In Ray Kurzweil’s amazing 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Kurzweil predicts that computing power will continue along the exponential track of Moore’s Law, such that by the year 2030, a $1,000 personal computer will be 1,000 times more powerful than the human brain. At that point, computers will be capable of learning and creating new knowledge entirely on their own with no human assistance. By scanning the compendium of knowledge on the Internet, some computers will “know” literally every single piece of public information generated by human beings (every scientific discovery, every book and movie, every law and theorem).
A talk by Hans Moravec explores this concept further and illustrates this trend with an interesting chart on the evolution of computer power vs. cost.
As Kurzweil says in his book, your $1000 personal computer will be able to simulate the brain power of a small village by 2030, the entire population of the United States by 2050, and a trillion human brains by 2060. By 2100, one penny’s worth of computing power will have a billion times greater computing capacity than all humans on Earth.
Kurzweil further predicts that this rise of Artificial Intelligence will result in a “robot rights” movement in which there is public debate over what civil rights and legal protections machines should have. Given that many humans by that time will be part-machine themselves, with bionic limbs and cybernetic implants, there will be great debate as to what constitutes a “human being,” a subject explored briefly in the Will Smith movie I, Robot.
And of course you cannot discuss this robot future without considering the scenario proposed by the Terminator movies. Will computers eventually become sentient and take over the world?
Kurzweil points out that the more powerful technology — or rather, the civilization with more technological sophistication — always wins. This appears to be what happened when our Homo sapiens subspecies met the Neanderthals, when the technologically advanced Europeans met the indigenous people of America, and when the United States unleashed the atomic bomb.
By 2100, the computing power of machines will surpass that of humans so greatly that computers may perceive our human intelligence the same way as we humans perceive the intelligence of a hamster. We could find ourselves as household pets in a machine world, or worse, as a biological power source for a network of machines a la The Matrix.
One saving grace to this doomsday scenario is that computing power does not equal intelligence or innovation. My computer is already much faster than my brain and can remember facts I’ve long since forgotten, but Vista UAC still asks me three times to confirm when I want to delete a file on the C: drive. Oh that’s right, Vista UAC is stupid because of the human programmers who wrote it. Perhaps we humans are doomed.
Article published on December 9, 2008
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