Friday, May 02, 2008

Big Dog: Inching towards The Singularity

Over the years, footage has surfaced showing robotic quadpeds stumbling along and bumping into a wall and falling over. However, "Big Dog"—developed by Boston Dynamics and funded by DARPA—is the deft descendent of those clumsy machines. Wait for the big finish:

Dave first told me about The Singularity about a year ago, noting that his brother was the real enthusiast. We all know about The Singularity because we've all seen The Matrix and The Terminator—it's the point when machines become smart enough to replicate themselves... and improve upon their own design.

Wiki's entry on Technological Singularity says:
The technological singularity is a hypothesized point in the future variously characterized by the technological creation of self-improving intelligence, unprecedentedly rapid technological progress, or some combination of the two. Statistician I. J. Good first wrote of an "intelligence explosion", suggesting that if machines could even slightly surpass human intellect, they could improve their own designs in ways unseen by their designers, and thus recursively augment themselves into far greater intelligences. Link.

Of course, films like The Matrix like to paint a grim view of The Singularity, but that's how Hollywood ups the stakes to make good drama. In real life, it's possible the coming Singularity could be more benevolent than that.

It's hard to imagine how anyone can think The Singularity won't happen since a review of technological and evolutionary trends points to no other conclusion, especially when you plot the data with a log function:

The Big Question is when. As the expression goes, you can teach a horse to sing, but you need a million years to do it. The Singularity might happen within my lifetime, but it almost certainly will happen within my daughter's lifetime. The more pressing question is, can one of these Big Dog mules bring me my beer without spilling it?

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