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Artificial Intelligence

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In 1993, Verner Vinge, a respected scientist and mathematician, wrote, "Within 30 years, we will have the technological means to create super-human intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will end."

Mr. Vinge wrote this in a paper presented at the VISION-21 Symposium, sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute. It's title was "Technological Singularity" which is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater-than-human intelligence.

Progress in computer hardware improvements has been amazingly quick. And is getting quicker. The time span between each generation is getting shorter and shorter. Based on this trend, Mr. Vinge predicts the creation of greater-than-human artificial intelligence will occur within 30 years. When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, the progress will become more rapid. Plus the creation of more intelligent entities in a still-shorter time scale. From the human point of view, all previous rules will become irrelevant in the blink of an eye. Technology will become a runaway train beyond human control. Major changes that should have taken years will happen in hours.

Symptoms of the Singularity include automation to replace high-level jobs, a steadily smaller work force in technology, artificial-intelligent entities entering warfare, personal robots,rapid advances in computer technology and the spread of ideas at a faster and faster rate. Maybe you can recognize some of these in place right now.

The arrival of the Singularity will be quick and unexpected. For example, a research team working on an artificial-intelligent entity will be shocked when it suddenly awakens in super intelligence after a scientist gives it a new chip. If networking is wide spread, this super intelligent entity will rapidly spread. Human security measures will not stop it. We will become to the machines what wild birds are now to humans.

Just look at the unmanned Drones that the United States is now using in war for surveillance and attack. The U.S. Air Force envisions using swarms of Drones to attack targets. Rapid advances in computer power could enable Drones to mount preprogrammed attacks on its own with the intelligence to abort an attack for a number of reasons and to move on to an alternative target. What other artificial-intelligent weapons will we develop?

Willow Garage, a robotics research group in California, has developed a robot (PR2) that can maneuver around an office building, opening doors and recharging itself in electrical outlets. This has been done before in laboratories, but PR2 is the first to operate in a real-world environment. PR2 is also the first to be able to accomplish these tasks repeatedly and reliably. It also has intelligence. In a recent test, one of the electrical outlets was behind a locked door. PR2 made a decision on its own to abort the effort and move on to the next outlet. Robotic research is happening around the world at surprising speed.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence is doing a study into the possibitity of the loss of human control of computer-based intelligences. The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence was formed in 2000 to raise awareness of the benefits and dangers of artificial intelligence. Scientists around the world seem to have some fear of artificial intelligence, but this fear is not enough to stop them from building more and more intelligent entities at a break-neck speed.

Freeman Dyson once said, "God is what the mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension." Will a machine eventually become our God?

More about this author: Gary Betts

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