Cybernaut 

On Artificial Intelligence

Guess where this quote comes from:

"The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes online August 4 th , 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29 th . In a panic, they try to pull the plug."

How about this quote?

"Open the pod bay doors, Hal."

And this one?

"If the virtual reality apparatus, as you called it, was wired to all of your senses and controlled them completely, would you be able to tell the difference between the virtual world and the real world?"

The first quote was easy: Terminator 2, the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger explains why and when the computers and machines of the world rose up against their human masters.

The second quote is from 2001:A Space Odyssey. In that scene, a confused but intelligent computer attempts to kill a crew member of an expedition to Jupiter.

The third quote is from The Matrix, where computers and machines drain out life energy while we live in an artificial world they have created for us.

Seeing a pattern here?

Since Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, people have worried that one day our scientific curiosity would be the end of us – that we are meddling with forces we should never have meddled with.

Yet we can’t seem to help ourselves. We have genetically modified foods that haven’t been tested on humans or nature over the long term. We’ve mutated salmon, cloned sheep and pigs, and are attempting to resurrect extinct species by manipulating DNA.

Technologically, we also seem to be getting ahead of ourselves.

In the Nov. 19 Wired (www.wired.com), the U.S. Department of Energy announced that IBM ( www.ibm.com ) won a $290 million US contract to build the two fastest computers on earth "capable of equalling the theoretical processing power of the human brain."

The processing power of these computers is 500 trillion calculations per second, or more than one and a half times the combined processing power of the top 500 supercomputers.

The first computer of this project is "ASCI Purple." IBM expects to complete it in 2003 – which suggests that this project has been in the works for quite some time. Once completed, they believe ASCI Purple will have a processing power of 100 teraflops, which is roughly equal to that of the human brain.

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