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fanf

Chain of distraction

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19th Nov 2007 | 21:40

I was catching up with Dave Farber's Interesting People list this evening when I read a brief post about Ray Kurzweil's graph of a 100-year generalization of Moore's law. This caught my interest, so I googled for "Kurzweil" to see if I could find what it was referring to. I found the graph as an illustration of the Wikipedia article about "accelerating change" which in turn led me to Kurzweil's long essay on the subject. He says that Moore's Law is just a particularly quantitative instance of a general rule of exponential progress, encompassing not just technology in general, but also biological evolution, and leading to an AI singularity that he expects before 2050. The Kurzweil AI site has lots of interesting articles on the subject, one of which is a log of an on-line chat between Kurzweil and Vernor Vinge, in which VV plugs a collection of his short stories that was published a few years ago, of which I did not remember having a copy. In fact, it has been languishing on my Amazon wish list because it isn't available new in the UK. However, it is available in the US, and the exchange rate is currently very favourable. So I ordered the book along with a few others, including a copy of the Oxford Companion to the Year, which at $80 is two thirds of its price over here, and a history of the atomic clock which is similarly cut-price. They should go well on my shelves next to The Measurement of Time and Calendrical Calculations (aargh, now there's a third edition!). I was lucky enough to be able to buy the latter two books from the Cambridge University Press bookshop which gives a 20% discount to University Card holders.

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Comments {5}

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Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 19th Nov 2007 23:38 (UTC)

I'm less sure. One of the problems of AI is that it is continually redefined as the things we don't yet know how to do. Thus, things that were previously the exclusive domain of humans and the topic of AI research become every day engineering. Text-to-speech, speech-to-text, OCR, text classification, translation, navigating and driving a car, playing chess, spotting faces in pictures, etc. etc. In Kurzweil's 40 year timeframe, if trends continue as they have for the last 120 years, we'll be able to buy more artificial computing power than the totality of human brain power for less than $1000 in today's money. At the same time mechanical miniaturization and sensor technologies are also following exponential trends, so even if traditional Google-style approaches to AI don't pay off, it'll be feasible to upload (destructively or not) and emulate a brain.

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from: dwmalone
date: 20th Nov 2007 16:41 (UTC)

The Oxford Companion to the Year is an interesting collection of bits and pieces. I have Calendrical Calculations, but haven't managed to spend much time with it. Do you have the new Explanatory Suplament to the Astronomical Alminack?

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Tony Finch

from: fanf
date: 20th Nov 2007 17:26 (UTC)

Ah, thanks for that pointer - it looks interesting if expensive :-) I noticed that the astronomical parts of Calendrical Calculations are based on approximations and they don't go into the underlying details. This generally doesn't bother me much since I don't have a great deal of interest in astronomy - though having said that I wanted to calculate some sunrise times recently, so I just cargo-culted some code :-) Here's a relevant bibliography.

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from: dwmalone
date: 20th Nov 2007 18:38 (UTC)

I have an edition of the Explanatory Supplement from about ten years ago - it's very detailed. I also have one copy of the Almanac from about the same time - it isn't so useful, but I do look at it occasionally. I keep meaning to get a new copy of the supplement, as I believe it describes the ERA stuff, which is the current way of deriving the various UTs.

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