2006-07-17

Limits of Moore's law

These thoughts emerged after speaking with Clément Vidal, from an ongoing discussion at the FRIAM mailing list, and are also related to the so called Singularity. Many people say that in a few decades computers will have the same computational power as the human brain, and then AI machines will take over. This argument is based on Moore's law, which states that the transistor density of semiconductor chips doubles roughly every 18 months, giving an exponential growth in computing power. Ignoring the fact that brains do different types of computations than PCs, these people argue that when we'll have the computational power to model all the neurons of a human brain (100 billion, with about 100 thousand connections each), computers will be smarter than humans. And since their capacity will keep on growing, soon we'll be left in the shadow of obsolence.
Now, just imagine that you have all that computational power right now. Even more, let's say with the capacity of 10^100 CPU's running in parallel, or even more. How the hell do you program a human mind in there??? It takes us several years just to learn to talk! This is related to the so called software crisis: even when computing power increases, the ability to produce more complex software is not increasing as fast as Moore's law, so in practice we can make faster computations, but not more complex. I don't know if there is a measurement of software complexity, to see how it has increased over the years, but my guess would be that it would be linear, or even less... just look how long does it take to release a new operating system. Software is progressing, but not as fast as hardware, thus limiting the practicality of Moore's law.

Related ideas can be found on my essay: Why Computers Will Not Take Over the World, where I argue that rather than machines taking over humans, we will converge in our evolution, since we have different niches, which are actually complementary.

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