I just stumbled on this old post of mine from 2008 where I predicted that a supercomputer would be faster than a human brain by 2012.
This was based on Hans Moravec’s suggestion that the human brain has a processing capacity of 10 quadrillion instructions per second (10 PFLOPS).
At the time I said:
In comparison, it was announced today that the fastest supercomputer in the world, called Roadrunner and devised and built by engineers and scientists at I.B.M. and Los Alamos National Laboratory, is capable of handling 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second (1.026 PFLOPS).
As of 2012, the world’s fastest supercomputer was the “Titan,” a Cray XK7 system installed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Titan achieved a performance level of 17.59 petaFLOPS (quadrillions of calculations per second). So I was right – it was almost twice as fast as the estimate of the human brain.
But compare that to the fastest supercomputer in the world right now which is the Frontier system out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) which can achieve 1.194 Eflop/s (Quintillions of FLOPS).
Both terms, PFLOPS and Eflop/s, refer to a unit of computing performance. The acronym FLOPS stands for “FLoating point Operations Per Second,” which is a measure of a computer’s performance, especially in fields of scientific calculations that make heavy use of floating-point calculations.
“P” in PFLOPS stands for peta, which is 10^15, and “E” in Eflop/s stands for exa, which is 10^18. Therefore, 1 PFLOPS equals 10^15 FLOPS, and 1 Eflop/s equals 10^18 FLOPS.
So, if we translate these units:
- 10 PFLOPS = 10 * 10^15 FLOPS = 10^16 FLOPS
- 1.194 Eflop/s = 1.194 * 10^18 FLOPS
Therefore, 1.194 Eflop/s is significantly larger than 10 PFLOPS, more precisely it is 1.194*10^2 or about 119.4 times faster than the human brain.
Of course, we’re talking about supercomputers here, but today a single Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 chip (retails for about AUD$3000) can achieve a performance of 69.7 teraflops (TFLOPS), which makes the human brain about 143 times faster than a single 4090 – in terms of pure processing speed. But string tens of thousands 4090’s together, and you get ChatGPT.
I went on in my old post to wonder why there wasn’t more talk about AI in the mainstream media and by world governments. Then I said
It reminds me of a chat I had with Australian SF author Damien Broderick over dinner about ten years ago. I asked him when he thought these subjects would be discussed by the general populace. He replied “when it’s way too late to do anything about it”.
And look at us now, running around like chickens with our head chopped off trying to work out how to regulate AI. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Talking to my old mate and new co-host Steve Sammartino this morning on our Futuristic podcast, I mentioned the topic of a talk I’ve given a few times over the years and also of a book I’m working on. It’s “The Ten Things”. These are the ten things I have developed of the years that I measure my personal success on.
I realised a long, long time ago, that success, for me, isn’t about money or fame (although there’s nothing inherently wrong with those things). Personally I see success more in terms of the complete picture of my life.
I remember reading Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” when I was about 20, and he had a really impactful exercise about his principal / habit of “Start With The End In Mind”. He suggested you should think about your own funeral and what you wanted people – family, friends, colleagues, members of the community – to say about you when you’re gone. Start with that – the legacy you want to leave behind – and then work backwards to determine what kind of life you want to live in order to justify those funeral orations.
My ten things isn’t really about my funeral, but about how I feel when I wake up every day. I’ve had times in my life when I’ve had money, and times when I haven’t, and I know that money isn’t really a factor in how I feel about my contribution as a human. It’s nice to have some financial security, but I wouldn’t trade any of the other nine things for money. I remember working at Microsoft and feeling like I was wasting my life. Sure, I had a nice house and a nice car and got to do lots of travel, but I felt like I was just spinning my wheels. Then podcasting came along, something I could really sink my teeth into, and while it didn’t come with the same kind of financial security as a regular job (although, we all know, jobs aren’t very secure either), I got way more enjoyment and fulfilment out of it than I ever did out of an office job.
