You can barely move in 2017 without hearing the buzzwords ‘AI’ or ‘neural networks’. It’s clear that we are hyped to be on the cusp of a great revolution. But what just what does this future hold?
We often forget that artificially intelligent machines are already ubiquitous in society: from calculators to email spam filters and Spotify’s automatically curated personalised playlists. But the AIs of the future are set to be entities with capabilities on an unprecedented scale. Today’s machines outperform humans at specific tasks, but AI thought leader Nick Bostrom envisages a future of artificially superintelligent machines (ASIs) that would be ‘much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills’. Essentially, machines that can think for themselves.
No theoretical barriers stand in the way of creating such a machine. After all, human brains are just bundles of neurons bathed in a load of chemicals that, when arranged in the correct way, produce the illusions of consciousness, free will and emotion. If we could reproduce the exact structure of the human brain down to an atomic level resolution, using transistors and software, there is really no reason that this silicon-based entity would not experience the same illusions of consciousness, free will and emotion as us carbon-based life forms.
Of course, getting to this point is no mean feat, but the hardware is already there: neurons run at 200Hz whereas the most standard microprocessors in your computer run at 2GHz (10 million times faster). Memory capabilities are many-fold greater without the space constraints of the human skull. Upload and download speeds are also incomparable (think of how long it takes you to read a book and how long it takes you to load one onto your kindle). Computers are also far higher fidelity than humans and simply don’t make mistakes, it’s always human error that produces malfunctions. It’s simply the software that we are still struggling to get right now.