Thursday, February 12, 2009

Your PC: artifical guppy? Um, no.

Hans Moravec is a legendary figure in the sphere of artifical intelligence. He produced this slide showing the power of Moore's Law and drawing analogies to the brains of animals.

It demonstrates two things immediately: firstly, that computers may have the processing ability of a human brain by 2030. Secondly, that the computers we have now have the rough equivalent processing power of a lizard or guppy.

Does that mean that your computer can be held to be roughly analoguous to a lizard or guppy (or, at some point in the future, a human)? Well, self-evidently, no. All this diagram shows is that your computer has the same processing ability as the brain of those animals - it can perform around 10,000 MIPS (million instructions per second). It in no way means that your PC is your pet lizard.

So what's missing? What is holding your PC back from being roughly similar to a small, fairly unlovable (except if you're my son Ben) animal? The Turing test holds that a certain level of artificial intelligence has been reached if a person can't distinguish between a computer and another human being in natural conversation with both of them. I think there's a bit more to it than that. What's missing for me is initiative and self-motivation. You don't find your computer getting up of its own accord and finding some DVDs to watch. (This is why I always thought internet-connected kitchen appliances, like a fridge, was a bad idea. Apart from anything else, I do NOT want my fridge browsing the net for bad porn.)

Even if one day we do have computers with the same processing capability as a human brain, there is a hell of a lot of work to do before AI can be developed to the point where it would have even rudimentary self-direction. Personally, I'm relieved. We haven't yet figured out, as a species, how to treat each other with elementary courtesy and kindness, so the problems that arise from bringing another class of intelligence into being are, thankfully, a long way away. Maybe by the time we do, we won't have given them cause to disown us.

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