The Singularity is described as the moment technology’s growth becomes uncontrollable. Now, this may seem like a high-brow concept, but at its core, it is simple and powerful. So essentially, this is a theoretical moment where we are no longer in charge of technology. Well, if you’ve seen as many Terminator movies as I have (some VASTLY better than others), it’s Judgment Day. The day when Skynet took control because we could no longer stop it. If this is gibberish to you, then you should at LEAST watch T2: Judgment Day.
It. Is. WORTH. IT.
Ray Kurtzweil and The Singularity
Movie references aside, if The Singularity interests you, the work of Ray Kurtzweil is a must-read. He’s one of the main people talking about it in modern culture. If you watch enough of his public talks, you’ll get the idea in excellent detail.
But while he may be a widely accredited author, futurist, and inventor, Kurtzweil is not without bias. All people see things through the scope of their own experience. I see things as a father, a husband, and a writer. Things that are important to me might not be important to someone walking a different path. As a matter of fact, I assume most people won’t share all of my views, that would be narcissistic.
But after following enough of Kurtzweil’s work, I realized a central thread that irked me. He seems to take a stance that The Singularity is a thing to be feared. Which makes sense, considering the ramifications of creating technology we can’t control. Yet from his work in the study of futurism to his inventions, he seems to be sprinting towards The Singularity. As if it were a finish line, not a cautionary tale. For anyone who’s read The Telltale Heart, you know the dangers of an untrustworthy narrator. It seems that Kurtzweil’s words and his actions are at odds.
Far be it from me to cast shade on a world-renowned thinker. The man has proved himself vastly more intelligent than the rest of us. He’s definitely advanced the human race farther than I’ve been able to in my years.
Has Gaming Created The Singularity Already?
Anyone who has played a decent amount of video games knows how far AI has come these past few decades. The reality we can insert into the artificial worlds of video games is getting better with every passing month. From the cutting edge of cloud gaming, to free phone games with predictive algorithms. We are moving closer and closer to not being able to differentiate between game and reality.
We’re not speaking theoretically either, with games now having independent ecosystems, and complex economies. The worlds we enter to play are becoming more fully realized than our own lives in some cases. Some characters that only exist digitally are living their lives more fully than we are.
A fascinating and terrifying fact that I found out about what was a VERY popular game. The creation of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed involved several technical innovations. One system allowed for something that may have been a grave mistake. The enemy AI for this game was literally given a central nervous system. Essentially, allowing your enemies to feel pain, and thus avoid your attacks.
Now, purely from a gamer’s perspective, that’s an incredibly immersive detail. But think about that for a moment… why did they have to program the AI to feel pain? Presumably, they were trying to recreate a human-like perspective to replicate human behavior. But if you think about the consequences of programing AI to feel pain… it’s more than a little horrifying. Just like Kurtzweil, it seems like game companies are just fine with hurrying up The Singularity.
So, now it’s storytime, and boy do I have an experience for you! My wife and I have been fierce gamers since childhood. We have both seen the advance of technology and how each generation of bosses gets more complex. There have been times where we have both experienced the feeling of being outsmarted by a game.
But most of all, my wife and I have put more gaming hours into Skyrim than ANY other game. And unlike pretty much any game in the recent past, Skyrim has been able to grow and evolve with us. It has crossed into a second generation of platforms, and with the addition of mods, it’s gotten… smarter? Yes, I’m pretty sure smarter is the word to describe it. The individual NPCs, generally stoic and performing repeated, observable patterns, are no longer following the rules.
What I mean is, and our experience isn’t unique (take a quick Reddit dive and see), it seems like since some amount of the computation was put on the cloud, and mods were added, Skyrim evolved. But I digress, back to the actual story that I wanted to add.
Storytime… For Real
There is a character from Skyrim called Adrianne Avenicci, she’s a Blacksmith in Whiterun. I’ll spare you the details of her personal life, but suffice it to say, she’s a pretty stationary character. Her general programming has her stay within the space of about 100 square yards in the game space. That’s not to say Adrianne has a small world, but she doesn’t seem keen to explore it. Or at least, she didn’t until the upgrades.
About a year after the game was re-released on Xbox One, complete with mods, my wife experienced this. Adrianne had left her post, outside of her blacksmith shop. The character was nowhere to be found, and my wife, being the immersive player she is, soon worried for her. After looking around for her body or some sign of a vampire attack (common in Skyrim with available DLC), nothing. Not a single trace of where this beloved blacksmith was, or a clue to her fate.
But That’s Not The End
When I say my wife is an immersive player, the word immersive does her playstyle a disservice. She literally launched an investigation into the whereabouts of this NPC. After a few hours of nothing, she finally threw up her hands. Gone was Adrianne, and so, it seemed, any trace of where she’d gone. But then, upon an unrelated quest in the northern parts of Skyrim, Adrianne showed up. My wife was shocked and wanted to save the evidence as I was now at work. She took a series of game footage videos on the Xbox One’s dashboard. The footage painted a picture I wouldn’t have been able to imagine.
Adrianne had walked, from the very center of Skyrim where she lived, all the way to the very northern coast. A journey of many miles by her scale, and one taken presumably on foot. That wasn’t all that was in these game clips, however. There was also a clip that thickens the plot even further. A bandit, a usually hostile class, walked up to Adrianne, as if meeting her at the coast. They met on a cliffside, overlooking the northern seas as my wife hid curiously in a bush.
Am I Interrupting Something…?
The bandit walked away from Adrianne, walked right up to my wife, hidden crouched out of view. The bandit asked my wife (or rather her character) “Can I help you?”. The voice with which it was asked belied anger and frustration. As if my wife had been interrupting a private moment. Now this alone is strange, but another ‘rule’ of Skyrim was broken. This bandit, a hostile character, should have treated my wife’s character as an enemy. Weapons should have been drawn, a battle should have ensued. But none of these things occurred. Just a rude question before the bandit walked off in a huff.
After this point, my wife stayed “hidden” in the bush, having ignored the bandit’s question. Adrianne looked out over the coast for another few minutes before turning around and walking back to Whiterun. There is nothing that anyone can tell me that can explain why this NPC chose to take this action. None of the mods involved affected her code. None of the updates should have given her the drive to go see the ocean. The only reason I can see for this is that Adrianne had lived in Whiterun all her life. Whiterun, being a landlocked city, gave her no views of cliffs overlooking crashing waves. So, tired of running the same program, Adrianne took her chance to go see something new.
Where Are We On the Whole Singularity Thing…?
So, with all this information, what is the conclusion? Well, it seems like gaming has created a series of systems that mimick evolution. What this may mean is that we could have invented the petri dish for Digital Darwinism. Or, it could mean that several gamers after playing games for many years have confused good coding for intelligence. It could mean that Bethesda and other game dev companies are blurring the lines REALLY well. But it also seems like it’s getting harder to tell the difference.
So I guess the point I was really trying to make is…
I’m less concerned with thunderous applause than with Skynet taking over and no one noticing.