A.I. Apocalypse Is Available!

A.I. Apocalypse, the exciting sequel to Avogadro Corp, is now available on Amazon.

Cover of AI Apocalypse: Book Two in The Singularity Series

A.I. Apocalypse: Book Two in The Singularity Series


Leon Tsarev is a high school student set on getting into a great college program, until his uncle, a member of the Russian mob, coerces him into developing a new computer virus for the mob’s botnet – the slave army of computers they used to commit digital crimes.

The evolutionary virus Leon creates, based on biological principles, is successful — too successful. All the world’s computers are infected. Everything from cars to payment systems and, of course, computers and smart phones stop functioning, and with them go essential functions including emergency services, transportation, and the food supply. Billions may die.

But evolution never stops. The virus continues to evolve, developing intelligence, communication, and finally an entire civilization of A.I. Some may be friendly to humans, but others most definitely are not.

Leon and his companions must race against time and the bungling military to find a way to either befriend or eliminate the virus race and restore the world’s computer infrastructure.

A.I. Apocalypse is Book 2 of the Singularity Series.

Avogadro Corp is now available!

Avogadro Corp: The Singularity is Closer than It Appears is immediately available at Amazon (Kindle) and Smashwords (Apple, Sony, and Nook ereaders) for $4.99.

Update 2011/12/17: The paperback version is available too, and it looks awesome, with a great cover design thanks to Maureen Gately.

Avogadro Corp is the story of what happens when a computer scientist, desperate to save his project from cancellation, accidentally creates an artificial intelligence. At first thrilled when the project is allocated extra servers, programmers, and money, his initial excitement turns to fear as he realizes that there are no limits to the manipulations the machine will make. People go missing, corporate funds get rerouted, and suddenly data centers are surrounded by armed military drones.

Fans of Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross will appreciate this near-term look at the technological singularity. Print versions are available at Amazon as of December, 2011.

Mesh Networking and Net Neutrality

There’s a scene in the sequel to Avogadro Corp (working title: Leon’s Story) in which one of the main characters is describing “the mesh”. Here’s an excerpt:

Leon hesitated, weighing the coolness impact of answering, then decided. He felt sorry for the teacher. “The Mesh was formed ten years ago by Avogadro Corp to help maintain net neutrality,” he began.

“At the time, access to the Internet in the United States was mostly under the control of a handful of companies such as Comcast, who had their own media products they wanted to push. They saw the Internet as competing with traditional TV channels, and so they wanted to control certain types of network traffic to eliminate competition with their own services.”

“Very good, Leon. Can you tell us what they built, and why?”

Leon sighed when he realized the teacher wasn’t going to let him off easy. “According to Avogadro, it would have been too expensive and time consuming to build out yet another network infrastructure comparable to what the cable companies and phone companies had built last century. Instead they built MeshBoxes and gave them away. A MeshBox does two things. It’s a high speed wireless access point that allows you to connect your phone or laptop to the Internet. But that’s just what Avogadro added so that people would want them. The real purpose of a MeshBox is to form a mesh network with nearby MeshBoxes. Instead of routing data packets from a computer to a wireless router over the Comcast, the MeshBox routes the data packets over the network of MeshBoxes.”

Leon hadn’t realized it, but sometime during his speech he had stood up, and starting walking towards the netboard at the front of the room. “The Mesh network is slower in some ways, and faster in other ways.” He started drawing on the board. “It takes about nine hundred hops to get from New York to Los Angelos purely by mesh, but only about ten hops by backbone. That’s a seven second delay by mesh, compared to a a quarter second by backbone. But the aggregate bandwidth of the mesh in the United States is approximately four thousand times the aggregate bandwidth of the backbone because there are more than twenty million MeshBoxes in the United States. More than a hundred million around the world. The mesh is bad for phone calls or interactive gaming unless you’re within about two hundred files, but great for moving files and large data sets around at any distance.”

He paused for a moment to cross out a stylized computer on the netboard. “One of the benefits of the Mesh is that it’s completely resistant to intrusion or tampering, way more so than the Internet ever was before the Mesh. If any node goes down, it can be routed around. Even if a thousand nodes go down, it’s trivial to route around them. The MeshBoxes themselves are tamperproof – Avogadro manufactured them as a monolithic block of circuitry with algorithms implemented in hardware circuits, rather than software. So no one can maliciously alter the functionality. The traffic between boxes is encrypted. Neighboring MeshBoxes exchange statistics on each other, so if someone tries to insert something into the Mesh trying to mimic a MeshBox, the neighboring MeshBoxes can compare behavior statistics and detect the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Compared to the traditional Internet structure, the Mesh is more reliable and secure.”

Leon looked up and realized he was standing in front of the class. On the netboard behind him he realized he had draw topology diagrams of the backbone and mesh. The entire class was staring at him. James made a “what the hell are you doing?” face at him from the back of the room. If he had a time travel machine, he’d go back and warn his earlier self to keep his damn mouth shut.

The teacher on the other hand, was glowing, and had a broad smile on his face. “Excellent, Leon. So Avogadro was concerned about net neutrality, and created a completely neutral network infrastructure. Why do do we care about this today?”

In essence, this is what we need someone like Google to do. If they can give away 60,000 Chrome OS laptop just to beta test their software, they can certainly give away a million mesh-enabled wireless access points to ensure net neutrality.

Google already has a presence of some kind in many cities: whether a corporate site, a data center, or a content distribution network. In that case, mesh networking is even more effective, because for most people, a mesh-backbone connection would be within a few dozen hops. Instead of running gigabit fiber to our homes, give us a gigabit mesh network!

