In my previous post
on the technological singularity
, I alluded to Ray Kurzweil's "argument from hardware".
The essence of the argument goes as follows: When Moore's Law gets us up to a number of switching elements that is comparable to the number of synapses in the human brain (about 1014
for between 1010
neurons), a sea change in automated reasoning, learning, and representation capability will be enabled, because our brains "make do" with this amount of computing power.
Now, there are several criticisms of this argument, most notably:
A note on the title:
- 1. Moore's Law as demonstrated through current microprocessor fabrication may not last that long. Silicon semiconductor manufacturing will not. (Counterarguments include pointing out that parallel processing is starting to reach the consumer market and scale up on the desktop, optimistic hand-waving about optical computing, and speculative hand-waving about quantum computing.)
- 2. What does "human-level" hardware buy us in terms of actually being able to develop the substrate for the Singularity, or, what about that software? (This is perhaps more cogently formulated as a question about knowledge representation, automated reasoning, and machine learning in intelligent systems.)
- 3. If you build it, will they come? Saying that "it will just happen because machines will be able to design better versions of themselves by that point" without qualification or an evidential basis for the claim is tantamount to saying that 1014 switching elements, arrayed in tandem, will summon a living spirit from afar to come and animate the silicon with the Breath of Life. (I really have yet to see a compelling counterargument by way of a well-stated scientific hypothesis, as opposed to "ensemble thinking" about emergent properties.)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's hit single "Will The Circle Be Unbroken
" features the refrain Will the circle be unbroken / Bye and bye Lord bye and bye / There's a better home a waiting / In the sky Lord in the sky
. Those lyrics remind me of the "inevitability" of the Singularity as envisioned by the optimists, and of the "pie in the sky
" critique that has been leveled at them.