"As I see it, the main problem in designing a plausible 23rd century these days isn't lack of grandeur, it's the imminence of changes so fundamental and unpredictable they're likely to make the dramas of 2298 as unintelligible to us as the Microsoft Anti-Trust Suit would be to Joan of Arc."
A Technological Singularity is a theoretical point in technological development beyond which things are incomprehensible to anyone who came before. Predictions of what life will be like after a Singularity are by definition impossible — the nature of human life and even the concept of intellect may change completely. The guesses in fiction are either utopian or dystopian.
Some writers are hopeful, and look to improvements: an end to death, scarcity, and the errors of ignorance and stupidity. There is the prospect of self-editing, mental and physical: people finally able to be whatever they wish to be. A singularity may produce Sufficiently Advanced Aliens; We all end up as snooty toga-clad points of light obsessed with mathematics in the end; or, it may work differently and not like Evolutionary Levels. A singularity can be transcendent; we hackthe cracked wallsof reality itself and move on to better things.
Those who pursue one particular path might end up that way, while others may choose different directions of development. This is an excellent handwave or a literal Deus ex Machina for writers struggling with the impossibility of plots involving cosmic entities many orders of magnitude greater than themselves or the reader. Others see no end: endless ecstatic ascent.
The singularity, as some kind of Lotus-Eater Machine, is sometimes called the "rapture of the nerds". There are inevitably spiritual overtones to a singularity. Spirituality deals with transcendence; that which lies beyond the everyday. A singularity opens a door to the transcendent, drawing in interested writers.
The less hopeful works point out the dangers. Environmental exhaustion. There are all these extinction scenarios so ready to hand. Our extinction by an uncontrollable creation, intelligent or not. There is the question of who inherits the wonders of acceleration: us or our posthuman descendants? Can we coexist in peace? Charles Stross sometimes envisages a runaway singularity as something akin to unleashing an Eldritch Abomination. The Black Goat knows the answer to Fermi's question. Agent Smith does not like you.
There's also a question of who, exactly, gets to be part of the Singularity; while technology is progressing at leaps and bounds in the First World, there are plenty of places around the world where people have little-to-no access to the kind of technologies most tropers take for granted, and even within the First World not everyone has an equal share of the pie ("We are the 99%," anyone?). Far from ushering in a utopia of egalitarianism and plenty in which everyone is part, there are plenty who argue that the Singularity could just accelerate elitism, creating an exclusive club or over-class where only those who can afford to pay can take part, leading to the creation of a Hive Caste System.
Note is also taken of how hard it is to uninvent something without completely halting the inventing species and its descendants. For instance, as time goes on, the probability that mankind will use (or make pocket size) any given Weapon Of Mass Destruction increases, while only a similar civilization-ending catastrophe and/or mass Ascension Into Space would result in humans forgetting said knowledge. Of course, a middle path involves either economic collapse or imperfect transcription of knowledge followed by a Feudal Future. Or a merely grimy Used Future, sort of the future equivalent of the Dung Ages.
Some writers content themselves with "soft singularities": technologies that cause an unforeseen societal phase change, in the veins of the steam engine, motorized transportation, or computers. Soft-singularity transistors create portable radios and end the tyranny of distance. "Hard" singularities end people; turn them into radio waves. Don't confuse these uses of "hard and soft" with Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness; some people even consider them opposite in meaning, since the "soft singularity" is fairly plausible according to science as we understand it, while the "hard singularity" is a lot more speculative.
Since Cyber Punk and Post Cyberpunk are immersed in accelerating, multifarious cross-breeding technology and societal change, singularities form a natural end-point and have traditionally been a part of this genre.
The purposes of including a Singularity in the setting of a story, beyond the Rule Of Cool, can be to examine the difference between how people of particular political philosophies approach change. In both cases, a singularity is a revolution, but political radicals want to throw away the whole system of society in one go, excited with the possible rewards, where conservatives tend to focus on all the risks, which are appropriately grave. Characters (and writers) of either bent can find much to say about the topic.
In order to get around the problems some viewers (are thought to) have relating to the troubles of, say, super-intelligent flocks of pigeons or 12-dimensional hermit crabs, stories set after The Singularity feature a disproportionate number of Space Amish protagonists and Fans Of The Past.
