Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A singular notion

For about 200,000 years, homo sapiens have been the planet's smart guys.

That may be coming to an end, and not because we wipe ourselves out, as probable as that may seem to some, or because aliens arrive from outer space.

No, the new top gun, many believe, will be something else entirely, something with intelligence far beyond even the best human brains. Further, it will be capable of rapidly reproducing, with each generation measurably more intelligent than the preceding one.

Some refer to this as the Singularity. This is based on the belief that several technologies (artificial intelligence, direct brain-computer interfaces, biological augmentation of the brain, genetic engineering, etc.) will converge to produce intelligence that is smarter than humans.

OK, take a deep breath.

This isn't exactly science fiction, but it's also not the kind of thing that gets reported on the six o'clock news. Not yet, anyway.

But maybe it won't be long, if some very smart people are right.

Well-known futurist/inventive genius Ray Kurzweil thinks the crossover point is about 20 years out, followed by the intelligence explosion. Others, such as Intel's chief technology officer, Justin Rattner, are less "optimistic." He's thinking 2048 is about right. Others think it's unlikely for quite a long time.

According to the Singularity Institute, here's what sets off that intelligence explosion:
"We may one day design a machine that surpasses human skill at designing artificial intelligences. After that, this machine could improve its own intelligence faster and better than humans can, which would make it even more skilled at improving its own intelligence. This could continue in a positive feedback loop such that the machine quickly becomes vastly more intelligent than the smartest human being on Earth: an 'intelligence explosion' resulting in a machine superintelligence."
Kurzweil thinks humans will have to integrate themselves with the machines in order to keep up. Brain/computer interfaces are already with us in the form of the bionic eyes, cochlear implants, and a thought-controlled robotic hand. These will appear very primitive in a decade or two, but offer a glimpse of the possibilities.

All of this is aided by continuing miniaturization, faster microprocessors, advances in neuroscience knowledge, and advances in AI theory.

Would it be a healthier/happier/safer/more just world? Intelligence is responsible for our great advances, but also for weapons of mass destruction, so that remains to be seen.

1 comment:

  1. I still have to go back and read all of your links, Doug, but my initial reaction is, "Well it serves us right!"

    Too smart for our own good, I'm afraid.