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New Millennium AI and the Convergence of History

by   Juergen Schmidhuber, et al.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has recently become a real formal science: the new millennium brought the first mathematically sound, asymptotically optimal, universal problem solvers, providing a new, rigorous foundation for the previously largely heuristic field of General AI and embedded agents. At the same time there has been rapid progress in practical methods for learning true sequence-processing programs, as opposed to traditional methods limited to stationary pattern association. Here we will briefly review some of the new results, and speculate about future developments, pointing out that the time intervals between the most notable events in over 40,000 years or 2^9 lifetimes of human history have sped up exponentially, apparently converging to zero within the next few decades. Or is this impression just a by-product of the way humans allocate memory space to past events?


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1 Introduction

In 2003 we observed [84, 82] that each major breakthrough in computer science tends to come roughly twice as fast as the previous one, roughly matching a century-based scale: In 1623 the computing age started with the first mechanical calculator by Wilhelm Schickard (followed by machines of Pascal, 1640, and Leibniz, 1670). Roughly two centuries later Charles Babbage came up with the concept of a program-controlled computer (1834-1840). One century later, in 1931, Kurt Gödel layed the foundations of theoretical computer science with his work on universal formal languages and the limits of proof and computation. His results and Church’s extensions thereof were reformulated by Turing in 1936, while Konrad Zuse built the first working program-controlled computers (1935-1941), using the binary system of Leibniz (1701) instead of the more cumbersome decimal system used by Babbage and many others. By then all the main ingredients of ‘modern’ computer science were in place. The next 50 years saw many less radical theoretical advances as well as faster and faster switches—relays were replaced by tubes by single transistors by numerous transistors etched on chips—but arguably this was rather predictable, incremental progress without earth-shaking events. Half a century later, however, Berners-Lee triggered the most recent world-changing development by creating the World Wide Web (1990).

Extrapolating the trend, we should expect the next radical change to manifest itself one quarter of a century after the most recent one, that is, by 2015, when some computers will already match brains in terms of raw computing power, according to frequent estimates based on Moore’s law, which suggests a speed-up factor of roughly 1000 per decade, give or take a few years. The remaining series of faster and faster additional revolutions should converge in an

Omega point (term coined by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1916) expected between 2030 and 2040, when individual machines will already approach the raw computing power of all human brains combined (provided Moore’s law does not break down—compare Stanislaw Ulam’s concept of an approaching historic singularity (cited in [40]) or Vinge’s closely related technological singularity [113] as well as the subsequent speculations of Moravec [48] and Kurzweil [40]). Many of the present readers of this article should still be alive then.

Will the software and the theoretical advances keep up with the hardware development? We are convinced they will. In fact, the new millennium has already brought fundamental new insights into the problem of constructing theoretically optimal rational agents or universal Artificial Intelligences (AIs, more on this below). On the other hand, on a more practical level, there has been rapid progress in learning algorithms for agents interacting with a dynamic environment, autonomously discovering true sequence-processing, problem-solving programs, as opposed to the reactive mappings from stationary inputs to outputs studied in most traditional machine learning (ML) research. In what follows, we will briefly review some of the new results, then come back to the issue of whether or not history is about to “converge.”

2 Overview

Since virtually all realistic sensory inputs of robots and other cognitive systems are sequential by nature, the future of machine learning and AI in general lies in sequence processing as opposed to processing of stationary input patterns. Most traditional methods for learning time series and mappings from sequences to sequences, however, are based on simple time windows: one of the numerous feedforward ML techniques such as feedforward neural nets (NN) [4]

or support vector machines

[112] is used to map a restricted, fixed time window of sequential input values to desired target values. Of course such approaches are bound to fail if there are temporal dependencies exceeding the time window size. Large time windows, on the other hand, yield unacceptable numbers of free parameters.

If we want to narrow the gap between learning abilities of humans and machines, then we will have to study how to learn general algorithms instead of such reactive mappings. In what follows we will first discuss very recent universal

program learning methods that are optimal in various mathematical senses. For several reasons, however, these methods are not (yet) practically feasible. Therefore we will also discuss recent less universal but more feasible program learners based on recurrent neural networks.

Finally we will return to the introduction’s topic of exponential speed-up, extending it to all of human history since the appearance of the Cro Magnon man roughly 40,000 years ago.

3 Notation

Consider a learning robotic agent with a single life which consists of discrete cycles or time steps . Its total lifetime may or may not be known in advance. In what follows,the value of any time-varying variable at time () will be denoted by , the ordered sequence of values by , and the (possibly empty) sequence by .

At any given

the robot receives a real-valued input vector

from the environment and executes a real-valued action which may affect future inputs; at times its goal is to maximize future success or utility


where is an additional real-valued reward input at time , the ordered triple (hence is the known history up to ), and denotes the conditional expectation operator with respect to some possibly unknown distribution from a set of possible distributions. Here reflects whatever is known about the possibly probabilistic reactions of the environment. For example, may contain all computable distributions [104, 105, 42, 36]. Note that unlike in most previous work by others [38, 109], but like in much of the author’s own previous work [97, 83], there is just one life, no need for predefined repeatable trials, no restriction to Markovian interfaces between sensors and environment [76], and the utility function implicitly takes into account the expected remaining lifespan and thus the possibility to extend it through appropriate actions [83, 86, 90, 87].

4 Universal But Incomputable AI

Solomonoff’s theoretically optimal universal predictors and their Bayesian learning algorithms [104, 105, 42, 36]

only assume that the reactions of the environment are sampled from an unknown probability distribution

contained in a set of all enumerable distributions—compare text after equation (1). That is, given an observation sequence

, we only assume there exists a computer program that can compute the probability of the next possible

, given . Since we typically do not know this program, we predict using a mixture distribution


a weighted sum of all distributions , , where the sum of the constant weights satisfies . It turns out that this is indeed the best one can possibly do, in a very general sense [105, 36]. The drawback is that the scheme is incomputable, since contains infinitely many distributions.

One can increase the theoretical power of the scheme by augmenting by certain non-enumerable but limit-computable distributions [80], or restrict it such that it becomes computable, e.g., by assuming the world is computed by some unknown but deterministic computer program sampled from the Speed Prior [81] which assigns low probability to environments that are hard to compute by any method. Under the Speed Prior the cumulative a priori probability of all data whose computation through an optimal algorithm requires more than resources is .

Can we use the optimal predictors to build an optimal AI? Indeed, in the new millennium it was shown we can. At any time , the recent theoretically optimal yet uncomputable RL algorithm Aixi [36] uses Solomonoff’s universal prediction scheme to select those action sequences that promise maximal future reward up to some horizon, typically , given the current data . One may adapt this to the case of any finite horizon . That is, in cycle , Aixi selects as its next action the first action of an action sequence maximizing -predicted reward up to the horizon, appropriately generalizing eq. (2). Recent work [36] demonstrated Aixi’s optimal use of observations as follows. The Bayes-optimal policy based on the mixture is self-optimizing in the sense that its average utility value converges asymptotically for all to the optimal value achieved by the (infeasible) Bayes-optimal policy which knows in advance. The necessary condition that admits self-optimizing policies is also sufficient. Furthermore, is Pareto-optimal in the sense that there is no other policy yielding higher or equal value in all environments and a strictly higher value in at least one [36].

What are the implications? The first 50 years of attempts at “general AI” have been dominated by heuristic approaches [52, 69, 111, 47]. Traditionally many theoretical computer scientists have regarded the field with contempt for its lack of hard theoretical results. Things have changed, however. Although the universal approach above is practically infeasible due to the incomputability of Solomonoff’s prior, it does provide, for the first time, a mathematically sound theory of AI and optimal decision making based on experience, identifying the limits of both human and artificial intelligence, and providing a yardstick for any future approach to general AI.

Using such results one can also come up with theoretically optimal ways of improving the predictive world model of a curious robotic agent [89]. The rewards of an optimal reinforcement learner are the predictor’s improvements on the observation history so far. They encourage the reinforcement learner to produce action sequences that cause the creation and the learning of new, previously unknown regularities in the sensory input stream. It turns out that art and creativity can be explained as by-products of such intrinsic curiosity rewards: good observer-dependent art deepens the observer’s insights about this world or possible worlds, connecting previously disconnected patterns in an initially surprising way that eventually becomes known and boring. While previous attempts at describing what is satisfactory art or music were informal, this work permits the first technical, formal approach to understanding the nature of art and creativity [89].

Using the Speed Prior mentioned above, one can scale the universal approach down such that it becomes computable [81]. In what follows we will mention ways of introducing additional optimality criteria that take into account the computational costs of prediction and decision making.

5 Asymptotically Optimal General Problem Solver

To take computation time into account in a general, optimal way [41] [42, p. 502-505], the recent asymptotically optimal search algorithm for all well-defined problems [35] allocates part of the total search time to searching the space of proofs for provably correct candidate programs with provable upper runtime bounds; at any given time it focuses resources on those programs with the currently best proven time bounds. The method is as fast as the initially unknown fastest problem solver for the given problem class, save for a constant slowdown factor of at most , , and an additive problem class-specific constant. Unfortunately, however, the latter may be huge.

Practical applications may not ignore the constants though. This motivates the next section which addresses all kinds of optimality (not just asymptotic optimality).

6 Optimal Self-Referential General Problem Solver

The recent Gödel machines [83, 86, 90, 87] represent the first class of mathematically rigorous, general, fully self-referential, self-improving, optimally efficient problem solvers. In particular, they are applicable to the problem embodied by objective (1), which obviously does not care for asymptotic optimality.

The initial software of such a Gödel machine contains an initial problem solver, e.g., one of the approaches above [36] or some less general, typical sub-optimal method [38, 109]. Simultaneously, it contains an initial proof searcher (possibly based on an online variant of Levin’s Universal Search [41]) which is used to run and test proof techniques. The latter are programs written in a universal programming language implemented on the Gödel machine within , able to compute proofs concerning the system’s own future performance, based on an axiomatic system encoded in . describes the formal utility function, in our case eq. (1

), the hardware properties, axioms of arithmetics and probability theory and string manipulation etc, and

itself, which is possible without introducing circularity [83].

Inspired by Kurt Gödel’s celebrated self-referential formulas (1931), the Gödel machine rewrites any part of its own code in a computable way through a self-generated executable program as soon as its Universal Search variant has found a proof that the rewrite is useful according to objective (1). According to the Global Optimality Theorem [83, 86, 90, 87], such a self-rewrite is globally optimal—no local maxima!—since the self-referential code first had to prove that it is not useful to continue the proof search for alternative self-rewrites.

If there is no provably useful, globally optimal way of rewriting at all, then humans will not find one either. But if there is one, then itself can find and exploit it. Unlike previous non-self-referential methods based on hardwired proof searchers [36], Gödel machines not only boast an optimal order of complexity but can optimally reduce (through self-changes) any slowdowns hidden by the -notation, provided the utility of such speed-ups is provable at all.

Practical implementations of the Gödel machine do not yet exist though, and probably require a thoughtful choice of the initial axioms and the initial proof searcher. In the next sections we will deal with already quite practical, non-optimal and non-universal, but still rather general searchers in program space, as opposed to the space of reactive, feedforward input / output mappings, which still attracts the bulk of current machine learning research.

7 Supervised Recurrent Neural Networks

Recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are neural networks

[4] with feedback connections that are, in principle, as powerful as any traditional computer. There is a very simple way to see this [74, 79]

: a traditional microprocessor may be viewed as a very sparsely connected RNN consisting of very simple neurons implementing nonlinear AND and NAND gates, etc. Compare 

[100] for a more complex argument. Early RNNs [34, 1, 60] did not exploit this potential power because they were limited to static inputs. However, most interesting tasks involve processing sequences that consist of continually varying inputs. Examples include robot control, speech recognition, music composition, attentive vision, and numerous others.

The initial RNN enthusiasm of the 1980s and early 90s was fueled by the obvious theoretical advantages of RNNs: unlike feedforward neural networks (FNNs) [115, 70], Support Vector Machines (SVMs), and related approaches [112]

, RNNs have an internal state which is essential for many tasks involving program learning and sequence learning. And unlike in Hidden Markov Models (HMMs)

[125], internal states can take on continuous values, and the influence of these states can persist for many timesteps. This allows RNN to solve tasks that are impossible for HMMs, such as learning the rules of certain context-free languages [16].

Practitioners of the early years, however, have been sobered by unsuccessful attempts to apply RNNs to important real world problems that require sequential processing of information. The first RNNs simply did not work very well, and their operation was poorly understood since it is inherently more complex than that of FNNs. FNNs fit neatly into the framework of traditional statistics and information theory [99], while RNNs require additional insights, e.g., from theoretical computer science and algorithmic information theory [42, 80].

Fortunately, recent advances have overcome the major drawbacks of traditional RNNs. That’s why RNNs are currently experiencing a second wave of attention. New architectures, learning algorithms, and a better understanding of RNN behavior have allowed RNNs to learn many previously unlearnable tasks. RNN optimists are claiming that we are at the beginning of a “RNNaissance” [92, 85], and that soon we will see more and more applications of the new RNNs.

Sequence-processing, supervised, gradient-based RNNs were pioneered by Werbos [116], Williams [121], and Robinson & Fallside [65]; compare Pearlmutter’s survey [56]. The basic idea is: a teacher-given training set contains example sequences of inputs and desired outputs or targets for certain neurons at certain times . If the -th neuron is an input neuron, then its real-valued activation at any given discrete time step is set by the environment. Otherwise is a typically nonlinear function of the of all neurons connected to , where by default for all . By choosing an appropriate , we make the network dynamics differentiable, e.g., , where is the real-valued weight on the connection from to . Then we use gradient descent to change the weights such that they minimize an objective function reflecting the differences between actual and desired output sequences. Popular gradient descent algorithms for computing weight changes include Back-Propagation Through Time (BPTT) [116, 121] and Real-Time Recurrent Learning (RTRL) [65, 121] and mixtures thereof [121, 77].

The nice thing about gradient-based RNNs is that we can differentiate our wishes with respect to programs, e.g., [75, 74, 79]. The set of possible weight matrices represents a continuous space of programs, and the objective function represents our desire to minimize the difference between what the network does and what it should do. The gradient (were is the complete weight matrix) tells us how to change the current program such that it will be better at fulfilling our wish.

Typical RNNs trained by BPTT and RTRL and other previous approaches [50, 51, 107, 43, 61, 64, 10, 56, 55, 12, 13, 121, 77, 78, 122, 114, 45, 62], however, cannot learn to look far back into the past. Their problems were first rigorously analyzed in 1991 on the author’s RNN long time lag project  [29, 30]; also compare Werbos’ concept of “sticky neurons” [117]

. The error signals “flowing backwards in time” tend to either (1) blow up or (2) vanish: the temporal evolution of the back-propagated error exponentially depends on the weight magnitudes. Case (1) may lead to oscillating weights. In case (2), learning to bridge long time lags takes a prohibitive amount of time, or does not work at all. So then why bother with RNNs at all? For short time lags we could instead use short time-windows combined with non-recurrent approaches such as multi-layer perceptrons 

[4] or better Support Vector Machines SVMs [112].

An RNN called ”Long Short-Term Memory” or LSTM (figure S1) 

[32] overcomes the fundamental problems of traditional RNNs, and efficiently learns to solve many previously unlearnable tasks involving: Recognition of temporally extended patterns in noisy input sequences [32, 17]; Recognition of the temporal order of widely separated events in noisy input streams [32]; Extraction of information conveyed by the temporal distance between events [15]; Stable generation of precisely timed rhythms, smooth and non-smooth periodic trajectories; Robust storage of high-precision real numbers across extended time intervals; Arithmetic operations on continuous input streams [32, 14]. This made possible the numerous applications described further below.

We found [32, 17] that LSTM clearly outperforms previous RNNs on tasks that require learning the rules of regular languages (RLs) describable by deterministic finite state automata (DFA) [8, 101, 5, 39, 126], both in terms of reliability and speed. In particular, problems that are hardly ever solved by standard RNNs, are solved by LSTM in nearly 100% of all trials, LSTM’s superiority also carries over to tasks involving context free languages (CFLs) such as those discussed in the RNN literature [108, 120, 106, 110, 67, 68]. Their recognition requires the functional equivalent of a stack. Some previous RNNs even failed to learn small CFL training sets [68]. Those that did not and those that even learned small CSL training sets [67, 6] failed to extract the general rules, and did not generalize well on substantially larger test sets. In contrast, LSTM generalizes extremely well. It requires only the 30 shortest exemplars () of the context sensitive language to correctly predict the possible continuations of sequence prefixes for up to 1000 and more.

Kalman filters can further improve LSTM’s performance [58]. A combination of LSTM and the decoupled extended Kalman filter learned to deal correctly with values of up to 10 million and more. That is, after training the network was able to read sequences of 30,000,000 symbols and more, one symbol at a time, and finally detect the subtle differences between legal strings such as and very similar but illegal strings such as . This illustrates that LSTM networks can work in an extremely precise and robust fashion across very long time lags.

Speech recognition is still dominated by Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), e.g.,


. HMMs and other graphical models such as Dynamic Bayesian Networks (DBN)

do have internal states that can be used to model memories of previously seen inputs. Under certain circumstances they allow for learning the prediction of sequences of labels from unsegmented input streams. For example, an unsegmented acoustic signal can be transcribed into a sequence of words or phonemes. HMMs are well-suited for noisy inputs and are invariant to non-linear temporal stretching—they do not care for the difference between slow and fast versions of a given spoken word. At least in theory, however, RNNs could offer the following advantages: Due to their discrete nature, HMMs either have to discard real-valued information about timing, rhythm, prosody, etc., or use numerous hidden states to encode such potentially relevant information in discretized fashion. RNNs, however, can naturally use their real-valued activations to encode it compactly. Furthermore, in order to make HMM training tractable, it is necessary to assume that successive inputs are independent of one another. In most interesting sequence learning tasks, such as speech recognition, this is manifestly untrue. Because RNNs model the conditional probabilities of class occupancy directly, and do not model the input sequence, they do not require this assumption. RNN classifications are in principle conditioned on the entire input sequence. Finally, HMMs cannot even model the rules of context-free languages, while RNNs can [17, 16, 18, 94, 59].

LSTM recurrent networks were trained from scratch on utterances from the TIDIGITS speech database. It was found [3, 25, 26] that LSTM obtains results comparable to HMM based systems. A series of experiments on disjoint subsets of the database demonstrated that previous experience greatly reduces the network’s training time, as well as increasing its accuracy. It was therefore argued that LSTM is a promising tool for applications requiring either rapid cross corpus adaptation or continually expanding datasets. Substantial promise also lies in LSTM-HMM hybrids that try to combine the best of both worlds, inspired by Robinson’s hybrids based on traditional RNNs [66]. Recently we showed [28, 27]

that LSTM learns framewise phoneme classification much faster than previous RNNs. Best results were obtained with a bi-directional variant of LSTM that classifies any part of a sequence by taking into account its entire past and future context.

Gradient-based LSTM also has been used to identify protein sequence motifs that contribute to classification [31]. Protein classification is important for extracting binding or active sites on a protein in order to develop new drugs, and in determining 3D protein folding features that can provide a better understanding of diseases resulting from protein misfolding.

Sometimes gradient information is of little use due to rough error surfaces with numerous local minima. For such cases, we have recently introduced a new, evolutionary/gradient-descent hybrid method for training LSTM and other RNNs called Evolino [96, 119, 93, 95]

. Evolino evolves weights to the nonlinear, hidden nodes of RNNs while computing optimal linear mappings from hidden state to output, using methods such as pseudo-inverse-based linear regression

[57] or support vector machine-like quadratic programming [112], depending on the notion of optimality employed. Evolino-based LSTM can solve tasks that Echo State networks [37] cannot, and achieves higher accuracy in certain continuous function generation tasks than gradient-based LSTM, as well as other conventional gradient descent RNNs. However, for several problems requiring large networks with numerous learnable weights, gradient-based LSTM was superior to Evolino-based LSTM.

8 Reinforcement-Learning / Evolving Recurrent Neural Networks

In a certain sense, Reinforcement Learning (RL) is more challenging than supervised learning as above, since there is no teacher providing desired outputs at appropriate time steps. To solve a given problem, the learning agent itself must discover useful output sequences in response to the observations. The traditional approach to RL is best embodied by Sutton and Barto’s book

[109]. It makes strong assumptions about the environment, such as the Markov assumption: the current input of the agent tells it all it needs to know about the environment. Then all we need to learn is some sort of reactive mapping from stationary inputs to outputs. This is often unrealistic.

More general approaches search a space of truly sequence-processing programs with temporary variables for storing previous observations. For example, Olsson’s ADATE [54] or related approaches such as Genetic Programming (GP) [9, 11, 73] can in principle be used to evolve such programs by maximizing an appropriate objective or fitness function. Probabilistic Incremental Program Evolution (PIPE) [71] is a related technique for automatic program synthesis, combining probability vector coding of program instructions [97] and Population-Based Incremental Learning [2] and tree-coded programs. PIPE was used for learning soccer team strategies in rather realistic simulations [72, 118].

A related, rather general approach for partially observable environments directly evolves programs for recurrent neural networks (RNN) with internal states, by applying evolutionary algorithms

[63, 98, 33] to RNN weight matrices [46, 124, 123, 53, 44, 102, 49]. RNN can run general programs with memory / internal states (no need for the Markovian assumption), but for a long time it was unclear how to efficiently evolve their weights to solve complex RL tasks. Recent work, however, brought progress through a focus on reducing search spaces by co-evolving the comparatively small weight vectors of individual recurrent neurons [21, 22, 20, 23, 19, 24]. The powerful RNN learn to use their potential to create memories of important events, solving numerous RL / optimization tasks unsolvable by traditional RL methods [23, 19, 24]. As mentioned in the previous section, even supervised learning can greatly profit from this approach [96, 119, 93, 95].

9 Is History Converging? Again?

Many predict that within a few decades there will be computers whose raw computing power will surpass the one of a human brain by far (e.g., [48, 40]). We have argued that algorithmic advances are keeping up with the hardware development, pointing to new-millennium theoretical insights on universal problem solvers that are optimal in various mathematical senses (thus making General AI a real formal science), as well as practical progress in program learning through brain-inspired recurrent neural nets (as opposed to mere pattern association through traditional reactive devices).

Let us put the AI-oriented developments [88] discussed above in a broader context, and extend the analysis of past computer science breakthroughs in the introduction, which predicts that computer history will converge in an Omega point or historic singularity around .

Surprisingly, even if we go back all the way to the beginnings of modern man over 40,000 years ago, essential historic developments (that is, the subjects of the major chapters in history books) match a a binary scale marking exponentially declining temporal intervals, each half the size of the previous one, and even measurable in terms of powers of 2 multiplied by a human lifetime [91] (roughly 80 years—throughout recorded history many individuals have reached this age, although the average lifetime often was shorter, mostly due to high children mortality). Using the value , associate an error bar of not much more than 10 percent with each date below:

  1. lifetimes: modern humans start colonizing the world from Africa

  2. lifetimes: bow and arrow invented; hunting revolution

  3. lifetimes: invention of agriculture; first permanent settlements; beginnings of civilization

  4. lifetimes: first high civilizations (Sumeria, Egypt), and the most important invention of recorded history, namely, the one that made recorded history possible: writing

  5. lifetimes: the ancient Greeks invent democracy and lay the foundations of Western science and art and philosophy, from algorithmic procedures and formal proofs to anatomically perfect sculptures, harmonic music, and organized sports. Old Testament written, major Asian religions founded. High civilizations in China, origin of the first calculation tools, and India, origin of the zero

  6. lifetimes: bookprint (often called the most important invention of the past 2000 years) invented in China. Islamic science and culture start spreading across large parts of the known world (this has sometimes been called the most important event between Antiquity and the age of discoveries)

  7. lifetimes: the largest and most dominant empire ever (probably including more than half of humanity and two thirds of the world economy) stretches across Asia from Korea all the way to Germany. Chinese fleets and later also European vessels start exploring the world. Gun powder and guns invented in China. Rennaissance and Western bookprint (often called the most influential invention of the past 1000 years) and subsequent Reformation in Europe. Begin of the Scientific Revolution

  8. lifetimes: Age of enlightenment and rational thought in Europe. Massive progress in the sciences; first flying machines; start of the industrial revolution based on the first steam engines

  9. lifetimes: Second industrial revolution based on combustion engines, cheap electricity, and modern chemistry. Birth of modern medicine through the germ theory of disease; genetic and evolution theory. European colonialism at its short-lived peak

  10. lifetime: modern post-World War II society and pop culture emerges. The world-wide super-exponential population explosion (mainly due to the Haber-Bosch process [103]) is at its peak. First commercial computers and first spacecraft; DNA structure unveiled

  11. lifetime: 3rd industrial revolution based on personal computers and the World Wide Web. A mathematical theory of universal AI emerges (see sections above) - will this be considered a milestone in the future?

  12. lifetime: This point will be reached in a few years. See introduction

The following disclosure should help the reader to take this list with a grain of salt though. The author, who admits being very interested in witnessing the Omega point, was born in 1963, and therefore perhaps should not expect to live long past 2040. This may motivate him to uncover certain historic patterns that fit his desires, while ignoring other patterns that do not.

Others may feel attracted by the same trap. For example, Kurzweil [40] identifies exponential speedups in sequences of historic paradigm shifts identified by various historians, to back up the hypothesis that “the singularity is near.” His historians are all contemporary though, presumably being subject to a similar bias. People of past ages might have held quite different views. For example, possibly some historians of the year 1525 felt inclined to predict a convergence of history around 1540, deriving this date from an exponential speedup of recent breakthroughs such as Western bookprint (around 1444), the re-discovery of America (48 years later), the Reformation (again 24 years later—see the pattern?), and other events they deemed important although today they are mostly forgotten.

In fact, could it be that such lists just reflect the human way of allocating memory space to past events? Maybe there is a general rule for both the individual memory of single humans and the collective memory of entire societies and their history books: constant amounts of memory space get allocated to exponentially larger, adjacent time intervals further and further into the past. For example, events that happened between 2 and 4 lifetimes ago get roughly as much memory space as events in the previous interval of twice the size. Presumably only a few “important” memories will survive the necessary compression. Maybe that’s why there has never been a shortage of prophets predicting that the end is near - the important events according to one’s own view of the past always seem to accelerate exponentially.

A similar plausible type of memory decay allocates memory units to all events older than unit time intervals. This is reminiscent of a bias governed by a time-reversed Speed Prior [81] (Section 4).


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