Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Scientists No Longer Needed: We Have Machines That Can Do That Now

I heard this story a few weeks ago regarding the stunning news that a machine has uncovered the laws of motion (meaning that it didn't have a human tell it what the laws of motion were, it just figured it out) after playing with a pendulum for a few hours.

Damn.

To put that into perspective, it took humans a few centuries of work to figure those same laws out. And it took a little fella named Newton to invent Calculus to really get them worked out mathematically.

And some 'ol machine figures them out by messing around for an afternoon. I shake my head at the absurdity.

But what that tells me, on a much deeper level, is that we really are living in the future. Folks like Ray Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge have been preaching about the coming singularity for a while now... and I'm starting to get that little tingle in the back of my skull that they may be right. I just wonder if we'll really be able to tell when it's happening.

Oh, and the singularity is that magical moment when machines/AI surpasses humans in intelligence. At least in the Kurzweil version, once that happens we'll have a runaway chain reaction of advancement that will leave humanity surrounded by godlike machine intelligences that will be capable of insights and wonders that we won't even begin to be able to understand.

How can that happen? Well, the thought is that if you have a machine, smarter than any human, that designs the next generation of machine/AI/computer, then you'll have something that is greater than what any human could ever build.

Oh, and then this new, even smarter machine goes and designs and builds it successor, which is even more advanced.

And so on and so on. Before you know it, people are so removed from the process, and have been left so far behind intellectually, that we won't be capable of understanding machines anymore... hence the godlike entities I mentioned earlier.

Given that a rather plain machine was capable of uncovering the laws of Newtonian physics in a few short hours now. Imagine what sort of wonders it could uncover if it were a trillion times more advanced.

Again, we're really living in a sci-fi world.

All that being said, I'm a wee bit skeptical of the singularity actually happening as I described above, maybe a lifetime of seeing movies like the Terminator and the Matrix has made me take the prospect of computer overlords as silly.

But you never know.

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