Skynet is near

I’ve been listening to the book The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology. If you never have had any concerns about Skynet becoming reality this book will shake you up. If you thought Skynet was science fiction but plausible this book will put you on full alert.


Author Ray Kurzweil makes a strong case that technology (and as an aside, biological evolution) advances at an exponential rate. I forget the exact numbers but he claims that we can now expect to see the equivalent of all the advances we saw in the entire 20th century to happen in the something like first 20 years of the 21st Century. Then those advances again in something like 10 years. He also claims a case can be made that the exponent in the exponential growth equation is itself increasing exponentially!

The reason the technological growth can increase so rapidly is that we have created tools to create technology more easily. And we create tools to create tools. We have computers that can be taught to see and track objects. We have computers sitting under our desks that have the “brain power” for some task that exceed the capacity of several planets of sentient beings. Soon we will have computers that can not only be used technological levers guided by humans but can create their own tools.

The maximum communication speed of biochemical signals of animals is about 100 meters per second. And the distances those signals need to travel during thinking are on the order of centimeters. These factors are hard physical limits on how fast we can think. A computer has similar problems but the physical limits are not nearly as constraining. Communication speed is approximately 300,000,000 meters per second and the distances are on the order of millimeters. This gives a computer an speed advantage of approximately 30,000,000.

In communication and teaching others humans are limited by our language and our ability to learn a new skill. How many words per minute can a person read or hear and understand and apply? If you are skilled in the field you may be able to read and understand what another subject matter expert tells you but it will still take practice before you can perform at the same level as your teacher. With a computer it can “teach” another computer at whatever rate it takes to transfer the software. The cellphone in your pocket “learns” a new skill with perfect repeatability from other computers in the few seconds it takes to download the app through the sky via the nearest cell tower from the ‘net.

Today that ‘net is the Internet.

Update: Sarah recommended the book to me. She has more to offer on the topic.

5 thoughts on “Skynet is near

  1. Also, we need to keep in mind that, even if the United States and the EU and the UN pass Laws trying to restrict the development of Skynet, this won’t mean a damn thing to those wonderful Bastions of Liberty such as China, North Korea, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba,……

  2. I haven’t read Kurzweil, but I am generally skeptical. We Moore’s Law-ed our way past several generations of predictions of how many FLOPS and bytes it would take for machine intelligence to emerge. Watson and Siri do impressive things with natural language queries, but within restricted domains. There’s still nobody home. Not even in a weird non-human way. No intentionality. I’m not making a Zen holist argument. I’m not saying we can’t build AI. I just don’t see that technology advancing along the same curves as microfabrication and switching speed.

  3. One of the more interesting sites that has posts on topic is The Futurist
    ( )

    He talks about trends, accelerating trends, inflection points, misandry, various other things, and the technological singularity (which IIRC he puts somewhere around 2065). Some very thought provoking reading.

  4. I for one welcome our new Overlords. I mean we already have a cold and uncaring elected administration, at least a computer would have to obey the rules of logic.

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