Erik Larson

Feb 5, 2014

Kurzweil's Confusion

The real mystery about intelligence is how the human brain manages to do so much, with so little. As Kurzweil himself notes, the human brain “uses a very inefficient electrochemical, digital-controlled analog computational process. The bulk of its calculations are carried out in the interneuronal connections at a speed of only about two hundred calculations per second ((in each connection), which is at least one million times slower than contemporary electronic circuits.”

Kurzweil is making a case for the mystery of human intelligence. Whenever the human brain, when viewed as a computational device, comes up so short, what needs to be explained then is how our vast superiority intelligent thinking is possible. The more a purely computational comparison shows brains as inferior to computation, the more computation itself seems a poor model for intelligence.

When supercomputers like Crey’s Jaguar achieve petaFLOP performance (a million billion floating point operations per second), and we still can’t point to anything intuitive or insightful or human-like that they can do (like understand natural language), it suggests pretty strongly that brute computational power is not a good measure of intelligence. In fact, Kurzweil himself makes this point pretty well, though of course it’s not his intent. To put it another way, when everything is computational speed, and humans lose the game, then true intelligence is clearly not computational speed.

To put it yet another way, the slower and crappier our “architecture” is when viewed as a glorified computer, the more impressive our actual intelligence is—and of course, the more the very notion of “intelligence” is manifestly not analyzable by computational means.

So much for Moore’s Law leading us to Artificial Intelligence. Next thought?