Thursday, September 13, 2007

What you look like to your computer

We're used to thinking of computers as mind-bogglingly fast, but it's useful to look at it the other way as well: from the hardware's point of view, people are mind-bogglingly slow.

A decent CPU can now execute huge numbers of instructions in the time it takes for my fingers to move from one key to the next. If you assign some human-scale unit to an instruction cycle, actual humans move at a geologically slow pace.

Storage and bandwidth have to keep up with the CPU (more or less), so it's the same story there. An email (or this post) is tiny compared to a terabyte disk. Audio and video are still computer-sized, but this will change. Human bandwidth is shifting, in our lifetimes, from completely overwhelming computer capacities to being dwarfed by them.

For my money this disparity is the hole in Searle's "Chinese room" argument. The scenario with a person in the room would take millions of years at the least to play out, if scaled to match any plausible AI.

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