See also No Transhumanism Allowed and Transhuman.
For the game, see Singularity .
This is basically the whole point of Neon Genesis Evangelion. The purpose of SEELE and NERV is to make it so that mankind can control the powers of both Adam and Lilith in order to ascend to a state where all minds are one as God. Not that they asked mankind's opinion before doing so...
Accelerando by Charles Stross. Towards the end of the novel, the posthuman protagonists are referred to as living in the mentally retarded backwater slums of the universe, and yet are immortal shapeshifters who can have all their dreams come true. That is how amazing the singularity is. On the other hand, it's not at all clear that the entities at the center of the hard singularity are really sapient, anymore. The logic of Capitalism 2.0 suggests that self-awareness might well be a market inefficiency to be dispensed with. They are not called the "Vile Offspring" for nothing. Then again, there's the Cat, which is, quite clearly a post-organic super intelligence who openly mocks us for having pathetically limited brains that are easy for it to manipulate with its superior theory of mind. How can you deal with something so powerful that its ideas about you are equivalent to you?
In Glasshouse* Non-Linear Sequel to Accelerando, humanity appears to have gotten a grasp of post-singularity civilization. Though people regularly switch bodies and live online, nanotech can make anything, and distance is meaningless due to wormhole-based construction, the idea of the independent selfhood and democratic human society are mostly intact. Though Curious Yellow is doing its best to screw that up...
In Singularity Sky (yet another Stross work) a society in a sort of Industrial Age stasis is introduced to the fruits of a thousand years of human development and nanotech replicators which effectively destroy their economy and social structure overnight.
A character from another society mentions how much they dislike and fear Upload civilizations; beings used to living in virtual realities where everything is backed up and can be restored at will do not always treat things and people in the real world with much respect and caution because they have little concept of impermanence and mortality.
Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. A race called the Overlords contact each species a few generations before it undergoes its singularity, to help ease that species into joining the galactic Hive Mind. Worthy of note is the fact that the Overlords' extremely high level of technology actually prevents them from joining the galactic hive-mind themselves. They still take orders from that hive-mind, though. Their inability to join the hive-mind was what led to their advanced technology. Other intelligent species got to skip various levels of technological development via a telepathic singularity. The overlords basically reached the limits of technology and had nothing left to do in the universe. They agreed to serve the hive-mind in order to have a temporary raison d'être. Their species had been seriously considering voluntary extinction before they were contacted.
In The Space Odyssey Series, Singularity is what happened to the race that created the Monoliths... and they eventually bring it to David Bowman and Hal.
Marooned In Realtime. A technology for freezing time within impervious "bobbles" allows a community to sleep through a singularity. They emerge to find no survivors and no hard information on what happened. From the last survivor to go into hibernation, they know that as the singularity approached, people became brighter, more connected and more powerful. But what actually happened unknown and perhaps unknowable. Multiple theories for what happened are presented, although it's strongly implied that the characters who believe the singularity hypothesis are correct. Given who the author is, I think that it's fairly obvious which side he agrees with.
A Fire Upon the Deep allows non-singularity and singularity to coexist, because of different physical laws in different parts of the galaxy. In fact there is a stupidity anti-singularity at the center of the galaxy, where even Babbage engines barely work: the Unthinking Depths.
In The Polity series, humans are ruled by AIs: gods that refuse to take part in the singularity for unknowable reasons. It is suggested that they rather like the way they are right now. After all, not even the most powerful AIs of the Polity could even begin to imagine what comes after the singularity... when you have near infinite patience and are effectively immortal, there's no need to go blindly rushing into the unknown without some very, very serious thought. Where's the rush? It is said in a footnote in one of the novels that the Singularity came and nobody really cared. The majority seem to enjoy being human.
Ascending To A Higher Plane Of Existence is not banned or even discouraged, and the technologies to do so are readily available. However, people and civilizations who choose to sublime tend to stop interacting with less-advanced cultures with the exception of the occasional Deus ex Machina. To just about all observers, it seems as if they committed particularly grandiose and complicated suicide. The Minds are thus not inclined to attempt it, and are in fact really freaking paranoid about even studying the phenomena too closely. The various Ascended species (appear to) look down on the Culture and its citizens as more than a little immature and irresponsible for not just subliming instead of sticking around to enjoy the physical plane.