Here’s my list, in no particular order (although money is at the bottom). YMMV.
PEACE: Do I have good peace of mind?
JOY: Am I generally happy with my life?
HEALTH: Am I relatively healthy for my age?
LOVE: Am I in a loving, exciting, fulfilling relationship?
KIDS: Do I have a positive, loving relationship with my children?
FRIENDS: Do I have enough healthy friendships to fulfil my needs?
WORK: Is the work that I am doing fulfilling and leaving a positive impact on the world?
BALANCE: Am I happy with how I balance my time between work and family, friends and hobbies?
IMPACT: Am I contributing in some way to make society better?
MONEY: Do I earn enough money to have financial security?
I recently had to buy some tech.
I tried to support my local Aussie retailer and my experience was terrible.
Umart sent me a follow up email and asked if I was happy with my customer support experience. Here’s my reply:
Well, since you asked… You guys really sucked. I bought a new MacBook recently and discovered my Wavlink HDD docking station didn’t work on the M2 chip. So I needed to buy a new one. After getting nowhere trying to find out that was guaranteed to work on Google, I reached out to you guys.
Maria completely misunderstood my question and sent me a dud answer. So I sent her a second email, which she couldn’t answer until she checked with her “technical team”. Meanwhile, two days passed before I got a final answer from her, which was that she couldn’t help me, but she did point me to a unit on Scorptec’s site, which she said “should work”, but that’s not what I needed.
In the meantime, I had gone to MSY in Brendale, where I’ve been a long-time customer, only to discover the original owners had sold out to you guys. I told the guys in the store about my problem. They basically told me they didn’t use Macs so they had no idea. I asked if I bought one of their docking stations, and it didn’t work, if I could return it. They said that was a hard no.
So… I bought reached out to a couple of the manufacturers of other units being sold on Amazon. They both said their units would work. I bought a FIDECO unit, it was delivered within 24 hours, and did NOT work, so I returned it to Amazon for an immediate refund. Then I ordered a UNITEK unit from Amazon which DID work, so I’m happy. With Amazon. And Unitek.
So I guess I’ll be ordering all of my tech from Amazon from now on and telling my friends and my audience about my experience, too.
Nine years ago today, Ray Harris and I started our podcast about Julius Caesar. Every month since then (that’s 108 months and roughly 400 hour long episodes in case you’re wondering), we’ve told stories about the Julio-Claudians (aka the Caesars – Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero) in insane detail. And today – it ends. We have published the last episode of Nero and that’s the end of the line for this series. We’ve officially hung up our togas.
I didn’t know Ray from a bar of soap when we started nine years ago… and I still don’t. And don’t care to. Kidding. He’s been a joy to work with over nine years and we continue to work together on our series about the Cold War, the Renaissance, and the Bullshit Filter.
This series has been the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything. It taught me a whole new way of working. For many years, I would spend all day working on my ‘real’ job, and then at night, after dinner, I would sit down with my books and make notes for several hours a night (usually from about 8pm – midnight). I’d do that five nights a week, then record the next day, take a couple of nights off, and then start the process all over again. FOR YEARS and YEARS. It was only when I could afford to shut down my day job that I could work less in the evenings and do more of it during the daytime.
Fortunately, I loved the work, and Ray and I had a ton of fun doing it. We’ve learned a lot, we’ve laughed, we’ve loved… we’ve travelled across Europe and the USA, Ray’s been to Australia with his family… it’s been a wild ride. And it consumed up nearly a fifth of my life. It’s the longest “job” I’ve ever had…. sitting in my undies, making Ray wet his pants.
Thanks to everyone who has been on the journey with us, especially to those who have supported us financially. We couldn’t have kept it going without you. And thanks to our spouses, who don’t LISTEN to the show (thank god), but allowed us to do work on it, despite it seeming like the greatest waste of time and energy for many years.
And here it is.