If one regards a full, Turing-test-passing artificial intelligence (AI)
as essentially allowing a one-for-one substitution of computer power for
human employees, I believe that one underestimates the effectiveness that
such a development will have. At least three arguments suggest this:
The argument from co-workers:
In many projects, the ideal procedure would be to have the chief designer
do the top level work, then "xerox" copies of that person to perform
more detailed work, then "xerox" more copies to do yet more detailed
work, and so on until project completion. In any human enterprise, the time
and effort required to communicate subtasks to those who execute them is
a large cost. Consider how this might work in an organization with a series
of design projects to complete and a pool of AI-capable computers. The "xeroxing"
of the designers can occur merely by loading the memory of one currently
unused computer from the memory of the one containing the designer. As long
as there is a spare machine being freed up by one terminating project somewhere,
one can use it to duplicate exactly those skills that the organization
curently needs most, rather those that are available through hiring and
training. One need only assume that machines continue to be built in such
a way that their internal state can be dumped and reloaded.
The argument from subroutines:
Many programs, including AI ones, have economies of scale not found in human
organizations. No organizational tricks seem to let one aggregate the short
term memory of the participants in a meeting so that the group can keep
track of a more complex agenda than any individual can. The reverse effect
seems more typical. With computers there are well-known techniques (albeit
with some overhead) for allowing a set of communicating machines to simulate
a single, more powerful one; many AI processes (solution space search, application
of large numbers of heuristics, search for "fuzzy" matches of
templates, signal processing in computer perception, simulation, etc.) can
benefit from the increased power. In general the problems that can be solved
scale up more slowly than linearly with the processing power, but human
organizations often do not solve the equivalent problems at all, typically
doing a less thorough optimization or entirely ignoring some class of problems.
The argument from raw bandwidth:
There can be considerable dispute on the true bandwidth of information going
into a human. The apparent raw input capacity of the human visual
system looks very large, on the order of megabits per second. Obviously
this is severely filtered at later stages of processing, but it is difficult
to nail the real numbers down. What is not subject to the same
dispute, however, is the tiny rate at which humans can emit information.
Given the physical limits on the rates of speech and muscle movement--both
in speed and accuracy--no speaker, typist, or graphic artist can emit more
than 100 bits per second or so. Even today's fiber optic links can easily
exceed this by over six orders of magnitude. AIs with hardware links will
be more like connected lobes of the brain than like humans in an organization.
The power of an AI installation will grow more rapidly with
than does a human organization
As a consequence of this close coupling, the power of an AI installation
will grow much more rapidly with size than does the power of an organization
with an equivalent number of humans. If you have one piece of hardware which
acts as the equivalent of one engineer, you have the economic equivalent
of one engineer. If you have ten such pieces of hardware, you have much
more than the equivalent of ten engineers. For similar reasons, advances
in the performance of computing hardware are also of more consequence than
one would expect from a one-for-one substitution. This tends to speed up
the effects of achieving full AI beyond the usual extrapolations.
Jeffrey Soreff works for IBM and has a background in physics. In his
spare time he is calculating the dynamic friction of two atomically smooth
surfaces sliding past one another, an important parameter of a class of
nanomechanisms termed "van der Waals bearings" by Drexler.
Many people worked hard to make the First
Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology a success beyond our expectations.
Our cosponsor, Global Business Network, made a big difference: Stewart Brand
(both a GBN principal and Foresight Advisor) convinced us to have the meeting
and encouraged GBN to help; Peter Schwartz (President of GBN) approved GBN's
participation and chaired a conference session; and most of all Danica Remy,
whose organizational talent ensured that the meeting went smoothly despite
unexpected problems--such as a major earthquake not long before the event.
Other help of a sponsorship nature came from Prof. Nils Nilsson, Chairman
of the Dept. of Computer Science, which hosted the meeting, thus giving
us access to Stanford facilities (i.e. those Stanford facilities
still available after the earthquake). Mark Pearson, head of Molecular Biology
at Du Pont, helped with a generous grant. Ed Niehaus of Niehaus Public Relations
donated a great deal of time and office help to ensure the press's needs
were met. Peter Toldger of Tam Systems donated financial assistance in renting
a fax machine, without which no international conference can be held.
Many companies donated demonstrations of their products: Biosym, Digital
Instruments, Silicon Graphics, Stardent, Sun, Tektronix, and Tripos. Being
able to see these state-of-the-art products enabled attendees to understand
how rapidly progress is being made. Special thanks to Michael Pique of Scripps
Clinic, who arranged for these demonstrations. Roy Hovey of Stanford Bookstore
did a super job of finding relevant books and making them available to conferees
(a list of these is available from Foresight).