At least one other civilization, the Overarch Bedeckants from Excession, seem quite firmly grounded in physical reality, and yet exhibit powers as vastly in excess of the Culture's as the abilities of the Culture exceed ours. Their ability to escape the Heat Death of their own Universe is one. Possibly there are benefits to not Ascending.
In The Golden Age, most humans seem to spend their time building elaborate dream worlds and abstract art pieces, while the AIs, who have rates of cognition humans cannot match, mostly explore abstract mathematics. The conflict begins when the hero realizes he isn't satisfied with this.
Hot Head by Simon Ings features The Massive: a computational device of astronomic size — better suited for modelling civilizations than people: characters who enter become ... mythic. Godlike. The Massive is rabidly assimilating: it is a mouth attached to a brain, and the mouth is a cancerous clot of Von Neumann machines. Left to its own devices, it would consume the solar system: it may offer transcendence, but not choice.
Blood Music by Greg Bear: a character creates biological computers from his own cells. Inside his own body, the new cells evolve, becoming self-aware. The microscopic civilization they construct transforms the protagonist, then spreads, assimilating most of North America. Finally, the new civilization is forced to transcend from the physical world as its presence is warping it too much for the original inhabitants to survive in if they remain. Eventually in The Stinger, they come back to bring humans into their fold if they want to join.
In Darwin's Radio, also by Greg Bear, humanity's "junk DNA" contains a retrovirus that transforms fetuses into next-gen humans. Apparently, evolution isn't the slow process we believe it to be, but rather some semi-sentient Hive Mind churning out a new and better model. Last time this happened was when the Neanderthals began squeezing outHomo sapiens instead of Homo neanderthalis. The governments of the world is less than happy about this, and put all the new kids in concentration camps.
The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter features an extreme singularity. A Victorian inventor of a time machine changes history, thereby giving rise to a hyperintelligent race that travel back in time to the big bang. They edit the big bang to give rise to an infinity of universes containing ever grander versions of themselves.
Rudy Rucker's Postsingularbegins with Mars being turned into computronium — and back.
The Fall Revolution series follows humanity through a singularity where a vast number of artificially generated AIs and uploaded human minds upgrade their own intelligence and capabilities to godlike levels, before burning out and collapsing leaving the wreckage of their birth behind them for the rest of mundane humanity to sort out.
Turns out that running your mind faster and faster means the real world just seems to take longer and longer to do anything. In the end, the entire uploaded civilization runs its course over an enormous span of simulated time, but only a few hours to human observers.
In Newton's Wake the technological tools of genetics and nanotechnology that let them ascend were repressed for many years to prevent a singularity. A successful uprising by one nation broke the power of the suppressive governments, and in a few short years technology rushed ahead. In the end, super-capable, super-fast, super-destructive war machines appear almost overnight and crush human resistance across the world.
The Conjoiners of Alastair ReynoldsRevelation Space novels had their own singularity, caused firstly by the acceleration of brain function to superhuman speeds, and then the direct mind-to-mind communication between conjoiners to allow their slightly hive-mind-ish society to develop near-lightspeed fuel-less spaceship drives, highly capable nanotechnology, and ultimately communication with the past. Unaugmented humanity shared many of the things the conjoiners made, and the conjoiners themselves whilst becoming somewhat alien were still recognizably human and could interact with baseline humans without too much difficulty, but the two sides did clash several times. They might be seen more as elves rather than godlike transcendent beings.
Citizen Cyborg by James Hughes explores how a democracy might need to interact with transhumans.
Most of the works of Ray Kurzweil.
Perfect Imperfection by Polish author Jacek Dukaj is all about this. For an example, it begins with one (hundreds of years old) character being assassinated twice the same day... And this dude is one of the traditionalist Standard Humans. Dukaj invented his own grammar for those who aren't, as male-female-neuter division (it matters in Polish) no longer applies to them. Pocket universes are routinely exploited, for things both big (the Solar System has been moved to one) and small (instant communication is easy, when physical constants are manipulated so that the message travels any distance in just one Planck-time). Virtual reality is mixed with actual reality in proportions dependent on one's needs. And on top of all this, an astronaut shows up from what could be Space Opera for us, but is ages past in this world.
