Thursday, March 09, 2006

Closer to the Singularity

My friend Dave Cline sent me another link today about Mechanical Turk. It's a story from the MIT Technology Review about Pennies for Web Jobs. To me this is the type of article that backs some of of my theories on the coming Singularity.

From the article, I really liked this quote:
Not only did participants supply the necessary answers, but they did so "outstandingly fast," according to Cabrera, allowing Amazon to use the photographs in its search results. "This is the tip of the iceberg, but you can see how it enables 'massively parallel' human computing," he said.

When I last met Vernor Vinge I spoke with him about my theories on how to measure the presence of the Singularity. I proposed that we might look to create a metric based on how many people are performing machine driven work. Mechanical Turk is a very good example of this ... and yes it is simple ... but there are people and systems putting "work" into a large database, and there are people who are executing on queues of tasks for money. To me, this really isn't that different from the little mouse pressing a bar for a piece of food.

A more complex example are the drivers for UPS and Fedex. Their entire day is coordinated by massively complex computer systems that manage the thousands of drivers all over the world. From the beginning to end of the day they are simply following the directions of computer systems that are managing a process far too complex for humans to direct anymore. In fact, the computer systems are managing the flow of packages and simply using humans as one of the components in that management system.

Vernor talks about a hard takeoff, and a soft takeoff of the Singularity. I will argue that we are already accelerating on our way in a soft takeoff.


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