If we want to view the human brain in terms of a computer, one approach would be to take the number of calculations per second that an average human brain is able to process and compare that with today’s best computers. This is not an exact science. No one really knows how many calculations per second an average human brain is able to process, but some estimates (www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/06/18/earths-supercomputing-power-surpasses-human-brain-three-times-over) suggest it is in the order of 36.8 petaflops of data (a petaflop is equal to one quadrillion calculations per second). Let us compare the human brain’s processing power with the best current computers on record, listed below by year and processing-power achievement.

  • June 18, 2012: IBM’s Sequoia supercomputer system, based at the US Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), reached sixteen petaflops, setting the world record and claiming first place in the latest TOP500 list (a list of the top five hundred computers ranked by a benchmark known as LINPACK (related to their ability to solve a set of linear equations) to decide whether they qualify for the TOP500.
  • November 12, 2012: The TOP500 list certified Titan as the world’s fastest supercomputer per the LINPACK benchmark, at 17.59 petaflops. Cray Incorporated, at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, developed it.
  • June 10, 2013: China’s Tianhe-2 was ranked the world’s fastest supercomputer, with a record of 33.86 petaflops.

Using Moore’s law (i.e., computer processing power doubles every eighteen months), we can extrapolate that in terms of raw processing power (petaflops), computer processing power will meet or exceed that of the human mind by about 2015 to 2017. This does not mean that by 2017 we will have a computer that is equal to the human mind. Software plays a key role in both processing power (MIPS) and AI.

To understand the critical role that software plays, we must understand what we are asking AI to accomplish in emulating human intelligence. Here is a thumbnail sketch of the capabilities that researchers consider necessary.

  • Reasoning: step-by-step reasoning that humans use to solve problems or make logical decisions
  • Knowledge: extensive knowledge, similar to what an educated human would possess
  • Planning: the ability to set goals and achieve them
  • Learning: the ability to acquire knowledge through experience and use that knowledge to improve
  • Language: the ability to understand the languages humans speak and write
  • Moving: the ability to move and navigate, including knowing where it is relative to other objects and obstacles
  • Manipulation: the ability to secure and handle an object
  • Vision: the ability to analyze visual input, including facial and object recognition
  • Social intelligence: the ability to recognize, interpret, and process human psychology and emotions and respond appropriately
  • Creativity: the ability to generate outputs that can be considered creative or the ability to identify and assess creativity

This list makes clear that raw computer processing and sensing are only two elements in emulating the human mind. Obviously software is also a critical element. Each of the capabilities delineated above requires a computer program. To emulate a human mind, the computer programs would need to act both independently and interactively, depending on the specific circumstance.

In terms of raw computer processing, with the development of China’s Tianhe-2 computer, we are on the threshold of having a computer with the raw processing power of a human mind. The development of a computer that will emulate a human mind, however, may still be one, two, or even more decades away, due to software and sensing requirements.

Source: The Artificial Intelligence Revolution (2014), Louis A. Del Monte