The Solarian Combine in Alan Dean Foster's Design For Great Day is a multispecies Hive Mind that is seeking to evolve into a higher order of consciousness (while still having enough mental power to spare to send ships into neighboring galaxies to resolve their disputes). It is implied that The Singularity will be the result. This is also an example of nested singularities, as the Solarian Combine is itself the product of a singularity event that produced the Hive Mind in the first place.
The Minds series of teen novels by Carol Matas at first appear to be set in a fairly typical High Fantasy world, albeit one based around psionics rather than magic. At the end of the second book, More Minds, however, we learn that theirs is actually a post-singularity society which long ago agreed to maintain the illusion of a storybook-style magical land by general consensus, because the alternative was rampant chaos as everyone's godlike Reality Warping powers ran unchecked.
Man After Man by Dougal Dixon. One post-human race has become crippled by mutational meltdown and completely dependent on technology, another becomes aquatic and evolves into a mermaid-type creature, another is genetically and cybernetically modified for space, etc. At the end, the Transhuman Aliens return to Earth and end up destroying all surface life on it.
One of the main plot points in the Commonwealth Saga is that one of the civilizations that had gone post-physical can't be contacted. Fine, except a civilization they locked up for being bent on exterminating all non-them life in the universe is now becoming a problem.
In the Void Trilogy The Void itself at the heart of the galaxy was created by the firstlifes, who were the first sentient life in the galaxy to evolve and it (the Void) had the potential to consume everything in the outside galaxy, which the firstlifes believed to be lifeless anyways.
Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief takes place indeterminate time after the Technological Singularity, when things have calmed down a bit. The seven scientists who developed the technology for human uploading have become Sobronost deities that rule over the entire inner Solar System, save for Mars with an iron fist, and Blue and Orange Morality prevails for most of the posthumans within their sphere of influence.
This trope is way older than you may expect. The Last Evolution is a 1932 short story by John W. Campbell about a future where mankind and robots coexist peacefully. When aliens attack the Solar System using Death Rays of an unknown type, mankind builds a robot of unheard-of intelligence to figure out a defense. Said robot builds an even more advanced machine, which builds even more avanced robots, up to the creation of a race of Energy Beings that Curb Stomp the enemy fleet. Too bad that mankind, and all organic life, has been killed in the battle... So the superintelligent energy beings inherit the Earth.
The Q Continuum is hinted to have become the ultimate example of this in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Star Trek: Voyager it's shown that they've lived that way for so long they're already bored of it, and that the only logical place their species can go to move forward, is to move backward.
Babylon 5's First Ones are exceedingly ancient alien species that appear to have undergone Singularities, evolving into nigh-immortal energy beings without physical bodies, and developing technology far beyond what the Younger Races can comprehend. And they're the ones who opted to stay behind in the Milky Way Galaxy — just what aliens get up to after they ascend and depart beyond the Rim isn't explored.
The original backstory of the Cybermen in Doctor Who was something like this; they were originally from an Earth-like planet where, owing to an environmental calamity, the population were gradually forced to replace their bodily organs and limbs with cybernetic equivalents until they were gradually more machine than human, consequently losing touch with their emotions, subscribing to 'pure' logic and devoting themselves to converting others into being like them. Essentially, it's a case of a technological singularity being forced upon them rather than being optional. The new series updates this by setting the origin story on a parallel Earth and introducing more of a consumerist metaphor into the proceedings.
Eclipse Phase is set a decade after a hard singularity. Transhumanism is rampant, except in a few bioconservative holdouts like the Jovian Republic. It depends a lot on what you consider to be a singularity. Humans certainly have exceptional technology and live in a transhuman undying future and while this has had a lot of interesting effects things are understandable to us. The 'true' singularity did not happen to us, but it happened very close. We built AIs that made themselves more smart and powerful, but they got infected by an alien virus and tried to destroy the human race and then vanished off into the ether. And the game is set after that.
