I recently read about IBM’s Sequoia supercomputer that will be operational in 2011. It will perform 20 Peta FLOPS and have 1.6 Peta bytes of RAM. To put that in perspective: if it were to attempt to simulation a human cerebral cortex it would be able to allocate 50 bytes of RAM and 700 calculations per second to every synapse in the model. Unless the human brain is doing something pretty weird, the quest to build a computer with comparable raw processing power is almost over.
As I do at the start of each year, I’ve spent some time reconsidering when I think roughly human level AGI will exist. I’ve again decided to leave it at 2025, but now with a reduced standard deviation of 5 years. Computer power is a limitation as researchers typically have limited hardware budgets, unlike the DOD guys and their monster supercomputers. From what I’ve read, computer power should continue to grow exponentially for at least the next 5 years, and probably the next 10. So I don’t see this as being too much of an issue in the coming decade. On the algorithm side, I think things are progressing really well. I know a number of very talented people who are working on what I think are the key building blocks required before the construction of a basic AGI can begin. I’m certain these problems are solvable, but whether it takes 2 years or 10 years is hard to guess. This is my main source of uncertainty.
UPDATE 11 April 2009: Note that these predictions do not take into account my apparent bias towards predicting that things will happen faster than they actually do (see previous post). The required compensation for technology events appears to be about 50% more time. Thus if you want the “Shane meta predictor”, then take 2033 as the expected date, perhaps with a standard deviation of 7 years. At least with financial markets I trust my meta predictor more than my straight predictions and thus I buy and sell accordingly to it. So I suppose that if I had to put money on a date, I should go with 2033. But don’t ask me why it’s going to take that long: I really don’t know.