Chapter Three: Achieving the Computational Capacity of the Human Brain

BACK TO THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR. Kind of a dry chapter, but I still want to touch on a few basic ideas.

DID YOU KNOW ABOUT NANOTUBES?

So I just thought nanotechnology was just “really small machines” but little did I know. In order to make nanotubes, molecules are assembled into three-dimensional structures that perform logic tasks. MOLECULES.

Granted, there are many skeptics of nanotechnology, but over time research efforts have progressed greatly. By the early 2000s, IBM presented a functional integrated circuit, only one thousand nano-based transistors.

All you need to understand about logic tasks for now is there is an input, or a “question”, and then there is an output or “answer”.

Currently (or during the time the book was published in 2005) the hope is to create electronic/mechanical systems capable of self-replication. This idea is of course inspired by biology. Afterall, DNA is biological “technology”.

Computing with DNA

DNA is nature’s own nanoengineered computer, and its ability to store information and conduct logical manipulations at the molecular level has already been exploited in specialized ‘DNA computers.

I had NO IDEA about this one. DNA computers? For real?

Basically, a strand of DNA will be replicated trillions of times using PCR, and then all of those strands will be placed together in a test tube where they naturally link together. DNA sequences on the strands can represent “different symbols, each of them a possible solution to the problem.”

THEN, SOMEHOW each strand is tested at the exact same time using “specially designed enzymes that destroy strands that do not meet certain criteria.” This may be an abstract idea, but don’t get too stuck on it. The point is, scientists are able to manipulate biology to perform desired tasks. There are incredible limitations to using DNA computers, but I’m mostly just in awe of the possibility.  I barely understand how either. But when you break down systems in terms of an input and an output, absolutely DNA can be a manipulated technology in the future. What would it mean to control functionality (to an extent) on a genetic level? OH the implications.

Computing with Spin

In addition to their negative electrical charge, electrons have another property the can be exploited for memory and computation: spin.

Again, this computation is possible using logic tasks. An electron, in theory, can spin “up” or “down” (you’ll have to excuse the spatial terminology, chemists and physicists)

An important role for spintronics in the future of computer memory is clear, and it is likely to contribute to logic systems as well. This spin of an electron is a quantum property (subject to the laws of quantum mechanics), so perhaps the most important application of spintronics will be in quantum computing systems, using the spin of quantum-entangled electrons to represent qubits…

[[[ qubit = quantum bit ]]]

HERE’S A KURZWEILIAN PREDICTION, and I really do believe thatKurzweilian should be an adopted term.

Based on the [analyses], it is reasonable to expect the hardware that can emulate human-brain functionality to be available for approximately one thousand dollars by around 2020…By 2050, one thousand dollars of computing will exceed the processing power of all human brains on Earth. Of course, this figure includes those brains still using only biological neurons

THIS GUY IS SO BOLD. Here I will mention that the only true education is one that questions every claim and every idea. As a scientist, skepticism is a tool. That being said, I’m curious to see what wil happen once 2020 comes around, not to mention 2050. We live in exciting times.

Setting a Date for the Singularity

So in case you’re just tuning in, the general definition of Kurzweil’s Singularity is when technology transcends biology. It is essentially the basis of his theory, the meat and potatoes.

The Singularity is predicted to occur in the year 2045.

I set the date for the Singularity– representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability– as 2045. The nonbiological intelligence created in that year will be one billion times more powerful than all human intelligence today.

Unfathomable is one way to describe this prediction, but considering that we are at the “knee of the curve” in terms of technology, I’d say within 10 years there will be MUCH more generally accepted evidence (not necessarily proof) for this dramatic shift in human civilization. Definitely within the next ten years these progressions will become more obvious. Kurzweil predicts that by 2020 computing will not be limited to “rectangular devices”, but will be integrated into most of our environment. “Computing will be everywhere: in the walls, in our furniture, in our clothing, and in our bodies and brains.” This is already happening, on fridges, in automobiles, etc., but imagine how much room there is to expand.

Here’s a great plug to get you to check back in for Chapter 6, where Kurzweil will “examine the computational potential of an Earth-size planet and computers on the scale of solar systems, of galaxies, and of the entire known universe.” He *warns* that the arrival of these paradigms are coming a lot sooner than most people imagine. EEEEEEEEKK!!!!!!!

AGAIN, I CANNOT OVERSTATE HOW INCREDIBLY MIND-BLOWING THESE PREDICTIONS ARE, DON’T YOU AGREE? Yes yes, they aren’t foolproof, but PLEASE can you just IMAGINE? These ideas, they make me feel limitless, endless…absolutely eternal. I believe in the possibility that we will live hundreds, if not thousands of years. I believe in the possibility that we will have to redefine the idea “live”. I believe in the possibility that communication will cease to be restricted by language. Every day, I continue to fantasize the endless possibility. I am wholly and almost neurotically excited for future. Aw man, it’s just gonna smack everybody in the face like WHOA. Whether or not Kurzweil’s predictions are exactly spot on, I’m gonna go ahead and predict we will not be living ANY SORT OF LIFE that our grandparents lived. Certainly not…

The future is so vast.

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7 comments

    • annaeneumann

      VERY true, which is why it is IMPERATIVE that this generation turn ALL wishes into progressive action. There are so many ways the future could go wrong, unless individuals demand and create exactly the future that they want. It is up to us.

      • dclark951

        Yes, but the problem is…some wishes are better off never coming to fruition. Not because they aren’t fraught with good intentions, but because we can’t control them.

      • annaeneumann

        And now we enter the realm of human destiny: is it our fate to perpetually advance technology? So far yes. Is it possible to stop or reverse this sole defining human characteristic? We shall see.

      • dclark951

        Quote from a book that I recommend you read: “Any technology divorced from the whole flow of nature tends to produce a condition … called ‘mechanarchy': the perfection of technological means to produce a chaotic sterile environment.” “The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water.” Sim Van der Rym. 1978.

  1. Mary

    Thanks for this interesting post. I think I may have heard about this… dinner table?
    Anyways, love the photo! Contemplating the universe feels like brain yoga.

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