Intelligent Robots Will Overtake Humans by 2100

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Some futurists think the singularity -- the point at which artificial intelligence can match, and then overtake, human smarts -- is going to happen soon.
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The past two singularities — the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions — led to a doubling in economic productivity every 1,000 and 15 years, respectively, said Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., who is writing a book about the future singularity. But once machines become as smart as men, the economy will double every week or month.

This rapid pace of productivity would be possible because the main "actors" in the economy, namely people, could simply be replicated for whatever it costs to copy an intelligent-machine software into another computer.

Earth's Destruction?

That productivity spike may not be a good thing. For one, robots could probably survive apocalyptic scenarios that would wipe out humans. "A society or economy made primarily of robots will not fear destroying nature in the same way that we should fear destroying nature," Hanson said.

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And others worry that we're barreling toward a future that doesn't take people into account. For instance, self-driving cars could improve safety, but also put millions of truck drivers out of work, Hibbard said. So far, no one is planning for those possibilities.

"There are such strong financial incentives in using technology in ways that aren't necessarily in everyone's interest," Hibbard said. "That's going to be a very difficult problem, possibly an unsolvable problem."

Human Devolution?

Some scientists think we are already in the midst of the singularity.

Humans have already relinquished many intelligent tasks, such as the ability to write, navigate, memorize facts or do calculations, Joan Slonczewski, a microbiologist at Kenyon college and the author of a science-fiction book called "The Highest Frontier," (Tor Books, 2011). Since Gutenberg invented the printing press, humans have continuously redefined intelligence and transferred those tasks to machines. Now, even tasks considered at the core of humanity, such as caring for the elderly or the sick, are being outsourced to empathetic robots, she said.

"The question is, could we evolve ourselves out of existence, being gradually replaced by the machines?" Slonczewski said. "I think that's an open question."

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In fact, the future of humanity may be similar to that of mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of cells. Mitochondria were once independent organisms, but at some point, an ancestral cell engulfed those primitive bacteria, and over evolutionary history, mitochondria let cells gradually take over all the functions they used to perform, until they only produced energy.

"We're becoming like the mitochondria. We provide the energy — we turn on the machines," Slonczewski told LiveScience. "But increasingly, they do everything else."

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