So not too long ago I was bemoaning new technology, Andy Roonying my way through this new-fangled imagination-killer called Google Goggles. Around the time I was finishing that #firstworldproblems post, I stumbled on another Wikipedia article, this one describing Technological Singularity. (Wikipedia being the lazy man’s way to erudition.) Now, I recognize the apparent hypocrisy of arguing against the new Google technology as making all things knowable, then employing a technological term, the APEX of technology at that, to describe the unknowable. But such is the power of Barcelona – taking the knowable (tiki taka) so far as to become unknowable. So in honor of their Copa del Rey victory yesterday over Real Madrid, here goes (quotes from the article, italics from me, post-quote analysis from my id):
Many of the most recognized writers on the singularity… define the concept in terms of the technological creation of superintelligence, and argue that it is difficult or impossible for present-day humans to predict what a post-singularity world would be like, due to the difficulty of imagining the intentions and capabilities of superintelligent entities.
Barcelona has refined their tactics under Pep Guardiola to become impossible to predict in two ways. First, the usual movement from defensive flank, through Xavi and Busquets in the middle, and back out to Messi, Sanchez, and Alvez (and previously Villa) on the offensive flanks forms a sort of figure-eight through the pitch. While this is fairly predictable, where the actual attacking move will come from, and who and when, is impossible to know, perhaps even by Barca’s own players. This is what makes them so lethal. The ball follows and follows this known pattern, then in a flash, it shifts somewhere incomprehensible. See Eric Abidal’s goal from yesterday as an example. The second way Barca is unpredictable is when they don’t follow the aforementioned movement at all. Yesterday saw them attack more directly through Fabregas, who was moved farther forward on the pitch. While Real tried to press high with midfield cloggers Pepe and Alonso, Fabregas constantly pulled them back, opening up direct lanes to Sanchez.
The term “technological singularity” was originally coined by Vinge, who made an analogy between the breakdown in our ability to predict what would happen after the development of superintelligence and the breakdown of the predictive ability of modern physics at the space-time singularity beyond the event horizon of a black hole.
Yes, describing Barcelona as a “superintelligence” is going to get me all kinds of well-deserved critiques. But the analogy holds – as their players have spent so much time drilling in their unique style and tactical movement, particular pieces become ingrained and almost hyper-predictable. But then the style moves further, where players are moving so quickly and subconsciously that they themselves may not realize what they are about to do or where they will go with the ball before it happens. The way Iniesta moves around defenders doesn’t dusplay so much well-planned maneuvers as it does an unconscious kinesthetics beyond the predictability of opposing players.
A technological singularity includes the concept of an intelligence explosion, a term coined in 1965 by I. J. Good. Although technological progress has been accelerating, it has been limited by the basic intelligence of the human brain, which has not, according to Paul R. Ehrlich, changed significantly for millennia.
However with the increasing power of computers and other technologies, it might eventually be possible to build a machine that is more intelligent than humanity. If superhuman intelligences were invented, either through the amplification of human intelligence or artificial intelligence, it would bring to bear greater problem-solving and inventive skills than humans, then it could design a yet more capable machine, or re-write its source code to become more intelligent. This more capable machine then could design a machine of even greater capability.
Here I’m about to get into even more trouble. Think of the majority of football laboring under the limitations of the human brain. Where football has “29,384 rules about who can and can’t do what on which plays,” soccer imposes as few legal limits and stoppages as possible. What Barca has done (though they are not the only one) has built a machine in La Masia, their youth program, that could design an even greater machine. The school regularly turns out the key cogs in Barca’s engine, so fantastically programmed to produce the same game regardless of the lineup. This contrast is more prevalent pro football than in college, where you have the odd Mike Leach, whose practices reveal the same machine manufacturing as La Masia.
These iterations could accelerate, leading to recursive self improvement, potentially allowing enormous qualitative change before any upper limits imposed by the laws of physics or theoretical computation set in.
A terse response to the idea that Barca’s dominance could be waning. Anyone who’s watched them this season would quickly admit their flow has been a pace or two off. And yet they continue to win the big games, often with different, younger players, and sometimes (as yesterday) with an unfamiliar style.
The term “technological singularity” reflects the idea that such change may happen suddenly, and that it is difficult to predict how such a new world would operate.
It is unclear whether an intelligence explosion of this kind would be beneficial or harmful, or even an existential threat, as the issue has not been dealt with by most artificial general intelligence researchers, although the topic of friendly artificial intelligence is investigated by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity Institute.
Think of American football as a computer program at its most basic: a series of if:then algebraic equations: X(down) x Y(distance) / Z(time left in the game) = A(the correct play call). Coaches carry the menu of all possible play calls, using a laminated possibility chart to obfuscate which one of n plays they’re calling at that particular instant. Whereas soccer, Barca especially, is singularity: the entire tactical knowledge of centuries converges to create its own possibilities, outcomes unimaginable, unpredictable, and wondrous.