In the last few days we’ve seen a spate of headlines like 2029: the year when robots will have the power to outsmart their makers, all occasioned by an Observer interview with Google’s newest director of engineering Ray Kurzweil.
Much as I respect Kurzweil’s achievements as an inventor, I think he is profoundly wrong. Of course I can understand why he would like it to be so – he would like to live long enough to see this particular prediction come to pass. But optimism doesn’t make for sound predictions. Here are several reasons that robots will not be smarter than humans by 2029:
These are the reasons I can be confident in asserting that robots will not be smarter than humans within 15 years. It’s not just that building robots as smart as humans is a very hard problem. We have only recently started to understand how hard it is well enough to know that whole new theories (of intelligence, emergence, embodied cognition and development, for instance) will be needed, as well as new engineering paradigms. Even if we had solved these problems and a present day Noonian Soong had already built a robot with the potential for human equivalent intelligence – it still might not have enough time to develop adult-equivalent intelligence by 2029.
That thought leads me to another reason that it’s unlikely to happen so soon. There is – to the best of my knowledge – no very-large-scale multidisciplinary research project addressing, in a coordinated way, all of the difficult problems I have outlined here. The irony is that there might have been. The project was called Robot Companions, it made it to the EU FET 10-year Flagship project shortlist but was not funded.
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