Re: Is an SI possible with todays hardware?

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Fri, 19 Feb 1999 14:48:47 -0600

Jeff Davis wrote:
> Friends, Extropians, Fellow seekers,
> Would it be possible to construct a self-enhancing AI with today's hardware?

In the literal sense of the question, yes. Give me total control over all the hardware on the planet and enough time to write the software, and I bet I could run something that could enhance itself to the point of being able to invent new hardware before it ran out of room.

Realistically speaking, we would need serious advances in Internet infrastructure, much better than just fast TCP/IP - something that could, in theory, let the whole Internet run as a single parallel processor. I've heard claims for tech like that, but I don't believe them. The best thing I've seen so far is Beowolf.

Even given a super-Beowolf, I would need a *substantial* chunk of the Internet to run the software. And even then, the only way it would work is if the first stages of the AI could do better than us at writing distributed software - which isn't actually too implausible, since we have no intuitions for that environment.

So in answer to your question - one supercomputer running a seed AI, 2020 minimum; Beowolf running a seed AI, 2010; super-Beowolf running a seed AI - we could do it right now, if we had the software.

Super-Beowolf will probably take far less programming effort than the AI itself.


In answer to another question, the levels go like this:

Seed AI: Something a lot dumber than human, but with the ability to enhance itself, and enhance its ability to enhance itself... Mortal: You and I.
Transhuman: Something with, say 2x or 4x human processing power, or substantially increased smartness but not huge speeds. Capable of outsmarting you by using a higher order of rational reasoning. A supercomputer or enhanced human.
Superintelligence: Something with 100x or 1000x human processing power, running at thousands or millions of times human speed. Capable of outsmarting you by simulating all the cognitive-level elements of your mind. Runs on a planetary network.
Power: Something running on the full potential computing power of a planetary or solar mass. (Note that even without quantum computing, you can theoretically run the entire human race on about a milligram.) Capable of outsmarting you by running a trillion simulations of your brain on the atomic level. Runs on Dyson Spheres composed of nanotech and picotech processors.
Omega Point: Infinite and transfinite processing speeds. May create new Universes to supply the processing power. People who are easily impressed think this constitutes Godhood. Singularity: It ain't tellin'.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.