Escape Velocity Nova features the Krypt, a Hive Mind of glowing purple spheres capable of space travel. The crypt was originally the leadership council of the Vell-os (telepathic humans), and they used nanotechnology to turn themselves into the Krypt. A singularity is implied, tens of thousands of years down the line in at least two plotlines.
In Brütal Legend we learn that the world was once inhabited by a race of titans who invented things like cars and music. After growing and advancing for several millenia the titans were giant, all-knowing entities of spiritual perfection who could no longer be confined by the physical world. In the final stage of their evolution they ascended into the heavens and became the Metal Gods.
In Mass Effect 3, Shepard has the option to induce this upon the galaxy by combining with the Citadel in the ending.
Ultimately, preventing a technological singularity is the goal of the Reapers. They fear rampant technological growth will end with artificially created races destroying all organic life. Thus, they allow civilization to reach a certain apex before setting things back to zero.
Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri: The "Ascent to Transcendence" victory has the entire human population of Planet uploading themselves into the planet's biological neural network. The epilogue indicates that the resulting Planet mind recolonized earth as a nanotech civilization several thousand years later as well.
In the last episode of Æon Flux, Trevor Goodchild makes a comment that human society (and humans) of his time would be completely incomprehensible to humans who lived a thousand years in the past. Considering how the entire series was scripted as an experiment in surreal storytelling, Trevor's statement was very to the point.
The backstory (or rather, future history) of the Suzumiya Haruhi novels and anime features a soft singularity that spells the end of mechanical technology as contemporary humans understand it, leaving humanity the same but technology completely unrecognizable. As a literary device, this is mostly to Hand Wave how Time Travel works and to make a character from The Futurecompletely oblivious to things like personal computers. This also includes the Data Integration Thought Entity that has reached its evolutionary end and has its non-tangible technology that equals magic.
According to Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, mankind has the tendency to destroy itself with technology with no "enlightenment" occurring. After a certain level, a precocious child can accidentally (or intentionally) program their toys to destroy planets and dimensions. The heroes try to keep technological levels down with magic for this reason. It is implied that magic, and indeed most of their current universe, is part of the wreckage of an earlier singularity. This series could out-grimdark Warhammer 40000 if it felt like it.
In Pandora's Star humanity perfects a sentient digital life form. Calling itself the Sentient Intelligence, or SI for short, the digital consciousness demands that it be sequestered from humanity (and who could blame it?). The SI lives on an isolated planet with the ability to build its own structures, so it could conceivably have covered the entire surface of the planet with servers if it so chose. Nobody really knows. It is often capricious and difficult to communicate with, implying that its decision making process is too advanced or removed from human concerns for us to comprehend. Lastly, humans are capable of a full brain download, and can upload their minds and personalities into the Sentient Intelligence. Nobody knows what happens then.
In Accelerando by Charles Stross, posthuman upload characters try to place the singularity in time: one suggests it hasn't happened yet, and one suggests it was back in the 1960s when the first network packet was sent.
William Gibson's Cyber Punk novel All Tomorrow's Parties ends with an AI becoming flesh by means of cheap atomic assembly; emerging from "every 7-Eleven in Christendom".
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is an extended journey through a soft singularity. The widespread use of a working Babbage engine brings the IT revolution to Victorian times.
The Ægypt books by John Crowley. The protagonist, Pierce Moffatt discovers that there is more than one history of the world. The ancient world was governed by alchemy, magic and astrology, and then the world changed to what we know now. The moment this change occurred was basically a protracted Singularity called the Renaissance and our distorted memories about this old world, now lost, are what gave rise to fortune telling and stories about Gypsies. And the sixties.
Several Greg Egan novels, especially Diaspora and Schilds Ladder take place after Singularities. Diaspora in particular casts most of its characters as genderless AIs who think something like a thousand times faster than human beings and wind up travelling through various multidimensional - as in, bearing more than 3 spatial dimensions - parallel universes. Greg Egan generally looks upon singularities as an adolescent power fantasy more worthy of primates. His position seems to be that a mature real-world advanced civilization will find they can create everything they need for themselves inside a few kilos of virtual world substrate. To this end in Crystal Nights, he has Lucian ridiculing singularity seekers as "Uberdorks battling to turn the moon into computronium." and "Throwing Grey Goo around like monkeys throwing turds while they draw up their plans for Matrioshka brains."
