London, Feb 16: A leading scientific "futurologist" envisions that the speed at which technological advancements are taking place may lead computer power to be on a par with the intelligence of human brains in the next two decades.
American computer guru Ray Kurzweil reckons that there will be 32 times more technical progress during the next half century than there was in the entire 20th century. One of such outcomes may be artificial intelligence matching human intellect the 2020s, he says. While addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, he said that machines would rapidly overtake humans in their intellectual abilities, and would soon be able to solve some of the most intractable problems of the 21st century. Kurzweil was one of 18 maverick thinkers who had been chosen to identify the greatest technological challenges facing humanity. He said that machines would far surpass human intelligence as they learnt how to communicate, teach and replicate among themselves.
He revealed that his prediction was based on the calculations that computer chips had been doubling in power every two years for the past half-century. "The paradigm shift rate is now doubling every decade, so the next half century will see 32 times more technical progress than the last half century. Computation, communication, biological technologies - for example, DNA sequencing - brain scanning, knowledge of the human brain, and human knowledge in general are all accelerating at an ever-faster pace, generally doubling price-performance, capacity and bandwidth every year," the Independent quoted him as saying.
Kurzweil pointed out that computers had been based on two-dimensional chips made from silicon to date, but scientists had developed techniques to create three-dimensional chips with vastly improved performances.
He said that 3-D chips could also be constructed from biological molecules, which may enable them to be miniaturised even more than metal-based computer chips.
"Three-dimensional, molecular computing will provide the hardware for human-level 'strong artificial intelligence' by the 2020s. The more important software insights will be gained in part from the reverse engineering of the human brain, a process well under way. Already, two dozen regions of the human brain have been modelled and simulated," he said.
Kurzweil further said that computers were on their way to creating a "post-human" world where a second, intelligent entity would exist alongside people.
"Once non-biological intelligence matches the range and subtlety of human intelligence, it will necessarily soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge," he said.
"We are understanding disease and ageing processes as information processes, and are gaining the tools to reprogramme them. RNA interference, for example, allows us to turn selected genes off, and new forms of gene therapy are enabling us to effectively add new genes. Within two decades, we will be in a position to stop and reverse the progression of disease and ageing resulting in dramatic gains in health and longevity," he added.