The Internet itself is, after all, the biggest computational engine ever devised, and yet it is still as dead as a doornail. It seems pretty obvious that it is not going to wake up anytime soon in some kind of Colossus: Forbin Project nightmare of a sentient computer taking over the world.
As a number of observers have noted, today's computers, a dozen generations advanced from the first computational machines and millions of times more powerful, are no more intelligent than their predecessors; rather, they are just faster, with more sophisticated software.
Why is that? If today's most powerful computers are even half as smart as the human brain, why don't they exhibit the sentience of say, my cat, or a lizard? Is it because we haven't bolted enough peripheral sensors and systems (vision, touch, locomotion) to these computers to let them 'inhabit' the natural world? Would that wake them up?
Nothing to date suggests that it will – no matter how far out we go on the curve of Moore's Law. Why?
I have some ideas. For one thing, I'm not convince our brains are really computational engines, but instead a very sophisticated balancing act between empirical functions (Mathematical – i.e. X=2), language functions (Metaphorical – i.e., X=Y is true), and truth-telling functions (Metaphysical – i.e., based on everything I have experienced X does not =Y).
But even if you dropped a machine with such architecture and a thousand sensors into the natural world, it seems to me there is no evidence that it would 'awaken'.
It might become supremely adaptive to its environment, and capable of rapidly responding to new challenges …but still never know of its own existence. As with life in the universe, with thinking machines we may forever be unable to discover that missing X factor.
On the other hand, and I think this is what Rattner was also suggesting, we already do have several billion thinking 'machines' in the world: human brains.
And as bio-silicon interfaces become more successful, there is every reason to believe that we may use wireless modems, implantable chips and other devices to enhance the processors we already have in our heads.
Moore's Law seems to suggest we can do this one – and though we not find Kurzweil's Singular immortality, we may be able to stuff enough experience in the short time we've got in this world to make it seem like forever.
This is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michael S. Malone is one of the nation's best-known technology writers. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the ABCNews.com "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.