In Brief
  • Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son has again predicted the technological singularity will occur by 2047, claiming a single computer chip will have an IQ equivalent to 10,000 by then.
  • Like several others, Son thinks the key to managing this superintelligence will be finding ways to work with it, making it our partner in creating a better life.

Son’s Predictions

The CEO of Japanese telecommunications giant and internet multinational Softbank is at it again. Masayoshi Son has been consistent with his predictions as to when the technological singularity will occur. This time, Son predicted that the dawn of machines surpassing human intelligence is bound to occur by 2047 during a keynote address at the ongoing Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Son famously made the same prediction at the 2016 ARM TechCon, when he revealed that Softbank is looking to make the singularity happen.

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“One of the chips in our shoes in the next 30 years will be smarter than our brain. We will be less than our shoes. And we are stepping on them,” Son said during his MWC address. In fact, he expects that a single computer chip will have an IQ equivalent to 10,000 by that point in time. That’s far beyond what the most intelligent person in the world has (roughly 200). “What should we call it?” he asked. “Superintelligence. That is an intelligence beyond people’s imagination [no matter] how smart they are. But in 30 years, I believe this is going to become a reality.”

Sound like every single human-vs-machine sci-fi flick you’ve seen? Son doesn’t quite think so.

Instead of conflict, he sees a potential for humans to partner with artificial intelligence (AI), echoing the comments Elon Musk made in Dubai last month: “I think this superintelligence is going to be our partner,” said Softbank’s CEO. “If we misuse it, it’s a risk. If we use it in good spirits, it will be our partner for a better life.”

Already, individuals are working to ensure that the coming age of super synthetic intelligences is, indeed, one that is beneficial for humanity. Case in point, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson is investing $100 million to research the human brain and, ultimately, make neuroprostheses that allow us to augment our own intelligence and keep pace with AI. This will be accomplished, in large part, by making our neural code programmable.

Johnson outlines the purpose of his work, stating that it’s really all about co-evolution:

Our connection with our new creations of intelligence is limited by screens, keyboards, gestural interfaces, and voice commands — constrained input/output modalities. We have very little access to our own brains, limiting our ability to co-evolve with silicon-based machines in powerful ways.

To that end, Johnson’s company, Kernel, wants to ensure that we have a seamless interface with our technologies (and our AI).

The Machines Have the Numbers

Son isn’t alone in expecting the singularity around 2047 — Google Engineering director and futurist Ray Kurzweil shares this general prediction. As for his predicted machine IQ, Son arrived at that figure by comparing the number of neurons in the human brain to the number of transistors in a computer chip. Both, he asserts, are binary systems that work by turning on and off.

By 2018, Son thinks that the number of transistors in a chip will surpass the number of neurons in the brain, which isn’t unlikely considering recent developments in microchip technology overtaking Moore’s Law. It’s worth pointing out, however, that Son put the number of neurons in the brain at 30 billion, which is way below the 86 billion estimate made by many.

Image credit: Masayoshi Son
Image credit: Masayoshi Son

That doesn’t matter, Son said. “The point is that mankind, for the last 2,000 years — 4,000 years — has had the same number of neurons in our brain. We haven’t improved the hardware in our brain,” he explained. “But [the computer chip], in the next 30 years, is going to be one million times more. If you have a million times more binary systems, I think they will be smarter than us.”

Will these super intelligent machines trample over humankind? We don’t know. But Son is convinced that, given our abundance of smart devices, which include even our cars, and the growth of the internet of things (IoT), the impact of super intelligent machines will be felt by humankind.

“If this superintelligence goes into moving robots, the world, our lifestyle, dramatically changes,” said Son. “We can expect all kinds of robots. Flying, swimming, big, micro, run, two legs, four legs, 100 legs.”

And we have 30 years to prepare for them all. Fortunately, a number of innovators are already working on solutions.

Disclosure: Bryan Johnson is an investor in Futurism; he does not hold a seat on our editorial board or have any editorial review privileges.