It is interesting to see the life of grand challenges. How they ebb and flow through the zeitgeist depending on whether they are replaced by another grand challenge. It seems the public only has the mind space to think of one grand challenge at a time. However, regardless of what the public attitude is, there are always grand challenges that need to be tackled and there are always people that are pouring their soul into furthering the completion of the challenge closest to their heart.
One grand challenge that I think is super interesting is the discovery of the future of computer architecture. The current architecture of computers has basically remained unchanged since the advent of transistor logic 50 years ago. Since then we’ve just been packing on more meat onto a skeleton that will only ever get so large. We need a new skeleton to support the future of Computer Science. That future may be Quantum Computers. The development of quantum computers, is a a grand challenge that may very well define the future of computer science and therefore, mankind. The manipulation of quantum bits in a programmable machine has already been accomplished on a very very small scale. Around the world labs are working out how to get around the inherent difficulties in building practical quantum computers. This grand challenge requires a joint effort of the fields of computer science, quantum physics and a host of other fields. Creating a paradigm of computer architecture that takes advantage of quantum computing is a grand challenge that might be completed in my lifetime. All new programming languages would have to be written, basically reinventing all aspects of computer science. I would love to be among the first to write programs for quantum computers. Artificial intelligence could reach new heights which would redefine everything we know about psychology. It would probably result in a computer that could constantly and limitlessly improve itself, thus bringing about the singularity and ushering in a new era of humanity or its end as we know it. Either that, or it’s a foolish dead end venture that we will laugh at when we realize how much more practical alternative computer architectures other than Qbits become.
There are other forms of technology that could bring about the next leap forward in computer science. Competing fields may emerge much like there are in psychology, extolling the potential of their own computer architecture. Ideas such as chemical computers or optical computers might come to fruition in similar time frames and doom the whole concept of quantum computing. Programmers might resist adopting the new architecture over concerns of backwards compatibility, making them never get off the ground. The general public and other sciences might find the idea of the singularity terrifying and eventually lobby the government to pass laws preventing advance computer technologies from ever being developed, much like the situation with stem cells where fear of playing god has severely hampered scientific progress.
Am I the only one who is severely annoyed with modern culture’s attitude toward the future of AI? It’s always a bad thing! I wish there was more popular culture that explored the implications of the development of strong AI that didn’t ALWAYS end with the created rising up against their creators? It’s so hackneyed! I can’t think of a single sci-fi work that focused on AI that had a positive attitude towards it. I guess Blade Runner was somewhat neutral at the end, but it still featured a main character whose only job was to destroy rouge AI’s. I seriously feel that someday the public attitude might actually be swayed to the point where preemptive legislation hampering what computer scientists can and can’t do is a popular notion. If we ever actually get to the point where we can perfectly simulate a human mind, would we even be allowed to? It makes me a little bit sick to think of such a future, but honestly, it’s probably not too far fetched. I don’t know how to solve this problem. Maybe any imaginative computer scientists should think about trying to write a screenplay featuring themes dealing with the implications of AI that aren’t so negative, who knows. Maybe an amiable AI twitter feed that escapes the uncanny valley will endear the general public.
As for the computer science field resisting adoption of new technologies, once the opportunity to create applications better than its competitors, the jobs requiring their use will force the creation of a Qbit literate development community.
The three key phrases that I used and their search numbers were:
“Computer Donation”: global 8,100 / local 6600
“Electronics Donation”: global 1600 / local 1300
“Technology Charity”: global 1600 / local 390
The top keyword Idea was: “Computer Recycling” with search numbers of Global 165000/local 110000
I think that if someone were looking to recycle their computer they would be remiss if they later found out that they could have donated it to a good cause for a tax refund. So, it’s a good idea to catch them when they are googling for a place to dump off their old computer. However, they might be annoyed that the ad presented to them is for something that they weren’t explicitly looking for.