Kildall, Norton, and …. Kurzweil?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

The year was 1983 and I had my first experience ever with computers.  I saw the epitome of modern-day technology in our school library .  It was a TRS-80 with about 16k of RAM and a tape drive for storage.  I was in elementary school at the time and was just blown away.  I saw a girl several years older than me loading up a program (a rudimentary game) from the tape drive.  Wow, I thought to myself, I can do that.  I WILL do that!!  I can make programs too.  I rushed home that evening and tried to write my first computer program ever.  I had no idea what a programming language was.  I didn’t care.  I decided to create a “Hangman” game.  So, I pulled out my tape recorder and proceeded to say how my program was going to work.  I assumed everything because I had no idea how computers really worked.  I even assumed that I didn’t have to tell the computer what words to use, it should magically just pick a word at random and proceed to start the game.  I did, however, at least tell the computer to put the number of blanks at the bottom of screen equal to the number of letters in the word.  I was so excited that I could barely sleep.  I was going to school and going to play the new game that I created!!  In no time, I would write a game better than Pac-Man and become a millionaire before I even get into high school.

My excitement change to frustration when I couldn’t figure out how to load the program into the computer.  I had to ask for assistance from the librarian.  You had to type in “Load” or something similar on the screen to get it to load.  It kept giving me an error which had me completely perplexed.  “It’s so simple,” I thought to myself.   Certainly a sophisticated computer would have no problem figuring out my program.  After having the librarian help me again, she finally asked where I saved my program.  “Did you do it on your computer at home?”, she asked.  I told her that I didn’t have a computer at home.  She then inquired how I created the program.  After telling her, she laughed, but tried to hide it so that I wouldn’t feel like an idiot.  It didn’t work.  I felt like the biggest fool of a idiot-moron dunderhead that ever had the audacity to show his face in public.

Was I?  Or, did I just predict that computers will be, in the future, able to respond to human inquiry from voice requests, and possibly write software using human language?  I was a futurist at 9 years old.  Of course, that would be insane to say that I could somehow see into the future like I had a crystal ball.  It is also insane to hang on every prediction that Ray Kurzweil comes up with like he has a crystal ball.  He is a smart guy, no doubt, but the fact remains that some of his predictions are WAY out there.  Ray may have written some OCR and voice recognition software.  But it seems like what has people so enamored with him is the books he writes, which is where he makes these predictions.  And there are people that hang on his every word like he is some kind of deity, and that we should genuflect in his presence.  Or, at least, he is some kind of modern-day technological soothsayer.

After all, he predicted the great rise in the internet in the 90’s.  Who else could of have had that vision?  Certainly not Compuserve, which offered access to the “World Wide Web” in the late eighties, but had been in existence since 1969.  The idea of the internet was even in pop culture in the mid-1980’s.  The TV show Benson mentioned ARPANET, which was an internet ancestor.  Oh, and don’t forget, Ray foresaw the use of cellular phones.  No one could’ve guessed that we would use something like that years ago.  You definitely didn’t have similar technology in Star Trek or Dick Tracy.  Score one again for Ray Kurzweil.  Don’t you dare challenge Kurzweil on any of his predictions, either.  He will fight you to his last breath that he was technically correct, and you have no right to second guess him.  After all, if Ray had predicted that human beings could fly today, he would be technically correct because we can ride in airplanes and we have vehicles that will take us into outer space.

What Ray fails to realize is that his predictions of computers achieving consciousness and cybernetic implants are not in the realm of possibility.  At least not with current technological progression (meaning new computers will have to be invented that don’t work the same way as our current computers).  Let’s begin by comparing how memories are stored in the human brain.  Psychologists will tell you that there are several types of memory.  These memory types are short-term memory, long-term memory, and working memory.  Each one of these memory types is valid for certain purpose.  Everything starts in short-term memory, and then moves to working memory or process memory as needed or rehearsed.  Short-term memory is valid for only seconds at a time.  If we need to process information, like a math problem, or something involving reasoning or comprehension, we would use our working memory.  Long-term memory is for everything else.  Not every human being is the same so all of us have different memory capabilities.  A computer does not store things in this fashion.  A computer has an addressable range of bytes stored in a contiguous fashion.  The computer will be able to store and find information as efficiently as it was designed to do so by its creator.  The computer also RAM (Random Access Memory) and ROM (Read Only Memory).  RAM is updated by the current software program.  ROM cannot be changed, at least not easily.  The human brain is constantly evolving.  Although most of us get set in our ways, we still can change.  The human brain is completely dynamic and self-evolving.  There is no mechanism for a computer to grow; it is no more capable than the day it was assembled.  The most growth you could expect out of a computer is to get a bigger hard drive and possibly buy some more RAM.  No man-made technology has ever been created that can grow and develop on its own, nor is this likely to ever happen.

Computers cannot perform even the simple things that we take for granted every day.  For instance, if you see two pictures, you could almost immediately determine if they are the same item, even if the pictures are taken from different points of view.  A computer cannot do this.  Why?  Computers cannot see and entire picture as a human being can.  I don’t care how many megapixels your camera has, it sees on pixel at a time.  Comparing two pictures one pixel at a time takes a lot of computing power.  And there is no real way for a computer to be 100% accurate, for it does not have the ability to use intuition.  Intuition is a technique needed for picture comparison.  You cannot program intuition with yes/no, true/false, or on/off logic.  You can simulate it through algorithms, but it is exactly that: simulation.  However, you might say that it takes a certain degree of intuition to play chess, and a computer can beat the best chess players.  That is true, but chess is a game with a finite number of moves, which a computer can calculate.  If someone were to invent new techniques to win at chess that were rather unorthodox (using, of course, intuition), you will see the computer coming out on the losing end once again.

The biggest difference between computers and humans, and the most compelling argument against the cybernetics, is the fact that human beings are analog devices and computers are digital.  Human beings are able to decipher things as a whole.  When we hear music, we hear music.  When we see pictures, we see pictures.  A computer can analyze music by taking an analog wavelength, figuring out what its frequency is, and encoding in a set of bits (which are 1’s an 0’s).  It can then analyze on byte at a time.  It can do this in a similar fashion with pictures.  In order for a cybernetic device to work, it would have to use analog sensors to record the data, break it down into digital (1’s and 0’s), interpret, enhance, or whatever else, and then convert it back to analog in order to feed the sensory information back into the human’s analog brain.  I think I’ll keep my God-given devices, thank you very much.

Gary Kildall and Peter Norton, in my opinion, are owed a huge debt of gratitude for the computer revolution.  Gary was able to see that microcomputers were the future, and worked very hard in making that a reality.  Peter invented a way to recover files if we accidentally deleted them (which we all owe him much for this), and to keep your system running at peak performance with utilities like “Speed Disk.”  These are the true technological innovators of our time.  I don’t want to think of where the world would be without them.  But, how about Ray Kurzweil?  No comment.

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence
Arguing A.I.: The Battle for Twenty-first-Century Science
The singularity isn’t even close: Why Ray Kurzweil’s predictions about the future are flawed.(EXCERPT): An article from: Skeptic (Altadena, CA)

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