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In a new paper published in The International Journal of Astrobiology, Joseph Gale from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and co-authors make the point that recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI)—particularly in pattern recognition and self-learning—will likely result in a paradigm shift in the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life.

While futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted 15 years ago that the singularity—the time when the abilities of a computer overtake the abilities of the human brain—will occur in about 2045, Gale and his co-authors believe this event may be much more imminent, especially with the advent of quantum computing. It’s already been four years since the program AlphaGO, fortified with neural networks and learning modes, defeated Lee Sedol, the Go world champion. The strategy game StarCraft II may be the next to have a machine as reigning champion.

If we look at the calculating capacity of computers and compare it to the number of neurons in the human brain, the singularity could be reached as soon as the early 2020s. However, a human brain is “wired” differently than a computer, and that may be the reason why certain tasks that are simple for us are still quite challenging for today’s AI. Also, the size of the brain or the number of neurons don’t equate to intelligence. For example, whales and elephants have more than double the number of neurons in their brain, but are not more intelligent than humans.

The authors don’t know when the singularity will come, but come it will. When this occurs, the end of the human race might very well be upon us, they say, citing a 2014 prediction by the late Stephen Hawking. According to Kurzweil, humans may then be fully replaced by AI, or by some hybrid of humans and machines.

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Category: Science