 2020’s computers will match humans in intelligence, and then rapidly surpass them. He also said that within the next two decades we would be in a position to reverse the effects of disease and aging.

Not all futurists share in Ray Kurzweil’s vision, and he is considered to be one of the most radical figures in the field of technological prediction. He is a fascinating person though, and his book The Singularity is Near is being made into a movie. It is currently filming and will be out in the fall. Actually that’s not quite right. There is a movie coming out this fall titled “The Singularity is Near: A True Story About the Future”. It’s a story of Kurzweil’s prediction coming true, and an avatar reaching consciousness and saving us from microscopic robots bent on destroying the world. If you want to know more about Singularity or Ray Kurzweil, have a look at his website or see some of the other things Dr. Kurzweil is involved with at

Steve Wozniak has given up on Artificial Intellegence though.

Steve Wozniak isn’t as well known as his Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, but “Woz” is the tech genius that invented the Apple I in 1976 and the Apple II in 1977, which helped to make Apple the amazing success that is it today.

Earlier this month at an UP Experience event in Houston Woz asked the audience of 500 people

“What is intelligence?”

His answer?

A robot that could get him a cup of coffee.

“You can come into my house and make a cup of coffee and I can go into your house and make a cup of coffee,” he said. “Imagine what it would take for a robot to do that.”

It would have to negotiate the home, identify the coffee machine and know how it works.

But that’s not something a machine is capable of learning, at least not in my lifetime, he said.

 So Steve Wozniak has given up, and Ray Kurzweil says it’s right around the corner. So who’s right?

Glad you asked! Here is the future according to Bob.

Woz asked the audience “What is intelligence?”. His answer “A robot that can get me a cup of coffee”

That answer is incorrect. Intelligence is not measured by whether or not a robot can get Woz a cup of coffee.

It’s easy to let our human arrogance make us believe that we are the only creatures on the planet that are intelligent. We are not!

A rock probably doesn’t posses any intelligence, but what about a singe celled amoeba. Even an amoeba has a some intelligence built in so that it can find food. Compared to the amoeba, the paramecium is a genius. If a paramecium looks for food at a particular alga and it doesn’t find any, it will turn and head off in a different direction and continue searching. If an amoeba doesn’t find food at a particular alga, it will often just keep coming back anyway, it doesn’t know that it just looked there and didn’t find any food.


What about a bug, say an ant? Okay let’s not do ants, because not only do they posses individual intelligence, there is evidence that large group of them can act together as one big brain, so let’s skip ants.

How about cockroaches,  they can be taught tricks. Read Cockroaches Are Morons In The Morning, Geniuses In The Evening.

Now look at my dog Cooper. He’s not smart enough to make Woz a cup of coffee. But he is certainly more intelligent then most cockroaches. He’s great at fetching things. He even learned he could play fetch with himself by carrying a ball up to the top of the stairs and then letting it go.


I am smart enough to make Woz a cup of coffee.

So I’m smarter than Cooper. Cooper is smarter than a cockroach. A cockroach is smarter than a paramecium. A paramecium is smarter than an amoeba. And an amoeba is smarter than a rock. Even though these other creatures aren’t as smart as me, they all possess some intelligence, except maybe the rock.

What about a calculator. Is that intelligent? It can certainly calculate square roots a million times faster than I can. Nah, it’s just a machine. What about machines that can play the game of chess? A game that was once almost the definition of intelligence.

IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1997, but still it wasn’t considered by most people to be intelligent. Here is an excerpt from an interview from PBS’s NewsHour after the match

MARGARET WARNER: Hubert Dreyfus, what do you think is the significance of this? There’d been a lot of commentary about it. “Newsweek” Magazine called it the “brain’s last stand.” What do you see as the significance of this outcome?

HUBERT DREYFUS, University of California, Berkeley: Well, I think that’s a lot of hype, that it’s the brain’s last stand. It’s a significant achievement all right for the use of computers to rapidly calculate in a domain–and this is the important thing–completely separate from everyday human experience. It has no significance at all, as far as the question: will computers become intelligent like us in the world that we’re in? The reason the computer could win at chess–and everybody knew that eventually computers would win at chess–is because chess is a completely isolated domain. It doesn’t connect up with the rest of human life, therefore, like arithmetic, it’s completely formalizable, and you could, in principle, exhaust all the possibilities. And in that case, a fast enough computer can run through enough of these calculable possibilities to see a winning strategy or to see a move toward a winning strategy. But the way our everyday life is, we don’t have a formal world, and we can’t exhaust the possibilities and run through them. So what this shows is in a world in which calculation is possible, brute force meaningless calculation, the computer will always beat people, but when–in a world in which relevance and intelligence play a crucial role and meaning in concrete situations, the computer has always behaved miserably, and there’s no reason to think that that will change with this victory.  Read the entire transcript at PBS

Okay, so back to who is right, Ray or Steve. What Ray Kurzweil is talking about is computer becoming so smart, that they will know things we couldn’t possibly comprehend with our puny brains. 

 I don’t know if Ray is right and in 20 years of so computers will be smarter than we are. Even if that is not the case, every day computers and robots are being created that can do more and more of the things that previously only a human could do, and the reason only a human could do them is that they required intelligence.

There was a time that only a human could calculate square roots. There was a time that only a human could play a game of chess. There was a time that only a human could paint a car. Now after the latest DARPA challenge we can add to the list. There was a time that only a human could drive a car.

When only a human could do these things it was because they required intelligence. Once they could be done by a machine though, we say that we can do it becauses we are smart, but a machine does it in a way that doesn’t require any intelligence.

As machines continue to knock more and more things off our list of items that only a human can do, we may find that nothing we do requires intelligence, or that the machines are also intelligent.

I think the iRobot ROOMBA vacuum cleaner is about a smart as a paramecium. Infinitely more intelligent than an amoeba.

I think Woz is wrong, and a robot to make him coffee is coming soon.



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