Handicapping the Singularity

February 15, 2009 at 11:37 pm Leave a comment

I was reading a post about how Ray Kurzweil is a crank, and it got me to thinking:  is there some kind of fundamental limit on how intelligent something could be.  Of course, this is all just me rambling, as nobody even knows what intelligence is, or how to measure it very well.  So, with that in mind, what would limit intelligence?  I see three things: energy, density and latency.


The human brain requires somewhere around 20% of the energy of the human body.  In fact, our bodies are actually quite well tuned to the demands of our brain.  Any larger, and we wouldn’t have energy left for thinking.  But we’re living in the nuclear age here, we don’t need to constrain ourselves with biology.  So, lets say the total output of a nuclear fusion power plant is hooked up to our computer.  That certainly is a lot of power, but does limit the potential intelligence.  What about further?  Sure, you could use several power plants.  One can even envision an advanced civilization utilizing the total power output of a start to drive their intelligent computer.  But there is probably a finite limit on how much energy used for power intelligence.


There are approximately 10^11 to 10^14 neurons in a space about the size of grapefruit.  Current silicon technologies create transistors on at 45nm.  Any intelligent machine will have a limit on how dense it’s fundamental components can be.  If we assume that an intelligent machine can be created using a quantum computer, then the size of the individual components would be one fundamental particle (lets say a photon.)  So, this places the limit on density, albeit a pretty big limit (or is that small.)


What I’m referring to here is: at what point does the latency between parts of the machine prevent it from being useful?  First of all, we already have a well known speed limit in the universe: the speed of light.  So there’s our limit.  But what does that mean for intelligence?  Is there a limit to how much latency there can be?  Would we have a really smart computer, but one thats very slow?  Or does that even matter?  Would speed necessarily decrease the power of intelligence?  Hmm, deep questions.  The more I think about this, the more I wonder if it even matters.  Maybe the intelligence just starts to see things in really big pictures, kind of like how we no longer think about things in basic terms, but with more abstraction.  Perhaps this super intelligence just sees more abstraction until it’s making observations about whole societies of humans.

There is obviously no answer here.  But it’s fun to think about the questions.


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