The report from last week’s Nature magazine is that “artificial neurons” can now “compute faster than the human brain“. We owe congratulations to the inventors of the mouth-twisting nanotextured magnetic Josephson junctions, which can zip along at over 100 gigahertz, a speed “several orders of magnitude faster than human neurons.”
This is some accomplishment. But it remains to be seen what kind.
Nature believes these artificial neurons can be used in “neuromorphic” hardware, which is said will mimic the human nervous system. The inventors are hopeful their creation might soon be configured to reach “the level of complexity of the human brain.”
When that happens, here comes true artificial intelligence. Computerized minds that are human-like, or even advanced beyond them, but without the burden of fallible bodies. Or so they say.
But is it really speed or computational ability that differentiates humans from computers? The answer is no.
At the Sound of the Beep, it Will be 1 PM
It was 1978. We were sitting in the back of geometry class and Brian brought over his new toy. A Texas Instruments hand-held electronic calculator.
Brian was the first to own one of these marvels. We weren’t surprised. Weeks earlier he caused waves of envy by sporting a digital watch. You pressed a button and it showed the time, glowing red. It beeped on every hour, lest you miss this momentous twenty-four-times-a-day event. By the end of the year digital watches were everywhere, serenading schoolrooms hourly—beep-beep-beep—because nobody could figure how to shut the sound off.
The calculator was equally fancy. It could, for example, figure the cube root of 513,537,536,512 in a flash. (This is what stood for a teenage boy’s math joke.) Just try it by hand and see how long it takes you. A minute, at least, and probably longer.
Hurry Up and Calculate
Because it was fast, was that calculator alive, in the sense of possessing a mind? Was it aware it was computing numbers? Did it even understand what a number was? As crude as it was, it could calculate faster than any human. If mere calculation speed is the criterion for awareness, that calculator was more “woke” than we were.
Yet speed does not create awareness. By the time pocket calculators showed up, computers were already faster than people by more than thirty years. The “electronic brain” ENIAC was processing bits faster than any man by 1946. Adding machines based solely on levers, gears, and cogs were faster than men even before that. Why, the humble abacus, already thousands of years old and composed of nothing but some wooden beads on slides, was far faster than people. But nobody would […]
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