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?

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

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?