Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support the news you rely on from NHPR and NPR with a gift today!
NPR Blogs

The Singularity Is Already Here

The human machine in action.
The human machine in action.

Will machines one day take over the world?

Yes. In fact, they already have.

I don't mean auto-trading computers on Wall Street, unmanned weapons systems, Deep Blue and the World Wide Web.

I mean us. We are machines.

From the dawn of our history we have amplified ourselves with tools. We have cultivated skills that take our basic body schema and extend it out into the world with sticks and rakes and then arrows and guns and rails and phones. Where do you find yourself? Spread out all over the universe. And it has always been so, really.

We don't just change our body-power — what we can do, how we can move, where we can go, how fast, how far, how strong. No, we change our mind-power. Or rather, we ourselves are the result of processes of artificial reorganization of cognition and consciousness.

Artificial intelligence? That's us. Naturally artificial. We think with tokens, symbols, artifacts. Words, spoken and written, are our medium, and together with pictures, moving and still, and other kinds of images, they structure our minds. Look inward, reach deep inside and you find a universe within that is made out of the currency of our shared, social lives together.

Ask again: where do you find yourself? Spread out all over the universe.

Futurists and physicists (on this blog!) see the singularity coming — a future in which intelligent machines take over. But the singularity has already happened. We are the singularity.

You can keep up with more of what Alva Noë is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @alvanoe

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.