A human brain has the processing power of about 100 trillion floating point calculations per second. IBM has one that is ten times faster. One definition of the Singularity is the day when a computer is more intelligent than a human. It looks like that day might be nearer than we thought.
Although the computing power of Blue Gene/p is more than 10 humans, it is not programmed like a human brain. It will be a while yet (ten years?) before artificial intelligence programming will be able to model human style thinking. Even then the machines will not be aware in the sense that a human is aware. Such machines will be used to solve trans-human problems, that is problems so complex that the details will not fit well into a human brain for analysis.
I will try to list a few trans-human problems:
1. DNA interpretation – We need not only the complete genome, but a complete interactive model that predicts ontogeny and explains phylogeny. When we can do this, we can then use that model to create specifics for any disease including cancer, Alzheimer’s and even old age.
2. Near complete weather modeling – If we can completely and accurately model weather, we may be able to answer questions such as the effect of green house gases on out environment, but this will be moot, because it is likely that we will have cheap green energy sources by then.
3. Security – I hate to think that we will live in a 1984 world where there are cameras everywhere monitoring our behavior, but perhaps large complex computers will have enough data and eyes to model crime. It could prevent violent crime such as murder, rape and robbery. A large enough computer should be able to follow the money trails of all white collar crimes. Political graft and payoffs will be impossible. Our elected officials will have to make laws without the help of special interests, and they will retire no richer than when they started in their careers. This will attract a different sort of person to politics and we will have rational peaceful governments.
4. Energy – cold fusion, super capacitor arrays, hydrogen fuel cells, extremely cheap and efficient solar and wind energy or any of a hundred other replacements for fossil fuels will be evaluated and perfected. One of more of these will take over 99.9% of energy production and the oil companies will have to find another business. (I say 99.9% because I like a wood fire in the winter.)
5. Space travel – The main barrier to space travel is economic. We got into space using 1950’s vacuum tubes. We can do it 1000 times cheaper with current technology. Make it 1000 times cheaper yet, and we will have star ships that cost less than a used Hyundai. Creating stable and cheap space craft will allow us to visit the solar system without personal danger and some of us will take out for the stars.
6. Mental Health – Based on #1, there will be cheap and easy cures for Schizophrenia and Clinical Depression. Targeted drug therapy will treat most behavioral problems or at least make traditional therapies more effective. The world will be happier and saner without turning us into clones.
7. Communication – Take cell phones and multiply by a million. We will be wired, though not physically, to each other. Solitude will be an option for us. All of you reading this blog can come to poker on Tuesdays in Upper Nyack, NY without leaving you living rooms. It will be a great game, but Jim will still win the most.
I can think of others. These are not in any special order. Some are Science fictional, some are obvious. Each though is a gnarly problem that large scale computers might make easier.
Blue Gene/P will be capable of a peak performance of 3000 trillion calculations, or floating point operations, per second (3 petaflops). But its sustained performance is expected to level out at around 1 petaflop.