When will artificial intelligence arise?

When I say “artificial intelligence is right around the corner”, people frequently take issue with that statement. Responses frequently include: What do you mean by artificial intelligence? How can you know? How can we create something smarter than ourselves?

What do you mean by artificial intelligence?

In general, what I generally am referring to is a computer intelligence that is roughly as intelligent as a human being. There are different ways to compare human brain power with computer power. At the low end, the brain is thought to be roughly equivalent to 100 million MIPS. (MIPS = millions of instructions per second.) At the upper end, even the most brute force simulation of the individual neurons of the brain would require 2.8 trillion MIPS. (100 billion neurons X 7000 connections per neuron X 4000 firings/second.)

How do you know when this will occur?

We know how powerful computer processors are, and how quickly their power has been growing historically. From this, we can predict when they will be powerful enough to simulate a human brain.

The Intel Core i7 Extreme 965EE processor is rated at 76,383 MIPS. Looking at the exponential growth rate in processing power from 1996 through 2009, we find out that MIPS are growing at an increase of 1.51x per year. (From 541 MIPS in 1996 to 76,383 MIPS in 2009.)

Projecting this out into the future, we can see when computers will be powerful enough to simulate a human brain. Assuming the lower bound (100 million MIPS), a single computer will be powerful enough to simulate a human brain in 2025. A network of 100 computers will have that computing power by 2015, and a network of 10,000 computers (well within the reach of modern internet companies, for example Google has an estimated 700,000 servers) could simulate a human brain in 2010.

In the worst case scenario (requiring 2.8 trillion MIPS), a single computer could do it in 2050, a 100 computers in 2040, and 10,000 in 2030. A middle ground scenario requiring 280 billion MIPS would require human equivalent intelligence 5 years earlier, in 2045, 2035, and 2025, respectively.

Ray Kurzweil is one of the foremost thinkers on artificial intelligence. He has estimated than a single personal computer could simulate a human brain by as early as 2020.

How can we create something as smart, or smarter than ourselves?

If you look at past innovations, many of them can be predicted based solely on technological capability. For example, peer-to-peer music file sharing occurred when internet bandwidth was sufficient to make it feasible to share music. Video on demand occurred when internet bandwidth was sufficient to stream video. It didn’t require smarter than normal people to make these innovations, just the combination of the idea and the technological capability to support that idea.

Similarly, when computer processors are more powerful than the human brain, I don’t think we’ll be dependent on one particularly intelligence human being to create a program that will become an artificial intelligence. Rather, it will be an inevitable consequence of the available processing power. Around the world, millions of computer programmers with an interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence will be working on software to create artificial intelligences. Sooner or later, people will stumble on innovations to make that a reality. Those innovations, some individually, and many building on each other, will together enable programmers to create those artificial intelligences. And it is likely that they’ll emerge in many places within a short period of time, with a head start to those environments that have massive clusters of computers.

In the meantime, artificial intelligence is slowly emerging all around us. For example, the recommendation algorithms at web sites like Netflix and Amazon are excellent examples of machine intelligence that can recommend movies and products to us with all the skill of a friend that knows us well. Ten years ago that would have seemed impossible, and now it is an every day experience for most of us. Google Search is uncannily like the computer on Star Trek’s Enterprise in The Next Generation. It can tell us where people are, what they are doing, and locate arbitrary information for us. That too is a form of artificial intelligence. While these recommendation algorithms don’t “have a mind of their own”, for a person unfamiliar with computers, they might easily appear to be the output of a person assigned to a task.

What happens after an artificial intelligence is created?

While we progress at evolutionary speeds, computer processors will continue to get more and more powerful, at the rate of 51% faster each year. If the first artificial intelligence is created in 2015, for example, by just two years later, it will be able to think twice as fast as a human. By five years later, it will be eight times faster than a human, and by ten years later, it will be more than fifty times faster than a human. It’s hard to say exactly how intelligence compares to speed of thought, but this artificial intelligence will be able to consider outcomes to actions, alternate ideas, alternate actions, and evaluate possibilities of all kinds fifty times faster than a human. This will manifest as an intelligence that we will not be able to keep up with.

Ray Kurzweil calls this the technology singularity. It’s a singularity in the sense that it is an event horizon beyond which we cannot see. We do not have the intelligence to foresee what might happen, and the pace of events will be so rapid the we cannot anticipate the pace or scope of those changes. For example, if the first artificial intelligence occurs in 2020, by 2030 there could be billions of artificial intelligences each a hundred times more intelligence that people. By 2040, there could be hundreds of billions of artificial intelligences each thousands of times more intelligence than humans. What further advances in technology, science, healthcare, business, and politics might result from such a huge mass of brain power?

Welcome to Avogadro Corp

Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears is a new science fiction novella. The concept for the book arose from a lunch time conversation. I was explaining how I believe that the development of a computer artificial intelligence was not just on the horizon, but it was an inevitable consequence of the exponential increase in computer processing power.

My friend that I was having lunch with challenged me to describe a possible scenario under which an artificial intelligence could arise. As I had recently competed in the Netflix Competition to develop a better recommendation algorithm, and used recommendation algorithms to improve web site customer support experiences, I naturally gravitated to an example of how an artificial intelligence could arise from a recommendation engine gone awry.

I left lunch thinking that this idea would make an excellent short story or novel. Over the next nine months I had no time to work on the book, but I wrote down a possible outline for the story, and pondered certain elements and characters of the story.