There are three major schools of thought: Accelerating Change, the Event Horizon, and the Intelligence Explosion. There is also those who do not think a Technological Singularity will happen.
Core claim: For the last hundred thousand years, humans have been the smartest intelligences on the planet. All our social and technological progress was produced by human brains. Shortly, technology will advance to the point of improving on human intelligence (brain-computer interfaces, Artificial Intelligence). This will create a future that is weirder by far than most science fiction, a difference-in-kind that goes beyond amazing shiny gadgets.
I think that the current understanding of physics will still apply. There could be some Mach Effect Propulsion breakthroughs that would be accelerated with far greater than human artificial intelligence (AGI). However, we could also get that even without AGI.
I also think that we will be living through the rampup to any great acceleration in development. So the changes will be mostly understandable and somewhat predictable to those who are paying close attention. It is difficult to make accurate predictions now beyond 5-10 years in many areas. Faster changing technological areas have predictable aspects but less predictability in certain new applications. The internet and communication speeds and deployment are predictable but social media was less predictable as they emerged but then they settled into predictability again. Disruptions are not predictable but the period between disruptions should remain predictable. I do not think the pace of disruptions for science will get to the point where people will not be able to follow it. It may be difficult for people to contribute to the advancement but it should remain understandable to those who currently are on top of scientific developments.
Core claim: Intelligence has always been the source of technology. If technology can significantly improve on human intelligence – create minds smarter than the smartest existing humans – then this closes the loop and creates a positive feedback cycle. What would humans with brain-computer interfaces do with their augmented intelligence? One good bet is that they’d design the next generation of brain-computer interfaces. Intelligence enhancement is a classic tipping point; the smarter you get, the more intelligence you can apply to making yourself even smarter.
Strong claim: This positive feedback cycle goes FOOM, like a chain of nuclear fissions gone critical – each intelligence improvement triggering an average of over 1.000 further improvements of similar magnitude – though not necessarily on a smooth exponential pathway. Technological progress drops into the characteristic timescale of transistors (or super-transistors) rather than human neurons.
The feedback cycle still has physical components. An early requirement to truly accelerate development if to create molecular nanotechnology with as few restrictions in what can be manufactured as possible. Also, there would be the need to have as few limits on available energy as possible.
The limits on manufacturing get larger removed with full blown molecular nanotechology.
The limits on energy available would get largely removed with very good nuclear fusion power generation and space based solar and being able to make very large things in the solar system.
I think that molecular nanotechnology, nuclear fusion and true space capabilities will largely come before AGI.
I also think that intelligence explosion needs to be quantified and qualified with the rampup of capabilities.
Core claim: Our intuitions about change are linear; we expect roughly as much change as has occurred in the past over our own lifetimes. But technological change feeds on itself, and therefore accelerates. Change today is faster than it was 500 years ago, which in turn is faster than it was 5000 years ago. Our recent past is not a reliable guide to how much change we should expect in the future.
As noted, I think several big capabilities that will lift restrictions will occur before AGI.
The list of high impact technologies or policies that have current active projects. For example, Broad Groups factory mass produced high rises replaces printed buildings using layers of additive concrete. Broad Group has more resources and appears on track to getting a lot of commercial success.
1. Pro-growth Policies
2. Energy Efficiency – superconductors, thermoelectrics, improved grid
3. Energy Revolution – Mass produced fission, fusion, and maybe cold fusion
4. Additive manufacturing
5. Not so mundane – neuromorphic chips, quantum computers, photonics
6. Automated transportation (leading to robotic cars and planes)
7. Urbanization MegaCities
8. Urbanization Broad Group skyscrapers, Tata flat packed buildings
9. Robotics (possibly one billion robots by 2020)
11. Sensors everywhere
13. Improve medicine and public health
15. Synthetic biology and recombineering
16. Education transformed and accelerated innovation
17. Supersmartphones, exoskeletons and wearable systems