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I recently had the opportunity to hang out with my now 8-month old grandson. We had previously connected way back at the end of November when he was 5-months old. He lives on the West Coast and I live on the East Coast, so we have not spent too much time together so far.

We started slowly. The November connection was centered on warmth and cuddling and a few smiles. I must have a nice heartbeat, since he fell asleep lying on my chest a few times. The February connection was a lot more intensive. We hugged and made sounds to each other. We went to a dinosaur museum and an aquarium with a performance by trained sea lions. We played with stuffed animals, watched snowflakes fall and birds feed on suet and seeds. We made noise shaking containers with rice and dried peas in it and looked at books with bright colors and pretty shapes. We smelled rosemary and ate Harry and David Riviera pears. We explored nooks and crannies in the house: everything seemed to be soaked up as his brain worked on sensory inputs and pattern recognition.

My grandson is on an explosive, exponential growth path. The most astounding capability of the human brain is pattern recognition, which he is very busily working on. The circuits in my grandson's brain are very slow compared to electronic circuits, but they are massively parallel. Massive parallel capabilities are required for rapid pattern recognition, which is the way the human brain operates at its best. Machine "intelligence", i.e. non-biological "intelligence" is very fast, but is not too good at pattern recognition.

What my grandson is on, is a path and pattern that characterizes evolution, from the Big Bang to the present. But exponential growth also characterizes technological growth and this is the path will bring humans to The Singularity when biological humans, virtual reality humans and machines will merge. One way of defining a singularity is to describe a state where the Laws of Nature cease to apply. The predictions up to The Singularity are rather straightforward, but beyond that we don’t have appropriate tools for meaningful predictions. This is not something that I come up with myself; you can read about it in "The Singularity Is Near" by Ray Kurzweil, who has also written several other books on the Future. I will try to wet your appetite with a few tidbits and make you envious of my grandson, who may see it happen before his eyes and possibly be part of it.

Most long-term forecasts are based on what has been called the "intuitive linear" view of history, rather than the "historical exponential" view of history. If one extrapolates into the future using the "intuitive linear" view, which is characterized by projecting along a straight line, explosive growth (especially in technology) is underestimated. If the same data is projected on a logarithmic scale, explosive growth is more easily predicted since the data will lie along a straight line (see the referenced book for a complete explanation).

The "Law of Accelerating Returns" also comes into play. It states that the faster things move the faster they will continue to move. Perhaps the statement is a bit obscure, so some examples may illuminate the landscape. Take the Internet. There was skepticism in mid-80s about its continued existence, since the Internet included only a few thousand nodes.  The "intuitive linear" view predicted the addition of a few thousand nodes/year worldwide. But, by 1995 there were more than 10 million nodes and by 2003 there were more than 172 million nodes. The "intuitive linear" view was way off.

An IBM 360-91 computer circa 1968 (yes, there were computers before the Apple II) had 1 Mbytes of core memory and could do 1 MPS for a $1000/hr rental fee. We need not pause long to examine what $1000 of computing power can do in 2006. Along the same line, we know that $1 bought one transistor in 1968, and $1 bought 1 million transistors in 2002.  This is the "Law of Accelerating Returns" at work!

The acceleration of computing power has been cast into "Moore’s Law", which captured the fact that each generation of computer chips provides twice as many components per unit cost, with a doubling time of about 2 years.  "Moore’s Law" will no longer apply after the 2020s in 2-dimensional circuit design. Its demise will be due to the fact that the distance between transistors will be of the order of a few nanometers. The advent of 3-D circuits made of computing nanotubes will make acceleration take off again.

Computational capability will explode in ways that will bring us to The Singularity likely by the end of the 21st century. The Singularity will allow humans to transcend the limitations of human bodies and brains. The timeline is within my grandson’s lifespan, but not mine. The timeline according to the referenced book goes something like this:

  1. in the 2010s, computers will become essentially invisible, imbedded in clothing, furniture and the environment.
  2. in the 2020s, 3-D computing nanotubes will expand the calculational capacity of computers to open the door for virtual reality.
  3. in the 2030s, nanobot technology (nanometer size robots) will provide a totally convincing virtual reality.
  4. in the 2040s, the processing capacity of non-biological intelligence will vastly exceed biological intelligence.
  5. in the 2050s, humans will be able to expand their thinking without limit.
  6. in the next 30 years or so, the human brain will be reverse-engineered and its massive parallel capability will be emulated by non-biological processing.

The human brain will be scanned by nanobots and emulated by non-biological circuitry. And then The Singularity will be approached and I hope my grandson will be there to see it happen.

 

 

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