Biological Anchors

[Cotra’s] report asks when will we first get transformative AI (ie AI which produces a transition as impressive as the Industrial Revolution; probably this will require it to be about as smart as humans). Its methodology is:

  1. Figure out how much inferential computation the human brain does.
  2. Try to figure out how much training computation it would take, right now, to get a neural net that does the same amount of inferential computation. Get some mind-bogglingly large number.
  3. Adjust for algorithmic progress”, ie maybe in the future neural nets will be better at using computational resources efficiently. Get some number which, realistically, is still mind-bogglingly large.
  4. Probably if you wanted that mind-bogglingly large amount of computation, it would take some mind-bogglingly large amount of money. But computation is getting cheaper every year. Also, the economy is growing every year. Also, the share of the economy that goes to investments in AI companies is growing every year. So at some point, some AI company will actually be able to afford that mind-boggingly-large amount of money, deploy the mind-bogglingly large amount of computation, and train the AI that has the same inferential computation as the human brain.
  5. Figure out what year that is.

Scott Alexander, Biological Anchors: A Trick That Might Or Might Not Work

August 25, 2023