In my last post, I predicted that the world would experience the singularity between 2040 -2045, an artificially intelligent machine that exceeds the combined cognitive intelligence of the entire human race. In this post, I will delineate my predictions leading to the singularity. Please note their simplicity. I have worked hard to strip away all non-essential elements and only focus on those that represent the crucial elements leading to the singularity. I will state my rationale, and you can judge whether to accept or reject each prediction. Here are my predictions:

Prediction 1: Computer hardware, with computational power greater than a human brain (estimated at 36.8 petaflops), will be in the hands of governments and wealthy companies by the early 2030s.

Rationale: My reasoning for this is straightforward. We are already at the point that governments utilize computers close to the computational power of the human brain.  They are IBM’s Sequoia (16.32 petaflops), Cray’s Titan (17.59 petaflops), and China’s Tianhe-2 (33.86 petaflops). Given the state of current computer technology, we can use Moore’s law to reach the inescapable conclusion that by the early 2030s, governments and wealthy companies will own supercomputers with computational capability greater than a human brain.

Prediction 2: Software will exist that not only emulates but also exceeds the cognitive processes of the human brain by the early 2040s.

Rationale: Although no computer-software combination has passed the Turing test (i.e., essentially conversing with a computer is equivalent to conversing with another human), several have come close. For example, in 2015, a program called Eugene was able to convince 10 of 30 judges from the Royal Society that it was human. Given Moore’s law, by 2025, computer-processing power will have increased by over 100 fold. I view Moore’s law to be applicable in a larger context than raw computer processing power. I believe it is an observation regarding the trend of human creativity as it applies to technology. However, is Moore’s law applicable to software improvement? Historically, software development has not followed Moore’s law. The reason behind this was funding. Computer hardware costs dominated the budget of most organizations. The software had traditionally taken a backseat to hardware, but that trend is changing. With the advent of ubiquitous, cost-effective computer hardware, there is more focus on producing high-quality software. This emphasis led to software engineering development, which since the early 1980s has become widely recognized as a profession on par with other engineering disciplines. Numerous companies and government agencies employ highly educated software engineers. As a result, state-of-the-art computer software is closing the gap and becoming a near-follower of state-of-the-art computer hardware. How near? Based on my judgment, which I offer only as a rough estimate, software prowess is approximately one decade behind computer processing power. My rationale for this is straightforward. Even if computer hardware and software receive equal funding, the computer hardware will still lead the software simply because you need the hardware for the more sophisticated software to function. Is my estimation that software lags hardware by ten years correct? If anything, I think it is conservative. If you agree, it is reasonable to accept that vastly more capable computer software will follow within a decade in addition to the vastly increased computer processing power. Based on this, it is not a stretch to judge one or more computers will pass the Turing Test by 2025-2030. Even if software development progresses on a linear trend, as opposed to the exponential trend predicted by Moore’s law, we can expect computer software to improve 10 fold from 2030 to 2040. In my judgment, this will be sufficient to exceed the cognitive processes of the human brain.

Prediction 3: A computer will be developed in the 2040-2045 timeframe that exceeds the cognitive intelligence of all humans on Earth.

Rationale: This last prediction is, in effect, predicting the timeframe of the singularity. It requires predictions 1 and 2 to be correct and that a database that represents all human knowledge be available to store in a computer’s memory. To understand this last point, let us consider a hypothetical question. Will there be a digital database by the early 2040s equivalent to all knowledge known to humanity? In my view, the answer is yes. Databases like this almost exist today. For example, consider the data that Google has indexed. In addition to indexing online content, Google began an ambitious project in 2004, namely to scan and index the world’s paper books and make them searchable online. If we assume that by 2040 they complete this task, their database would contain all the information in books up to that point and all online information. Would that be all the knowledge of humanity? Perhaps! There is no way of knowing if Google alone will be the digital repository of all human knowledge in 2040. The crucial point is there are likely to be digital databases in 2040 that, if integrated, represent the total of all human knowledge. Google may only be one of them. These databases can be stored in a computer’s memory. With early 2040 state-of-the-art software, a supercomputer in early 2040 will be able to access those databases and cognitively exceed the intelligence of the entire human race, which is by definition the point of the singularity.

Many contemporary futurists typically predict numerous details leading to the singularity and attempt to attach a timeframe to each detail. I have set that approach aside since it is not relevant to predicting the singularity. That includes, for example, predicting computer brain implants, nanotech-based manufacturing, as well as a laundry list of other technological marvels. However, I think the singularity will only require accurately predicting the three events delineated above. As simple as they appear, they satisfy two crucial requirements. One, they are necessary, and two, they are sufficient to predict the singularity.

In making the above predictions, I made one critical assumption. I assumed that humankind would continue the “status quo.” I am ruling out world-altering events, such as large asteroids striking Earth, leading to human extinction, or a nuclear exchange that renders civilization impossible. Is assuming the “status quo” reasonable? We’ll discuss that in the next post.