Few hours before the Oscars’ ceremony, I noticed something that clearly highlights a potential winner, in the category of Computers, maybe not for this year but for the next one. While we are waiting the announcement of the 88th Academy Awards winners and almost everyone expects Leonardo’s Di Caprio first Oscar, for his turn as the suffering frontiersman in “The Revenant,” researchers at McGill University have helped to develop a model of a biological supercomputer that can solve complex mathematical problems using very little energy.
Why this is important? Because despite recent advances in computer technology, electronic computers are still limited to solving one problem at a time. That’s why supercomputers are housed in rooms the size of basketball courts and often require their own power plants to function.
In contrast, the new model biocomputer — developed by a team of international scientists from Canada, the U.K., Germany, The Netherlands and Sweden — is energy-efficient, performs multiple calculations simultaneously and is roughly the size of a book. The study coordinator Heiner Linke, director of nanoscience at Lund University in Sweden, said in a press conference that, “A biocomputer requires less than one per cent of the energy an electronic transistor needs to carry out one calculation step.”
By now, the world’s fastest supercomputer is China’s Tianhe-2 developed by the National University of Defense Technology in central China’s Changsha city is capable of sustained computing of 33.86 petaflops. That’s the equivalent of 33,860 trillion calculations per second. This means that it is almost twice as fast as the previous U.S. Energy’s Titan and highlights China’s rise as a science and technology powerhouse.
For the time being, the evolution of computing power is still following Moore’s law. In case biocomputers become a reality, no one can predict if Moore’s law will still be valid or it will be “biologically outdated” by a faster evolution of computing power.
In any case, Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering and a noted futurist and inventor, envisions that human brain will soon merge with computer networks to form a hybrid artificial intelligence. “In the 2030s we’re going to connect directly from the neocortex to the cloud,” said Kurzweil, speaking at the Exponential Finance conference in New York on June 3, 2015. The neocortex of the human brain contains 300 million pattern processors that are responsible for human thought. These pattern processors could be artificially replicated, argued Kurzweil, allowing artificial intelligence to surpass human ability.
That wouldn’t make the human brain obsolete, though. By linking our brains to cloud computers, claims Kurzweil, humans could expand the limits of our own computing ability — and eventually, upload our own brains to the cloud.
Kurzweil said “As you get to the late 2030s or 2040s, our thinking will be predominately non-biological and the non-biological part will ultimately be so intelligent and have such vast capacity it’ll be able to model, simulate and understand fully the biological part.”
In my recent Vision for a Wasteless Future I wrote that “The pace of technological change is exponential and governments, regulators, municipalities and citizens are hardly capable of adapting their operations and lives to the new landscape. We are living in the era of the biggest, the fastest and the most game-changing transformation of our human societies. It is not difficult to feel the new, unimaginable opportunities for making sustainability a cornerstone of each and every industrial sector.” But, after some paragraphs, I added “We need social innovation in order to provide the benefits of the 4th industrial revolution to each and every country and avoid the case that they will be restricted to privileged countries, cities and populations. We need technical innovation to resolve the complex, challenging and global problems we have created.” In my next blog I will continue the discussion on the social impacts of Artificial Intelligence.