AC WP RSCN4338 ENH2Are you interested in the future?

You may want to reply – “Isn’t everyone?” Well, no, most people aren’t. We’re living in a time when, except for politics, the economy and our personal prospects, most people have their eyes very carefully averted from the future.

Science fiction films may get big turnouts, but it’s mostly for the entertainment.It wasn’t for nothing that George Lukas placed the Star Wars films in another galaxy “far away and long ago”. Those films were not about the future. Neither were The Matrix (let’s hope), or the two Bladerunners, except as a reflection of our deep fear of the future.

I’ve been fascinated by the future since 1959 when I began to read the dazzling science fiction of that time. Those stories, and the steady advances in computers and robotics that followed, convinced me long ago that AI and robots are going to play a big role in our future.

A while ago, I began searching for a book that could bring me up to date on AI, and found Ray Kurzweil’s book,The Singularity is Near. Over 600 pages, it’s an encyclopedia of the near future.

Kurzweil is a robotics developer/futurist. He wrote the book because he thinks we are sleep-walking into the future. New technologies, drugs, genetic procedures, etc, arrive month after month and receive almost no resistance. If we continue this lemming-like advance, we may be sorry.

Back in the 1950s, physicist/mathematician John von Neumann observed that if technology continued to evolve at a steadily accelerating pace there would come a critical point when that acceleration would turn into an explosion – the Singularity.

Kurzweil believes the Singularity is close (his predicted date – 2045). Because of this, he says our century will not simply be another 100 years of technological progress – it will be 20,000 years worth of progress.

In other words, the future is going to come all at once. If faster-than-light travel is possible, it will probably happen in this century. Super-intelligent robots, some with bodies indistinguishable from yours, may fill the streets by mid-century. Most of what science-fiction writers expected to come in 100 – 200 years may be just around the corner.

For example, AI researchers are still struggling to produce a computer equal to the human brain. But on specific tasks they have exceeded that – the best chess-playing computers have left human grand-masters in the dust. For competition they have to play each other now.

Try putting a small paragraph from any novel or other book into one of the new translation apps (Google’s is one of the best). I did it with sentences from my own novels, putting them into Spanish in which I am reading-fluent. The translations were flawless. And almost instant. I was left in awe. I believe a computer that can do that is on the brink of sentience.

The goal of most AI researchers is not to match human intelligence. It is super-intelligence that will go far beyond what humans can do.

It remains to be seen when they can reach that, but Kurzweil predicts that by 2030 you will be able to buy a laptop for a $1,000 equal to 1,000 human brains. By 2050, he says that money will buy a computer with more thinking power than all the human brains on Earth. That would be your home computer. What a super-computer would be like is beyond imagining.

Do you see what might be coming? If there are no gods now, they may be coming soon. If the gods that many people worship now are real, what will they make of these upstarts?

Are you concerned that we’ll be no match for robots and AI, that they will simply replace us? The science-fiction of Isaac Asimov tried to reassure us, insisting that robots/computers will always be required to protect and assist humans (the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’).

Kurzweil thinks Asimov was wrong. He thinks super-intelligence will be uncontrollable. So we better make sure that it’s on our side, which means that we should be working on that relationship now.

Shouldn’t we all be thinking about this?


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