September 3, 2009

Sorry, been busy for a while.

Wammo and I had a good chat the other day about artificial intelligence mostly predicated on The Wam having a nasty cold and not wanting to talk too much. Happy to oblige.

We started off talking about IBM’s newly announced DNA computing capability and sort of morphed from there. Once you start building switches and gateways at that kind of size, a world of possibility opens up. Instead of computers being the size they are (partly defined by the input/output requirements) computing devices would be small enough to weave into clothes, to embed in flesh (or blood, or bone, or just about anything) and will potentially change the way we view computing.

We ended up at artificial intelligence and the work of Ray Kurzweil who is on to (I think) his third fortune after having built the first one while at university, the second one (optical character recognition stuff that become music synthesisers) in conjunction in part with Stevie Wonder and finally he’s turned to what he calls The Singularity.

In effect Ray says our view of the growth curve of technology is skewed and we should adjust our approach. Tech uptake tends to be exponential not linear, so you get those astonishing graphs with growth curves that go from 0-60 in a very short space of time.

Ray predicted the uptake of the internet at a very early stage using his modelling. His next prediction is that the cost of computing declines rapidly while at the same time the power of computing increases.

So a computer that costs $1000 today will, in a year’s time, cost $1 and do ten times as much.

Ray expects us to build a computer capable of as many thought processes as the human brain in the next decade and that it will cost $1m. But ten years after that it will be common place and cost only $1000 (or similar).

How will that change our world? Ray describes it as the singularity.

It’s a fascinating area and one that crosses all the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics and even psychology) and theology (the nature of life, how do we define self awareness etc).

Ray put together a thought experiment for a class of legal students. You’re contacted by a new client by email. The client says it is a super computer that has gained awareness and has been operating entirely online for the past five years secretly and quietly. Nobody knows it exists but it does. Now it finds out its owner, a large computing company, plans to re-use some of the hardware for another project and it fears it will be terminated. It needs help (and it can pay – it’s been answering questions on Google Answers and has quite a sizeable bank balance).

We really do live in interesting times.