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Aug 14

Musings on Ray Kurzweil, Moore's Law, and the not-so-far-off future

I write science fiction. I was with my critique group the other night and one of the gentlemen critiquing my work was concerned with the date I chose for the setting of one of my stories. It was not just the date, but the date combined with the fact that the technology I was positing didn't seem advanced enough.

He cited Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil's predictions about the integration of non-biological intelligence with human intelligence and was emphatic about it enough so that I decided I needed to re-listen to Kurzweil's TEDtalks.

I did that today.

I like Kurzweil. I really do. But... I think he goes a little too far. At the center of his talks is Moore's Law. Kurzweil emphatically (and correctly) points out how well Moore's law has proven to be true over the years and therefore, it will continue to be true. He also likes to apply the concept of exponential growth to anything digital. Sure. No issue there.

But he makes some unfair and inconsistent extrapolations when he mentions intelligence and our ability to understand intelligence over the coming decades. Just because we are collecting data at an exponential rate and digitizing data at an exponential rate does not imply we are UNDERSTANDING anything, especially intelligence, at anything close to that rate.

While we might have access to an exponentially larger quantity of data than we did in the recent past, while we might be able to compute exponentially faster... we are not exponentially more intelligent.

And we are not going to magically understand intelligence in the coming decades solely based on the rate that our technology is expanding.

Please... don't confuse my assertion that we won't understand intelligence with not understanding brain function. Certainly over the last several decades we've learned a lot about biology and how the brain WORKS. But that's not intelligence. Not by a long shot.

I'm in Jeff Hawkins camp when he writes in his fantastic book "On Intelligence" that we don't yet have a framework for understanding the brain (in terms of intelligence, not biology... different things) and until we do, we won't be making the fantastic leaps in technology that Kurzweil predicts.

(side note: another post that I hope to get out soon will be on Jeff Hawkin's book and how it makes a fantastic case for the AIML)

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