Network: A creature like Stanley Kubrick's HAL has yet to see `life'

TELEVISION, WROTE Jules Verne at the turn of the last century, would be a great boon to people living in the future. He figured that it would only take one thousand years to perfect.

That the first televisions were demonstrated some 40 years later should serve as a cautionary note to those in the field of prediction, though some might say television is far from "perfected".

Nevertheless, one can draw a point from this tale. One of the world's great visionaries, living in a period of rapid invention and change, missed the mark by a huge margin.

Indeed, as global communications improve, the rate of change speeds up. A network's utility goes up at the rate of the square of its nodes, so the Internet alone is adding hundreds of millions of ways for ideas and idea-makers to inform each other.

Ergo, things we thought were way out there may, in fact, be round the corner. Yet, if one were to predict that a computer would surpass a 20th century human in intelligence by 2020, there would probably be few takers.

The reason is that one prediction which came up very short was that of artificial intelligence. Stanley Kubrick's landmark film 2001 featured HAL, a computer sufficiently intelligent to mimic the kind of unenlightened self-interest that's all too human.

But a creature like HAL has yet to see "life". Artificial intelligence, or AI as it is often called, turned out to be a lot harder than was originally thought.

AI has staged a quiet comeback in applications as diverse as autofocus cameras, automated telephone operators, automobile engines and stock exchange computers.

But the thinking computer is still a distant dream. Authors such as George Dyson say that machine intelligence is a Darwinian inevitability, outside human control. It will evolve as surely as carbon-based life did.

Of course, some would point to the glut of less-than-informed content on the Net to prove that computer intelligence isn't going up; rather computer use is forcing human intelligence down.

But, glancing through a recent book by Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, I came across some figures that were intriguing.

Kurzweil posits that artificial intelligence's slow start is rooted in the difference between the computational ability of the brain and of current silicon-based hardware. The brain, Kurzweil contends, is capable of some 20 million billion calculations per second, whereas even a supercomputer, such as IBM's chess-playing Deep Blue, can only manage about 10 trillion.

Interestingly, in 1988 Kurzweil predicted that a computer would beat a human chess grandmaster in 1998. Deep Blue bested Kasparov in 1997, so Kurzweil's reckoning may not be all that bad.

But, if you apply Moore's law - which states that processor speeds will double every 18 months - then even $1,000 PCs will have brain-like capabilities in the not-so-distant future.

In fact, Kurzweil predicts that by 2020 a $1,000 PC will run calculations at the rate of 20 million billion. He further posits that enough RAM to contain the brain's store of 100 trillion synaptic strengths - some million billion bits - will come down from its current cost of about $200m (if purchased at my local Fry's outlet in Palo Alto) to about $1,000.

The same $1,000 would moreover buy a machine equalling the brains of a small village by 2030, the whole population of the US by 2048 and that of a trillion brains by 2060. By 2099, a penny's worth of computing power will be a billion times greater than that mustered by all the projected 10 billion inhabitants of earth.

Now, as supercomputers - those denizens of university labs and shady government departments - are often 10 years ahead of their desktop counterparts, then sometime as soon as 2010 a computer could exist that would rival a human brain.

A lot of work needs to be done before raw computer power will translate into even rudimentary intelligence. But I wonder if the jump will come sooner than we expect, a la Monsieur Verne.

In which case you may wonder who writes this column - me or my iMac?

cg@gulker.com

`The Age of Spiritual Machines', Orion Business Books, pounds 18.99

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there