Last week Justin Ratner told the Intel Developer’s Conference that “machines could even overtake humans in their ability to reason, in the not so distant future.” And just yesterday, a press release was made regarding the Military’s stabs into cognitive science research, with artificial brains the size of a cat’s on the horizon.
This week John Tierney at the New York Times enters the fray, with an article discussing Vernor Vinge and his novel Rainbow’s end, and a shorter, follow-on blog post examining the feasiblity of his ideas (ie – the Singularity).
In Vernor Vinge’s version of Southern California in 2025, there is a school named Fairmont High with the motto, “Trying hard not to become obsolete.” It may not sound inspiring, but to the many fans of Dr. Vinge, this is a most ambitious — and perhaps unattainable — goal for any member of our species.
The article goes on to link to the IEEE’s arm chair technical review of the same novel.
For those of us familiar with the concepts, the news here is that it they are being presented to the public eye for the first time. News indeed.
And the sooner that Singularity concepts enter the public discourse, the sooner it will attract the resources to make it possible. While it is arguable that public attention may not a good thing (the more people talking about it, the more likely that nations and organizations will develop their own artificial general intelligence efforts, and the less control there will be over the consequences), given the scope of the undertaking, the attention is inevitable. Let us hope that we can avoid all the bad alternatives.
And what would happen to us if the machines rule? Well, Dr. Vinge said, it’s possible that artificial post-humans would use us the way we’ve used oxen and donkeys. But he preferred to hope they would be more like environmentalists who wanted to protect weaker species, even if it was only out of self-interest. Dr. Vinge imagined the post-humans sitting around and using their exalted powers of reasoning:
“Maybe we need the humans around, because they’re natural critters who could survive in situations where some catastrophe would cause technology to disappear. That way they’d be around to bring back the important things — namely, us.”