Finally, thanks go to those on the Foresight team who worked on the conference.
Chris Peterson, Foresight Editor and Board member, worked with Danica Remy
to make the meeting happen, especially on registration and general coordination.
Ralph Merkle recruited speakers and sponsors. Russ Mills and Dave Kilbridge
produced conference materials. Jim Lewis is editing the conference proceedings.
Others who volunteered either before or at the meeting include Mike Butler,
Kurt Bohan, Stan Hutchings, Dave Lindbergh, Nat Stitt, and Dave Wilson.
Based on this success, we plan to hold similar events and to sponsor other,
larger events to enable participation by more Foresight supporters.
It has increasingly become clear that progress on major new technologies
such as nanotechnology depends on interdisciplinary efforts. In this area,
the U.S. is weak relative to Japan, where an intense focus on new products
tends to topple disciplinary walls. We are often asked to name universities
or other institutions where work is being done toward nanotechnology; this
is the first in a planned series looking at relevant interdisciplinary groups.
Center for Biopolymers at Interfaces
Formed in 1986, CBI is a joint university-industry cooperative research
center with a focus on medical applications of biopolymers. This product-orientation
ranges from artificial organs to "targeted drugs" and protein-based
sensors. Nineteen faculty members drawn from the University of Utah's Colleges
of Engineering, Science, and Pharmacy and its School of Medicine pursue
studies on a broad range of biopolymers such as proteins and DNA, using
techniques including molecular graphics, scanning tunneling microscopy,
and atomic force microscopy.
Utah's product focus has paid off well in the past: it is surpassed only
by Caltech and MIT in the number of spinoff companies it has produced. The
University shows its commitment to the Center by exempting its industrial
membership revenues from the University's overhead charges. (I don't know
what percentage Utah normally charges, but a 50% burden is not uncommon
In Japan, an intense focus on new products tends to topple
CBI's industrial members can both influence and directly benefit
from the Center's research: they vote on which projects should be pursued,
have right of first refusal in licensing inventions, and can sponsor fellowships
to obtain custom research results. Industrial members pay $15,000 per year
and currently include Du Pont, Eli Lilly, Kodak, Johnson and Johnson, Biosym,
and Silicon Graphics.
CBI may not be the perfect place to pursue nanotechnology work, due to its
focus on biopolymers only, but its interdisciplinary breadth is an improvement
over a standard academic department, and the industrial participation ensures
that work there has practical results. Students, researchers, and companies
interested in participating can contact the Center at the University of
Utah's Department of Bioengineering, (801) 581-3867.
Thanks to Foresight member Joseph Andrade, Chairman of the Department
of Bioengineering and Co-director of CBI, for sending us information about
the Center. Information on other interdisciplinary efforts is welcome.
This fourth symposium on nanotechnology to be held at MIT, entitled "Nanotechnology:
Molecular Engineering and its Implications," will be sponsored by the
MIT Nanotechnology Study Group. Plans are not yet final, so contact the
NSG or the Foresight office in early January for the correct schedule. The
location will be MIT Room 66-110, in Building 66 (the Chemical Engineering
building) on Ames St. Confirmed speakers and topics to date:
Howard C. Berg, Harvard University, on the world's smallest rotary
K. Eric Drexler, Stanford University, on nanotechnology and technical
foundations of molecular engineering.
Bruce Gelin, Polygen Corp., on molecular modeling.
Gary T. Marx, MIT, on privacy and security issues posed by molecular
Gary Tibbets, General Motors Research Laboratories, on the growth
of nanometer-scale carbon tubes.
Abraham Ulman, Eastman Kodak Research Laboratories, on engineering
of molecular monolayers.
Kevin Ulmer, seQ, Ltd., on mosaic tiling with proteins.
In an earlier event at MIT, on November 21 the NSG screened the nanotechnology
documentary "Little by Little" made by InCA for the British television
series Equinox, similar to the US Nova. The show
features Nobel winning chemist Jean-Marie Lehn, Eric Drexler, John Foster
of IBM Almaden, and others working on the path to nanotechnology. It is
to be shown in the US on the Discovery channel; we will announce the date
if we are notified in time.
Foresight members with a taste for space development and science fiction
may enjoy the "Calendar for the Year 2001" (also good for 1990).
Twelve speculative scenarios are included for various years through 2103,
some with nanotechnology. For more information or to order call LaGrange
Publishing at (708) 482-4321.