Singularity Index

Depictions of the singularity, as seen through the lens of pop culture

2 min read


The singularity—that pivotal moment when machines attain superhuman intelligence—may never arrive, but don’t tell Hollywood. Over the years, writers, directors, and set designers have envisioned worlds in which machines rule. Whether benign or evil or somewhere in between, these mechanized souls tend to mirror society’s own attitudes toward technology. In the 1927 silent classic Metropolis, the robot doppelgänger Maria foments rebellion among the human workers—a reflection of that era’s real-world struggles over labor and class. The trust-in-technology 1950s and early 1960s, by contrast, yielded a fleet of friendly helpers, from Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet to Rosey, the automaton maid in ”The Jetsons.” Recent incarnations of humanlike machines have been more subtly drawn: though often physically superior, they remain conflicted about their existence and uneasy about their human creators. Here we offer a few depictions of the singularity, as seen through the lens of pop culture.

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The Future of Deep Learning Is Photonic

Computing with light could slash the energy needs of neural networks

10 min read
Image of a computer rendering.

This computer rendering depicts the pattern on a photonic chip that the author and his colleagues have devised for performing neural-network calculations using light.

Alexander Sludds

Think of the many tasks to which computers are being applied that in the not-so-distant past required human intuition. Computers routinely identify objects in images, transcribe speech, translate between languages, diagnose medical conditions, play complex games, and drive cars.

The technique that has empowered these stunning developments is called deep learning, a term that refers to mathematical models known as artificial neural networks. Deep learning is a subfield of machine learning, a branch of computer science based on fitting complex models to data.

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