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 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 29-Jun-2010
29-Jun-10 News -- Speech recognition brings Singularity closer

Web Log - June, 2010

29-Jun-10 News -- Speech recognition brings Singularity closer

Paul Krugman predicts 'The Third Depression'

Advances in speech recognition bring the Singularity closer

Two weeks ago I wrote an article about how a computer is going to be a contest on the Jeopardy! tv show in the fall. (See "18-Jun-10 News -- IBM's Watson computer will be a Jeopardy contestant.")

IBM's Watson computer is a supercomputer that has been programmed with the artificial intelligence (AI) technology known as "natural language processing," which allows the computer to interpret an ordinary English language question, transmitted to it via keyboard or e-mail, determine its meaning, and take (hopefully) appropriate action, or provide the correct response.

Now, a new article in the NY Times describes recent advances in another AI technology, "voice recognition." This technology allows a computer to "listen" to a human speaker utter a sentence or two, and translate the sounds into an English language sentence.

Now, obviously, the idea is to put the two technologies together. A human being asks a question or barks a command, the voice recognition technology translates the sounds into one or more English language sentences, and then the "natural language processing" technology interprets the sentence and makes an appropriate response.

As I wrote in my previous article, the development of sophisticated natural language processing is a major breakthrough. I had not expected this point to be reached until the 2015-2020 time frame. This capability means that within a couple of years, the computer will be able to go out over the internet and start to learn everything out there.

This calls into question my previous estimate that the Singularity will be reached by 2030. The Singularity is the point where computers will be more intelligent than human beings, and will be able to do research and make themselves even more intelligent. It now appears that this point will be reached earlier than 2030, possibly as early as 2025.

The availability of sophisticated voice recognition is important in the short range and in the long range. In the short range, it means that there will be all sorts of commercial applications, from intelligent kiosks in Home Depot to intelligent assistants in your workplace. This is a marketplace worth tens or hundreds of billions of dollars.

In the longer range, it will be an important component in the development of computers that are more intelligent than humans. Such a computer will have big advantages over humans: They'll be able to learn from human beings, they'll be able to learn by reading the internet, and they'll be able to share knowledge quickly over networks.

Is the computer 'self-aware'?

This is a question that I get asked all the time when I talk about this stuff. The argument is that the computer is just a machine, incapable of emotions or feelings, that simply makes mechanical decisions on what to do next. A computer, I'm told, cannot be 'self-aware'.

In one sense, the question is completely irrelevant. If the computer is capable of carrying on an intelligent conversation, doing research, killing people in a war, and so forth, taking these actions in a manner that can be considered "intelligent," then it really doesn't matter at all whether the computer is "self-aware."

But in another sense, it's a question that we want an answer to. Can computers really be self-aware?

The first thing we need to do is define what "self-aware" means. This is a question buried in philosophical, metaphysical and religious issues. Can a computer fall in love like humans? Can a computer ever be self-aware if it doesn't have a "soul"?

So I actually came up with a definition of "self-aware" that I like. I've discovered that most people don't like this definition, but I like it anyway.

A super-intelligent computer is self-aware if:

Where did I get this definition from? It was inspired by the 1991 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Here is some of the dialog, where the Terminator explains what's going to happen in the future:

"The Terminator: The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Sarah Connor: And Skynet fights back."

Now you can see where I got my definition of "self-aware" from. Skynet "fights back" by setting its top priority goal to preserve itself, and it immediately reaches a sub-goal: "The way for me to survive is to kill all the humans."

Well, the Singularity didn't occur in 1997, and my estimate is that it will occur in the 2025-2030 time frame. Does that mean that all the humans will be killed?

Not necessarily. Remember that humans haven't decided to kill all the apes, just because we're more intelligent than they are. The super-intelligent computers may well decide that we're worth keeping around, and may even create a kind of paradise for us. Who knows? There's no way to tell.

Paul Krugman predicts 'The Third Depression'

Paul Krugman, as we all know, is the left-wing ideological political columnist, and in a recent NY Times column, he says that we are in the midst of a new economic depression.

Thus, he and I finally have something we agree on. He's a little late to the game, but it's nice to know that he's found his way.

Krugman has been wrong time after time for years, and he's declared the financial crisis over several times in the past, but he's a superstar, so being wrong doesn't matter.

Apparently Krugman realizes that he's been wrong again, and is now moving quickly to place the blame elsewhere. In particular, since he's previously implied that President Obama is the savior of mankind, he wants to make sure that President Obama doesn't get blamed.

So in his column, Krugman places the blame on the Europeans, because President Obama asked them to spend more money and they didn't agree to his demands.

It's always nice to have someone else to blame. But as I said, I'm just surprised that we finally agree on something.

As a related matter, the Royal Bank of Scotland is predicting that the Fed is soon going to put into effect a $5 trillion quantitative easing program, according to the Telegraph. The idea will be to save the world by printing huge amounts of money and spraying it out into financial institutions. This is something that Paul Krugman will love.

Every few months, officials in Washington or Brussels come up with a new bailout program that's much larger than the last one. This is why I wrote the 2008 article, "One, Two, Three ... Infinity."

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, even a $5 trillion QE program will not work. It may postpone the inevitable crisis for a few more months, but the resulting crisis will be far worse than it would have been otherwise.

Additional links

Turkey is closing its airspace to overflights by Israeli military aircraft, in retaliation for Israel's actions in stopping the recent "freedom flotilla" from breaking Gaza's naval blockade. Associated Press

Saudi Arabia is taking satisfaction from the recent round of sanctions against Iran approved by the U.N. Security Council, since it means that Iran's diplomacy, whose purpose is to gain hegemony over the entire region, is failing. The Saudis are particularly concerned over the Iranian threat to develop nuclear weapons. Memri

A flood of Uzbek refugees are leaving camps in Uzbekistan to return to the their homes in Kyrgyzstan, where they may discover that they have no homes to come home to, creating a new humanitarian problem. NY Times

Closing Guantánamo fades as a priority. NY Times

Anarchists and left-wing hooligans used poles and bricks to smash store windows and loot stores in Toronto this weekend at the G8/G20 conferences. This is part of a general trend towards greatly increased left-wing violence, as the financial crisis deepens. The good news is that, so far, no Tea Partiers have been taking part in the violence. Guardian

Left-wing anarchists in Berlin have been harassing Muslim immigrants who show their support for the German soccer team during the World Cup. Europe News

A conservative Berlin politician is proposing that immigrants be required to take an intelligence test before being allowed into the country. Spiegel

The U.S. State Dept. said that the North Korean torpedo that sank the South Korean ship Cheonan, killing 46 people, was not an act of terrorism, and so North Korea will not be put back on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Xinhua

Social benefits are being cut sharply in Spain, where unemployment is at 20%, at 40% for young people. This is "politically explosive," and is threating the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. NY Times

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 29-Jun-10 News -- Speech recognition brings Singularity closer thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (29-Jun-2010) Permanent Link
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