(Vintage robot via Shutterstock)
As a good rule, when we make a bet as to how advanced we will be in the future, we overshoot.
Insert here a reference to the Back to the Future movie franchise, which was partly set in oh-so-futuristic 2015. So the smart money is on the idea that we’re generations away from truly sentient artificial intelligence, a moment called the technological singularity, as popularized by futurist Ray Kurzweil, though others had used the phrase before.
“You can’t just plot the moment on a map for 2015,” said Youngmoo Kim, the mild-mannered Drexel University electrical engineering professor and director of its cross-displinary ExCITe Center. “It’s never that simple.”
Kim is cautious in his predictions of an impending machine takeover, as he shares in this month’s Technical.ly Podcast — recorded live as part of the third annual Philadelphia Podcast Festival upstairs at Tattooed Mom on South Street. But he doesn’t underestimate the rate and expansiveness of advances in computing power.
Kim is both a classically trained musician and in possession of a Ph.D. from MIT, so he’s known for his thoughtful approaches for the ways that art and technology, analog and digital, machine and human come together. He works with music-playing robots and knows they can be difficult. He took a sabbatical last year to work with Opera Philadelphia to explore creative mashups of art and technology.
Humans are imperfect, so our tests are too. History will no doubt remember that last year a computer system passed for the first time the legendary Turing Test by convincing people it was a 13-year-old boy and that this June a robot successfully solved the “King’s Wise Men” puzzle, another artificial intelligence marker.
But we’re already creating new goals. One day we just might wake up with truly conscious artificial intelligence but these recent landmark successes just show challenging this work is, Kim said, noting what incredible research went into getting that far.
But the counter argument is usually that these advances are expected to increase exponentially, as does computing power and brain scanning. That’s what futurist Kurzweil argues.
Given that we’ve always used media to explore our relationship to these changes — more recently with popular films like Ex Machina — it’s clear we’re eager to understand this coming relationship. Listen to this month’s podcast to hear more.
Here’s a rough outline of our conversation:
- Welcome and definitions: What is the singularity?
- What is the most compelling research happening in this area?
- Are we seeing the exponential advances we so often predict?
- How do depictions in media of AI help or hurt its development? Does a robot with a name make a promise it can’t keep?
- What actual technologies are standing in the way of us reaching the singularity?
- Is this inevitable?