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Scenarios for a technological singularity usually seem to wait for machine intelligence to exceed human intelligence.

Say the consumer needs of humans are food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, sanitation, education, healthcare.

Say specialized, relatively dumb machines are developed to perform all steps necessary to provide those requirements, without human interaction: mining, refining, manufacturing, planting, harvesting, distribution, fishing, construction, disposal, and so on.

Say machines exist to build, maintain, and repair themselves and all other machines.

At that point, the world is automatic and mechanized enough that all humans can be idle consumers only, and not employed producers.

If population growth is then restricted to less than zero, either through deliberate human-instigated or machine-instigated policy, or because of some disaster, hasn't the transition from humans to machines then been achieved without superintelligence ever happening?

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question. Is this an end run around the singularity I wonder? $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Dec 15 '14 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you are using the "common" definition of singularity, which usually refers to the point where computers become so intelligent that it is impossible to know before the singularity happens what it will unveil. $\endgroup$ – Sheraff Dec 15 '14 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ My poor choice of title hid my real question, which is the last sentence. I've re-titled. $\endgroup$ – Witness Protection ID 44583292 Mar 2 '17 at 23:53
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This is not singularity but total automation.

I doubt that machine capable of designing and running new mine (and repair all broken equipment) would be dumb. It would have to have AI comparable with human's, would have capabilities to detect defects, design equipment needed to accomplish goals, and modify itself. Modification may include improving.

Maybe (if this was the smartest AI and human died out quickly) this AI would go on to make more mines, and then it would invent space travel to be able to mine even more - asteroids and other planets. Pretty funny way to settle all Galaxy - just to mine it out.

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  • $\begingroup$ You are correct about automation vs. singularity, so I edited the title. But my question still stands. I don't think the individual machines would be dumb, but they wouldn't have to be superintelligent either, just specialized. Like a lot of AI today: good at specific tasks, terrible in general competitions with humans. $\endgroup$ – Witness Protection ID 44583292 Mar 2 '17 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ The only requirements for singularity super-intelligence are self-modification, self-improvement, and time. But machine cannot be "dumb" to plan a mine or a farm, organize robots to be manufactured and work there, transport and process the materials. All kinds of unforeseen problems may happen. Like invasion of Normandy: hardest part was the logistics. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Mar 3 '17 at 2:28
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Typically people are talking about the point where progress of technology becomes incomprehensible to us. The point where all our current preconceptions of society and technology break down. Note that "us" refers to people discussing the topic now and the issue is about understanding. So what future people understand or do and even whether they exist, is not really the point.

This presumes that there are actors working on society and technology that are capable developing concepts we can't understand. Often this means those actors are either AIs or enhanced humans with super-intelligence.

The super-intelligence can also be the collective intelligence of the society as a whole. A billion humans can think up more than any single person can understand. If the efficiency and applied resources of technological development increase enough, the rate of development might become higher than individual human can understand.

Still, "technological singularity" does not exclude a scenario where the reason we cannot understand the speculated future is simply because the technologies their society relies on are not understood by us. Most common example is nanotechnology. We do not currently know the real limits of nanotechnology, thus a society with good enough nanotechnology could rely on applications that simply have never occurred to us. This society would also be beyond our current ability to understand as would be their technology.

So the correct answer would be, depends on your definition?

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  • $\begingroup$ OK, forget the singularity. Could a world of intelligent interchangeable humans end up as a world of specialized machines? $\endgroup$ – Witness Protection ID 44583292 Mar 3 '17 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, humanity going extinct and a self-sustaining system of automated machines are both possible and not mutually exclusive, so that can happen. But given that the two are not really related to each other logically, this is like asking if it is possible to get heads on a coin toss and a four on a roll of dice. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Mar 6 '17 at 23:37
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I can't see how non-intelligent machines could "take over." I can see that a group of people who control those machines could take over.

In another option, people could give more and more of their tasks to the machines to the point that everyone is a couch potato but, even then, that only persists because people continue to choose it.

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