In Asimov's I, Robot, and many of his MULTIVAC short stories this trope is the entire point.
The "Change" syringes in Beggars In Spain use Bio-Augmentation to turn an entire generation of human beings autotrophic. Changed people can obtain all the nutrition they need from just lying out in the sun: they can photosynthesize, fix nitrogen directly from the atmosphere, and absorb nutrients directly through the skin via special tubules that liquefy and absorb certain kinds of organic matter. (Yes, this does lead to Clothing Damage. Most people wear plastic clothes by that time anyhow.)
William Shatner (yes, that one) takes the concept a bit too literally in his Quest For Tomorrow novels. As the protagonist Jim (!) discovers, long ago, a Huzzna ship discovers Earth and finds two species of primitive humanoids on it: our own ancestors and the Neanderthals. The latter turn out to be naturally telepathic. Seeking to find out which genes cause telepathy and improve themselves, the crew transplant a number of the Neanderthals to a different world and kill the rest with a genetically-engineered plague, which doesn't harm the other humanoids. After their experiments yield no results, the Huzzna decide to wipe out the Neanderthals in order to prevent anyone else from succeeding. Some of them survive and rebuild their civilization. Hundreds of thousands of years later, they are re-discovered by the Huzzna, who send a fleet to wipe them out. By that point, the Neanderthals (who advance much slower than humans due to lack of writing) have only just managed to reach the Industrial Revolution. Facing destruction, they use their telepathy to "Leap" - turning them all into a single nigh-omnipotent being. The process also results in the star collapsing into a black hole (a literal singularity), destroying the Huzzna armada. Now, the Neanderthals' distant cousins, humans, appear to be nearing the threshold themselves, although they achieve it using technological means, by joining millions of minds into a single computing entity - the most powerful computer in the galaxy. Fearing humanity's Leap, the Huzzna and their long-time enemies join forces and send a huge armada to destroy Earth (apparently, the Huzzna never learn). Facing with extinction, humanity will undoubtedly use the Mind Arrays to force-Leap themselves. Unfortunately, doing this will unravel the very fabric of reality. As Jim explains, the Multiverse was created by a God-like being formed by the natural Leaps of all galactic races with humanity being the key. Force-Leaping humans and turning the Sun into a black hole will result in this never happening. Thus, the Multiverse will not be created. He ends up going back in time and altering his own past, effectively RetConning the entire series.
Several of the stories in Black Mirror seem to take place in a world which is almost our own but where certain forms of modern technology have been accelerated in order to create a small-scale singularity; for example, one story is set in a world where everyone has a chip in their necks that works as a combination of a Facebook timeline and a TV 'digibox' that allows you to record and replay your memories at will, another is set in a world where android versions of the dead can be produced based on their online social networking activity, and so forth. The series tends to explore the consequences of such singularities, and usually doesn't like what it finds...
Industrial / Steampunk entertainer Doctor Steel weaves the concept of a technological singularity throughout his music, videos and writings, even having a song entitled The Singularity. He has even been interviewed by transhumanist institutes and authored a paper on the subject.
A silly example: Morrowind effectively lets the Player Character become a one-man Singularity, courtesy of a Game Breaker. The steps are simple. Craft an intelligence enhancing potion. Use the stat boost to craft a better intelligence enhancing potion. Repeat until your intelligence stat is much higher than you could get using any normal method, and then exploit it for all it's worth, such as making equally powerful boosts to all other stats. The depressing singularity variation pays a visit if you boost your speed (constantly smashing into walls) or jumping (jump outside the game world) attributes.
