The brilliant inventor, entrepreneur and author Ray Kurzweil has a new book coming out next month called The Singularity is Near. I have an advance copy of the book, and I guarantee you don't want to miss it.
A short essay in the current issue of Forbes Magazine gives a sample of Ray's thinking:
Artificial intelligence permeates our economy. It's what I define as "narrow" AI: machine intelligence that equals or exceeds human intelligence for specific tasks. Every time you send an e-mail or make a cell phone call, intelligent algorithms route the information. AI programs diagnose heart disease, fly and land airplanes, guide autonomous weapons, make automated investment decisions for a trillion dollars' worth of funds and guide industrial processes. These were all research projects a couple of decades ago. If all the intelligent software in the world were to suddenly stop functioning, modern civilization would grind to a halt.
He distinguishes between narrow and strong AI:
So what are the prospects for "strong" AI, which I describe as machine intelligence with the full range of human intelligence? We can meet the hardware requirements. I figure we need about 10 quadrillion calculations a second to provide a functional equivalent to all the regions of the brain. IBM's Blue Gene/L computer is already at 100 trillion. If we plug in the semiconductor industry's projections, we can see that 10 quadrillion calculations a second will be available for $1,000 by around 2020.
Of course, if bottom-up molecular manufacturing is achieved before 2020, then we could have computer power that will leave these projections in the dust.
But there is another type of superintelligence to be considered: the combination of humans and machines -- not necessarily in the science fiction style of a direct physical merging (although that already is becoming science fact), but in the increasingly close interaction between humans and computers.
Ray Kurzweil says:
Machines can now far exceed human capabilities at such tasks as logical analysis and searching through vast databases. A couple of minutes spent with Google demonstrates that superiority.
I am reminded of a section from Vernor Vinge's famous 1993 paper on The Singularity, where he writes:
When people speak of creating superhumanly intelligent beings, they are usually imagining an AI project. But as I noted at the beginning of this paper, there are other paths to superhumanity. Computer networks and human-computer interfaces seem more mundane than AI, and yet they could lead to the Singularity. I call this contrasting approach Intelligence Amplification (IA).
IA is something that is proceeding very naturally, in most cases not even recognized by its developers for what it is. But every time our ability to access information and to communicate it to others is improved, in some sense we have achieved an increase over natural intelligence. Even now, the team of a PhD human and good computer workstation (even an off-net workstation!) could probably max any written intelligence test in existence.
Vinge wrote this prior to the explosion of the World Wide Web, which recently has been described as "a planet-sized computer...comparable in complexity to a human brain."
If it was true in 1993 that the combination of "a PhD human and good computer" could ace any intelligence test ever devised, imagine how much more true it is today. It would not surprise me if there were high school students, or even younger kids, who could do the same thing, teamed up with the intelligence amplification of the Web.
We're already a lot smarter than we realize, and the upward curve is sharpening.