Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity -- technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.
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Although I'm not prepared to move up my prediction of a computer passing the Turing test by 2029, the progress that has been achieved in systems like Watson should give anyone substantial confidence that the advent of Turing-level AI is close at hand. If one were to create a version of Watson that was optimized for the Turing test, it would probably come pretty close.
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To transcend means to "go beyond," but this need not compel us to an ornate dualist view that regards transcendent levels of reality (e.g., the spiritual level) to be not of this world. We can "go beyond" the "ordinary" powers of the material world through the power of patterns. Rather than a materialist, I would prefer to consider myself a "patternist." It's through the emergent powers of the pattern that we transcend.
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With the increasingly important role of intelligent machines in all phases of our lives--military, medical, economic and financial, political--it is odd to keep reading articles with titles such as Whatever Happened to Artificial Intelligence? This is a phenomenon that Turing had predicted: that machine intelligence would become so pervasive, so comfortable, and so well integrated into our information-based economy that people would fail even to notice it.
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We cannot rely on trial-and-error approaches to deal with existential risks... We need to vastly increase our investment in developing specific defensive technologies... We are at the critical stage today for biotechnology, and we will reach the stage where we need to directly implement defensive technologies for nanotechnology during the late teen years of this century... A self-replicating pathogen, whether biological or nanotechnology based, could destroy our civilization in a matter of days or weeks.
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The pattern recognition theory of mind that I articulate in this book is based on a different fundamental unit: not the neuron itself, but rather an assembly of neurons, which I estimate to number around a hundred. The wiring and synaptic strengths within each unit are relatively stable and determined genetically-that is the organization within each pattern recognition module is determined by genetic design. Learning takes place in the creation of connections between these units, not within them, and probably in the synaptic strengths of the interunit connections.
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Recall the metaphor I used in chapter 4 relating the random movements of molecules in a gas to the random movements of evolutionary change. Molecules in a gas move randomly with no apparent sense of direction. Despite this, virtually every molecule in a gas in a beaker, given sufficient time, will leave the beaker. I noted that this provides a perspective on an important question concerning the evolution of intelligence. Like molecules in a gas, evolutionary changes also move every which way with no apparent direction. Yet we nonetheless see a movement toward greater complexity and greater intelligence, indeed to evolution's supreme achievement of evolving a neocortex capable of hierarchical thinking. So we are able to gain an insight into how an apparently purposeless and directionless process can achieve an apparently purposeful result in one field (biological evolution) by looking at another field (thermodynamics).
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A primary reason that people believe that life is getting worse is because our information about the problems of the world has steadily improved. If there is a battle today somewhere on the planet, we experience it almost as if we were there. During World War II, tens of thousands of people might perish in a battle, and if the public could see it at all it was in a grainy newsreel in a movie theater weeks later. During World War I a small elite could read about the progress of the conflict in the newspaper (without pictures). During the nineteenth century there was almost no access to news in a timely fashion for anyone.
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Take death for example. A great deal of our effort goes into avoiding it. We make extraordinary efforts to delay it, and often consider its intrusion a tragic event. Yet we'd find it hard to live without it. Death gives meaning to our lives. It gives importance and value to time. Time would become meaningless if there were too much of it.
When I was a student at MIT, we all shared one computer and it took up a whole building. The computer in your cell phone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful. What now fits in your pocket 25 years from now will fit into a blood cell and will again be millions of times more cost effective.
The software programs that make our body run ... were evolved in very different times. We'd like to actually change those programs. One little software program, called the fat insulin receptor gene, basically says, 'Hold onto every calorie, because the next hunting season may not work out so well.' That was in the interests of the species tens of thousands of years ago. We'd like to turn that program off.
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What we found was that rather than being haphazardly arranged or independent pathways, we find that all of the pathways of the brain taken together fit together in a single exceedingly simple structure. They basically look like a cube. They basically run in three perpendicular directions, and in each one of those three directions the pathways are highly parallel to each other and arranged in arrays. So, instead of independent spaghettis, we see that the connectivity of the brain is, in a sense, a single coherent structure.
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There is one brain organ that is optimised for understanding and articulating logical processes and that is the outer layer of the brain, called the cerebral cortex. Unlike the rest of the brain, this relatively recent evolutionary development is rather flat, only about 0.32 cm (0.12 in) thick and includes a mere 6 million neurons. This elaborately folded organ provides us with what little competence we do possess for understanding what we do and who we do it.
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By the time we get to the 2040s, we'll be able to multiply human intelligence a billionfold. That will be a profound change that's singular in nature. Computers are going to keep getting smaller and smaller. Ultimately, they will go inside our bodies and brains and make us healthier, make us smarter.
My view is that consciousness, the seat of "personalness," is the ultimate reality, and is also scientifically impenetrable. In other words, there is no scientific test one can postulate that would definitively prove its existence in another entity. We assume that other biological human persons, at least those who are at least acting conscious, are indeed conscious. But this too is an assumption, and this shared human consensus breaks down when we go beyond human experience (e.g., the debate on animal consciousness, and by extension animal rights).
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The Singularity denotes an event that will take place in the material world, the inevitable next step in the evolutionary process that started with biological evolution and has extended through human-directed technological evolution. however, it is precisely in the world of matter and energy that we encounter transcendence, a principal connotation of what people refer to as spirituality.
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We have the means right now to live long enough to live forever. Existing knowledge can be aggressively applied to dramatically slow down aging processes so we can still be in vital health when the more radical life extending therapies from biotechnology and nanotechnology become available. But most baby boomers won't make it because they are unaware of the accelerating aging process in their bodies and the opportunity to intervene.
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Evolution is a process of creating patterns of increasing order....I believe that it's the evolution of patterns that constitutes the ultimate story of our world. Evolution works through indirection: each stage or epoch uses the information-processing methods of the previous epoch to create the next.