You may have read around that a black hole “is a singularity”. But, if you are interested in artificial intelligence, you also heard about The Singularity, when robots will surpass us. So… robots in black holes? Actually, it all makes sense.

In maths, a singularity is a point that sticks out, because a function does something singular there: it becomes infinite, breaking its usual, mundane behavior. Take the function 1/x. It’s a half when x is 2, it’s a third when x is 3, it’s some number for each and every value of x you can think of. Except for 0, you cannot divide by zero.

Stars collapsing into a black hole create another singularity. According to Einstein’s General Relativity, mass bends spacetime, the more mass, the more bending. Some stars have so much mass that, when they collapse, they bend space and time beyond recognition. Matter, then, keeps falling closer and closer into a single point, infinitely small and infinitely dense. A gravitational singularity, and the star creates a black hole.

Ray Kurzweil is a famous tech author. He describes The Singularity as the moment when computers become better than humans at designing computers, which create even better computers, in a runaway effect. It resembles the gravity runaway inside black holes, and, like we cannot see a black hole’s singularity, we cannot foresee what will happen beyond The Singularity. So The Singularity is kind of like a singularity. Plus the name is cool.

So where can we see what a real-world singularity looks like? Unfortunately, nowhere.

Singularities show the limits of a physical laws. Before you reach those limits, you cross the material ones of the physical world. Before abstract laws break, something concrete will.

If you want more
  • The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry explaining the meaning of these fascinating points that break physics
  • There’s a lot more to gravitational singularities: there’s a cool post about it on Universe Today
  • What sort of singularity caused that bridge to collapse? Watch this minutephysics video about that
  • PBS Infinite Series explained a bit more about singularities in math

Cover photo: CC0 Pascal Laurent/pixabay

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