Should we fear the rise of the robots?

May 4, 2013

In the Terminator series, John Connor and his mother fight to prevent Judgement Day, the moment when the computer system Skynet becomes self aware, decides humans are a threat and moves to wipe us out.

In the real world, we have our own version of Judgement Day called the Singularity and many can’t wait for it to come. Like in the Terminator, it is the moment when computers take over, but rather than killing us off, the machines enhance our capabilities.

Some have called the Singularity a nerd rapture and its prophet is Ray Kurzweil, one of the world’s foremost experts on artificial intelligence and Google’s new Director of Engineering. In his new position, he will direct a good portion of the company’s $6.7 billion R&D budget to making his vision come true.  Like it or not, science fiction is becoming science fact.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we don’t use computers to do the same things a million times faster than we did a generation ago, but to do completely new things. The effect can be summarized in this cartoon that Kurzweil included in his 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near. […]

Comment from Ray Kurzweil

“Comment on Alex Knapp’s comment: As I have pointed out many times, Moore’s law is not synonymous with the law of accelerating returns, which refers to the ongoing exponential growth of the price-performance andcapacity of information technologies, including computation. Moore’s law is the fifth — not the first — paradigm to bring exponential growth to the price-performance of computation, as measured by computations per second per constant dollar.

Knapp is correct that Moore’s law (the fifth paradigm) will end by the 2020s, but the sixth paradigm — with three-dimensional, self-organizing molecular circuits — areis already working in laboratories and will be underway commercially in the teen years — well before we run out of speed with flat integrated circuits (the paradigm of Moore’s law).

Also, it is not true that Moore’s law is already slowing. The correct measure is price-performance (calculations per second per constant dollar), not transistor speed. Yes there are ultimate limits — I discuss that in The Singularity Is Near — but we won’t reach them until late in this century, at which point three-dimensional circuits will be trillions of times more powerful than the unassisted human brain. — Ray Kurzweil