How soon do you expect integrated, exponential, general-purpose molecular manufacturing (MM) to be developed? Will it take place before artificial general intelligence (AGI) is achieved? Or will the robust power of AGI be required to make MM attainable?
Lenat makes this bold prediction based on the progress his system has made towards achieving human-level common sense. The Cyc system now contains some 3 million "assertions," or statements of fact contained within logical clauses.
Impressive as that is, sheer numbers are not the point. "We are not trying to maximise the number of assertions," Lenat says. Rather, he wants to limit them to the bare minimum that will allow Cyc to collect data on its own. He says Cyc is getting close to achieving that number, and it is already advanced enough to query each input itself, asking the human operator to clarify exactly what is meant.
Sometime this year it will be let loose onto the web, allowing millions of people to contribute to its fund of knowledge by submitting questions to Cyc through a web page and correcting it if it gets the answers wrong. "We're very close to a system that will allow the average person to enter knowledge," Lenat says. He envisages Cyc eventually being connected to webcams and other sensors monitoring environments around the globe, building its knowledge of the world more or less by itself.
Of course, we've heard predictions before about how quickly superhuman artificial intelligence would arise and how significant its impact would be, i.e., the Singularity.
We're not experts on AGI, and so we can't say how soon, if ever, human-equivalent cognition will be achieved on a synthetic brain. But we are experts on advanced nanotechnology, and we do feel safe in stating that integrated, exponential, general-purpose molecular manufacturing is likely to be developed within the next ten years.
Will MM come first? Or will AGI precede MM and trigger a technological singularity? Only time will tell, obviously. But whether or not smarter-than-human intelligence is just around the corner, the anticipated societal and environmental impacts of molecular manufacturing are potentially so disruptive that we cannot afford a "wait and see" attitude.
If MM is developed before the world is prepared to manage it safely and responsibly, the result could be nano-anarchy, nano-tyranny, or something even worse. Devising and implementing wise, comprehensive, and balanced plans for global management of this transformative technology is not just an interesting challenge. It may in fact be a matter of life and death.