Technological Notes: Computers with no common sense

WITH COMPUTER power doubling every 18 months (Moore's Law), some ex-perts in artificial intelligence are now bragging that by 2050, robots will surpass the intelligence of humans. They boast that their creations may one day treat us like pets, too feeble and stupid to take care of ourselves. Robots will inherit the earth, and perhaps place us in zoos. The scientists at Carnegie-Mellon Institute, with the largest robotics laboratory in the world, even claim that we are creating our own Darwinian successors, that it's our evolutionary duty to prepare the way for super-intelligent robots, as if it's a law of nature.

But not so fast! The rosy claims of these mathematicians are not without some merit, but they have been made before, with laughable results. As a physicist, I must note that there are a few tiny roadblocks in their predictions, such as the laws of physics.

It's true that Moore's Law has successfully predicted the staggering growth of computers for the past 50 years. This means that every Christmas, our computer gadgets are almost twice as powerful as the previous year's. It's also true that our brains, even when daydreaming, compute at more than 500 trillion bytes per second. By Moore's Law, our chips should hit about 500 trillion bytes per second by 2050.

But there are also tremendous roadblocks. For instance, Moore's Law will collapse way before 2050. In fact, by 2020, transistors will become so small, they will approach the size of DNA coils. Unfortunately, silicon is not structurally stable at such tiny distances. Silicon Valley may become a Rust Belt by 2020 - the Age of Silicon will end, causing chaos in the computer business.

After 2020, physicists will have to replace silicon with very speculative designs, such as computers which compute on laser beams, DNA molecules, protein molecules, or single electrons. There's also the ultimate computer, the "quantum computer", which is so advanced that no prototypes even exist. These are all highly risky designs, so all bets are off after 2020.

Furthermore, scientists have not solved the problem of "common sense". Computers don't know the things that even children know. Computers don't know that water is wet, that animals don't like pain, that mothers are older than their children, that twins age at the same rate, and that when you die you don't come back the next day. How do we know these common- sense things? By experience. But that's precisely what computers don't have. Worse, mathematicians believe that several hundred million statements of common sense are required before a robot can reason like a child. This staggering amount of common sense has effectively stopped progress in artificial intelligence for the past 20 years.

Finally, computers don't see very well. One of the most advanced robots is the Mars Rover, currently on the planet Mars. Although the Mars Rover captured the imagination of millions of people around the world, it has the intelligence of a retarded cockroach. Even a cockroach knows how to flee when spotted on your kitchen table. If a Martian were to swat the Mars Rover with its tentacle, the Rover would take several hours to realise that the tentacle was not a rock!

This is not to say that we won't have computer marvels by 2050. By then, chips will cost a fraction of a penny, the cost of bubblegum wrappers. We will have computers in our watches, clothes, jewellery, furniture, walls, appliances, and perhaps inside our bodies. And we will talk to them in English, albeit a highly stylised and simple English. But don't expect to have robot butlers or maids by 2050.

In other words, don't worry; the mathematicians are wrong. Humanity is not doomed to live in a cage after 2050. (Unless, of course, we physicists can invent the quantum computer . . .)

Michio Kaku is the author of `Visions' (Oxford University Press, pounds 8.99)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried