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Computers That Design - Scott Adams' Blog

Computers That Design

I wonder how near we are to the Technological Singularity. That’s the predicted point in human history, probably within the next fifty years, when machine intelligence will surpass humans. At that point, machines will start rapidly designing other machines that are even smarter, and things will accelerate beyond the point we can predict. That will be a scary time for humans. It’s sort of the same principle as your dog not knowing where you’re going when you get in the car. We’ll be the dog in that analogy.

I was thinking about this as I read yet another story of yet another windmill design that is potentially better than all the rest. I would think that windmill designs will someday be created by supercomputers crunching through simulations of every possible shape and mechanical possibility, much the way a computer plays chess by considering every possible move.

Humans would need to put some parameters on the windmill design program before setting it free, such as size limits of the windmills, types of materials that are practical to use, and that sort of thing. Perhaps the program could be seeded with a few dozen current windmill designs to focus its search. Then you let the computer chug away indefinitely, creating the best designs it can, and continually trying to top itself.

I chose windmill design for my example because there are relatively few parts in a windmill and none of them depends on human tastes and preferences. I wonder what other types of products are likely to be designed entirely by supercomputers in the first wave of the Technological Singularity. And more importantly, how can you and I make money by correctly predicting that sort of thing?

For you super-long-term investors, it seems important to know which types of product categories are likely to achieve light speed design improvements before others. I would think drug design would be last to benefit from supercomputers because there are too many unknown variables involved with drug interactions and you need to do animal and human drug trials to be sure anything works. I would expect mechanical devices such as engines and generators and gearboxes to get sucked into the singularity first. Perhaps chip design itself will be first to benefit.

So here’s the question: What aspects of human existence will change first, and dramatically, because of the Technological Singularity? And how would one invest to take advantage?

If windmills are the first, and that transformation happens in ten years, the technology for transporting power from remote and windy places will be in great demand. The components of electrical grids would be a good investment unless the Technological Singularity also produces local power generation concepts that are better than windmills.

Are there any good bets out there?