We Have 5 Years, Then It Gets Weird
The machines have been coming for a while now. But this is the time when they truly arrive.
When Ray Kurzweil wrote ‘The Singularity is Near’ about 15 years ago, one idea that jumped off the page was his explanation of the Law of Accelerating Returns.
This is the powerful idea that technology isn’t just improving all the time, but this improvement is speeding up all the time.
This means that the first 14 years of this century matched all of the tech progress in the 20th Century. Then we double it again by 2021, and then keep doubling in shorter and shorter time periods until you can’t keep track and man melds with machine at a point called the Singularity.
There’s a famous example of this involving the long and tedious mapping of the human genome. At first it was slow and difficult. After 7 years only 1% was complete. Critics threw their hands in the air and said it would take centuries to finish. What did Kurzweil say?
“Wow, we’re almost done.”
And he was right. The genome was mapped just 7 years later, and the cost fell from $1 billion per genome to less than $1000.
The Law of Accelerating Returns is hard to picture because we spend our lives inside bubbles where little seems to change. It’s like living inside a single note of music and not realizing this note is part of a symphony — and that this symphony is being played faster and faster all the time.
Therw is a really powerful example of this change happening now, and it’s easy to see for everyone. It’s called GPT-3. I wrote about this last week and today I’m even more convinced that this a world-changing event.
If you’re not familiar with GPT-3, it’s an artificially intelligent platform that can reproduce human language, writing and design with almost perfect accuracy. Instantly.
It can rewrite Harry Potter in the style of Ernest Hemingway, design a website, write your emails, create a spreadsheet, produce copywriting better than the best copywriters and much more. All within seconds of being asked.
It’s a mind-blowing technology that will affect millions of jobs. And one of its creators said GPT-3 is just a “glimpse” of what’s coming.
Then there’s the other founder of the company behind GPT-3, the guy with a finger in every technological pie — that’s Elon Musk.
This is what he said a few days ago.
“We’re headed toward a situation where AI is vastly smarter than humans, and I think that time frame is less than five years from now. But that doesn’t mean that everything goes to hell in five years. It just means that things get unstable or weird.”
Think about that statement for a second. One of the most reliably intelligent and prescient people on our planet — someone who is sending rockets into space while reinventing the auto industry — just said that within 5 years AI will be vastly smarter than people and as a result the world will be unstable and weird.
And what are we doing about it? Almost nothing. Read the papers, watch TV and scroll through social media — what do you see? Meaningless nonsense that is designed to provoke emotional responses that make us all less happy, less united and more ignorant of the really important changes happening around us.
We’re more than a single note of music. We’re all part of an incredible song that’s getting more complex, more rewarding — and more worrying.
Buckle your seatbelts, and get ready for weird.