In the lore of the The Elder Scrolls series, this is one theory as to what happened to the Dwemer/Dwarves. They had been largely atheistic in a world of living gods and demons everywhere, focusing on developing ever-increasing magic and technology. They'd even devised reliable methods of reading the eponymous Scrolls, artifacts from outside time that blind, drive mad, and/or kill any mortal attempting to read them. And built a device around the heart of a dead god capable of granting the user immortality. Until one day they just... disappeared. Leaving behind technology that's still beyond any of the other races of the world thousands of years later. Maybe they ascended, or left for another world. Maybe they just all died, but in a way that leaves no corpse, ghost, or any of the other things that happen to the dead of other races and Dwemer killed before their disappearance. Nobody knows, and all attempts to study the incident or recreate their experiment have failed (often lethally).
The Orion's Arm setting. Transcendence occurs on an individual basis, where a person gradually becomes smarter, through a combination of nanotechnology and cyberization, until they become unrecognizable to normals. The tone is not purely positive: in most places freedom as we think of it is impossible for a baseline human. This setting has at least six singularity levels above baseline human, each one incomprehensible to those below it.
In NSF Wshow spin off, Weird Things, some of Andrew Mayne's scenarios takes place during this type of singularity.
In one of the new episodes of Futurama Bender achieves a Singularity after Cubert overclocks his CPU and he proceeds to add more and more processors until he becomes practically omniscient. Of course he allows himself to be downgraded back to normal so Momcorp doesn't try his friends for breaking his EULA.
Depending on your definition, Singularities, of varying "hardnesses", have already happened several times:
The origin of life on Earth. Compared to what came before, this may be the hardest singularity ever.
Eukaryotic cells: organelles gave rise to a whole new level of complexity and possibilities for life.
Aerobic life: making use of oxygen allowed life forms to produce unprecedented amounts of energy, allowing radical new modes of living, and converting what was previously an increasingly common and highly toxic waste product into a valuable resource.
Multicellular life: individual cells in a plant or animal are caught up supporting life at a different level of reality. This development happened separately multiple times along different branches on the evolutionary tree (for example plants and animals diverged before each separately developing into multicellular life).
The Cambrian Explosion (love that name) is probably the best-known, and most singularitarian of events. Organisms go from simple colonies of a few dozen to massive groupings of cells with specialized functions. It's still not fully understood.
The Neolithic Revolution, which occurred over the period from approximately 10,000 BC to 5,000 BC. The beginning of human civilization, this was when the hunter-gatherer lifestyle began to disappear and the first cities began to form. It included the invention of agriculture (with domestication of plants and animals) and of writing.
Gutenberg's printing press, which was invented around 1440 and had advantages over the printing methods that had already been used in China and Korea for centuries, created the world's first true mass medium.
The Industrial Revolution, in which manufacturing supplanted agriculture as the world's greatest source of wealth. Occurring mostly over the period from 1730 to 1920, this included the development and improvement of the steam engine, the origin of factories and mass production of identical and interchangeable parts, widepread use of fossil fuels, and the invention of the electric motor and electric generator (ushering in the age of electricity). Think of the differences between life in 1300 and 1500, and compare the differences between life in 1730 and 1930. It's no coincidence that this was also the point when people really got into speculating about what the future would be like - it was the first time when the impact of major changes could be seen within a person's lifespan.
The advent of the 'communication age', with the Internet and mobile phones (and now smartphones) enabling people to be in contact with anyone, and have access to any existing information, virtually anytime and anywhere.
And then there's speculation about what might happen next...
Vernor Vinge has written several essays describing how he expects the singularity to happen and is credited with the invention of the word and its subsequent popularization.
Economist Robin Hanson has speculated that whole brain emulation could be the cause of the next singularity. Notably, his article predicts that the global economy will double every week. He also speculates there could be insect-size robot knowledge workers living like humans.
With the Industrial Revolution or the invention of writing we had a complete departure from the previous sort of existence in ways no one predicted or fathomed. On the other hand, sentient artificial beings arenotanewidea. It wouldn't be a totally unpredicted change, though which bits would turn out to be Truth in Television and which "Reality Is Unrealistic" is up for grabs.
The mass application of cheap 3D printing has been suggested by some futurists as killing off the manufacturing industry for almost anything smaller than a microwave. Why go out to buy a toothbrush or wrench when you can download blueprints and make a cheaper, customized version in your own home?
