Intelligence is a big deal. Humanity owes its dominant position on Earth not to any special strength of our muscles, nor any unusual sharpness of our teeth, but to the unique ingenuity of our brains. It is our brains that are responsible for the complex social organization and the accumulation of technical, economic and scientific advances that, for better and worse, undergird modern civilization.

All our technological inventions, philosophical ideas and scientific theories have gone through the birth canal of the human intellect. Arguably, human brain power is the chief limiting factor in the development of human civilization.

Unlike the speed of light or the mass of the electron, human brain power is not an eternally fixed constant. Brains can be enhanced. And, in principle, machines can be made to process information as efficiently as–or more efficiently than–biological nervous systems.

There are multiple paths to greater intelligence. By “intelligence,” I here refer to the panoply of cognitive capacities, including not just book smarts but also creativity, social intuition, wisdom and so on.

There are traditional means of enhancing intelligence, like education, and newer means like biotechnology. Perhaps the smartest and wisest thing the human species could do would be to work on making itself smarter and wiser. In the longer run, however, biological human brains might cease to be the predominant nexus of earthly intelligence.

Machines will have several advantages: most obviously, faster processing speed. An artificial neuron can operate a million times faster than its biological counterpart. Machine intelligences may also have superior computational architectures and learning algorithms. These “qualitative” advantages, while harder to predict, may be even more important than the advantages in processing power and memory capacity. Furthermore, artificial intellects can be easily copied, and each new copy can–unlike humans–start life fully fledged and endowed with all the knowledge accumulated by its predecessors. Given these considerations, it is possible that one day we may be able to create “superintelligence,” a general intelligence that vastly outperforms the best human brains in every significant cognitive domain.

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4 thoughts on “When Will Computers Be Smarter Than Us?

  1. a thought-provoking article, although I was familiar with the ideas and the topic in scientific and human society-look at the Terminator series, for example-the concepts were put together in a novel way that made me we appreciate or rather re-appreciate the possibilities anew. Intriguing and thanks

  2. What is the fastest speed in the world?—Human thinking.
    If computer can reach that speed, we can say computer be smarter than us.

  3. I was just listening to Jeff Hawkins talk on just such a technology.

    Numenta is creating a new type of computing technology modeled on the structure and operation of the neocortex. The technology is called Hierarchical Temporal Memory, or HTM, and is applicable to a broad class of problems from machine vision, to fraud detection, to semantic analysis of text. HTM is based on a theory of neocortex first described in the book On Intelligence by Numenta co-founder Jeff Hawkins, and subsequently turned into a mathematical form by Numenta co-founder Dileep George.

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