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Does life imitate the movies, or vice versa?

Ross O. Storey | May 24, 2010
Frightening predictions of exploding computer brain power

Future gazing is always fraught with danger because commentators can always be held to count for what they forecast if they are still alive.

It is interesting, too, that movie makers in Hollywood sometimes pre-empt what scientific forecasters predict, or maybe they watch movies to get their ideas.

These thoughts came upon me as I was listening to presentations at the Computerworld Singapore Data Centre Forum in the Lion City last week. There were some very interesting speakers and nearly 100 senior IT executives turned up for the occasion, which part of me says might have been because we had an Apple iPad as a door prize but maybe I am being a bit cynical, which comes with the territory when you are a journalist.

Spiritual machines

Anyway, the presentation by Dr Ispran Kandasamy, vice president sales, enterprise Asia Pacific for CommScopes enterprise solutions division, excited my imagination. Dr Ispran quoted from a 1999 book called The Age of Spiritual Machines by futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil (I must add this to my reading list) and one fascinating presentation graph, in particular, jumped out at me. It showed Kurzweil claimed that, the average computers processing powerthe number of calculations per secondin the Year 2000 was equivalent to the brain of an insect.

By about 2003, he maintained that computers had the power of a mouse brain. By 2025, Kurzweil forecasts that the average computer will be able to do as many calculations per second as the average human brain.

And heres the kicker. By 2060 he contends that the average computer will be as powerful as the brains of all humans, being able to do more than 10 to the 25th power calculations per second.

What governments?

What sort of world will it be and what sort of governments will we have if just one computer has the brain power of the entire human race?

Of course, Hollywood writers have already produced such movies as the Terminator and The Matrix series, and many others, based on the premise that computers will, sooner or later, be more intelligent than human beings. It is unlikely that Kurzweil (or myself) will still be around them to see if this prediction comes true.

Another statistic from Dr Isprans presentation that captured my attention was his quote, from IBM, that there are now 10 to the power 26 transistors produced each year to power computers and everything else. This is more than the total number of grains of rice produced by the worlds farmers. He said the number of transistors per computer chip doubles every two years.

I enjoy attending such events because of the good intellectual sustenance that they provide, along with the opportunity to directly network with senior IT executives.


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