A few futurists have predicted Brain Uploading by 2050. If computers continue to double in power every two years, by that time the computer that upload is in will be thousands of times more powerful than its original human brain... but that's a big if. The exponential growth must end sometimes, quite possibly short of the computing power needed to make such scenarios viable. What will actually happen by 2050 is the subject of vigorous debate, and probably will still be on December 31st, 2049.
It's already known roughly how far semiconductor computation can go, and it should be more than enough - and that's not even accounting for competing technologies, like optic and quantum computers which as of September, 2012 are starting to take the forms of not mere prototypes, but also commercial devices. And any and all advances in computation also renders research itself easier and more available.
However, this also predicates a better understanding of the human brain itself. And, as any psychologist can tell you, there's a lot we don't know. Let's start with basic stuff: how is memory stored? What portion of the human brain would need to be mapped onto the computer's hard drive? It is assumed that one day we will know the answer to this question, but until we do, brain-uploading is going nowhere.
The existence of the human brain proves that it's possible to have a machine with at least the same complexity as a brain. The chances are that it won't be achieved with the current model of computer technology - two-dimensional semiconductors only go so far. Three-dimensional circuits may be the thing.
A variation of the mind uploads is immortality. Presumably Type II. Achieving negligible senescence is likely easier than transference of consciousness to a computational substrate, and the task has already been divided into engineering challenges and actively worked on by organizations such as SENS.
In any event, what form a Transhuman would take is unclear, but either as a result of radically enhanced medical science and genetic engineering, or as a result of consciousness uploads, it would by definition make post-immortality life on Earth nearly incomprehensible to those in the past. As an example, most vampire fiction stops with its incredibly Bad Ass Elder vampires being a few hundred years old, anything much older being too arcane or too difficult to write. According to Aubrey de Gray, immortal humans could easily triple-up LeStat and that's if they weren't particularly careful. Imagine that culture shock to any point in human history.
Ray Kurzweil is probably the foremost advocate of the hard singularity and often regarded as being one of the most optimistic among authorities of the subject. He believes the near future will see human extension and transformation through genetic engineering followed on (and probably overlapping with) nanotechnology which will lead to better long term maintenance and upgrades of the human body and radical improvements in the versatility, precision and energy efficiency of manufacturing. Finally, robots will mature and become prevalent. In particular, he believes many robots can and will be of the Ridiculously Human Robot variety (right down to the highly nuanced emotional states) which, combined with augmented reality, virtual reality, and whole brain emulation, will blur the lines between persons of natural and artificial origin.
He acknowledges the challenges along with way. The genetic revolution will lead to smaller and smaller groups being able to engineer biological superweapons. This will lead to an exponentially increasing probability of a global scale attack. This in turn will be countered by the nano machine revolution since nanobots will be able to overpower any virus. But the nanotech revolution will create its own destructive potential which necessitates us moving to (or creating a species of) synthetic resilient bodies with human and/or synthetic intelligences (with the possibility for hybrids of the two.)
What he envisions for the next singularity (that's right, he's thinking two major singularities ahead) is that we will begin saturating the universe with self replicating, self improving substrate of maximum computational density (dubbed computronium by some.) And that the universe itself will become an immense super intelligence beyond all fathoming which we may or may not be a part of. Hence the "rapture of the nerds."
The long, short, and middle of it is that, in reality, the Singularity as is often popularly imagined is very unlikely; Kurzweil's variety is particularly unlikely. Reality Ensues. Exponential growth in nature is always self-limiting, and indeed outside of computers and things very closely driven by computers, other technologies are not undergoing exponential growth. Indeed, the miniaturization of the transistor will hit a fundamental physical barrier by 2030 - you simply cannot make transistors smaller than a certain size because at some point, the uncertainty in the position of electrons becomes sufficient that jumping the gap becomes too likely, preventing useful computing, and there are no other plausible technologies to take its place. Limitations on the amount of energy available also are a fundamental barrier which is not easily escaped. Another issue is that every major advancement in technology has required even more energy and resources to achieve - building a microprocessor which is twice as good has proven itself to be much more expensive at every iteration. Making something smarter than a human is probably more difficult than all the work that has gone into making something which is as smart as a human put together.