Mortal Computation: Coming to Your Toaster Soon

December 9, 2022

I spotted an item of jargon I had not seen before. The bound phrase (the two words occur together to impart a specific meaning) is “mortal computation.” The term appears in “We Will See a completely New Type of Computer, Says AI Pioneer Geoff Hinton.”

The write up presents ideas expressed by “AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton; for example:

He [Hinton] continued, “What I think is that we’re going to see a completely different type of computer, not for a few years, but there’s every reason for investigating this completely different type of computer.” All digital computers to date have been built to be “immortal,” where the hardware is engineered to be reliable so that the same software runs anywhere. “We can run the same programs on different physical hardware … the knowledge is immortal.”

The article includes this passage:

The new mortal computers won’t replace traditional digital computers, Hilton told the NeurIPS crowd. “It won’t be the computer that is in charge of your bank account and knows exactly how much money you’ve got,” said Hinton. “It’ll be used for putting something else: It’ll be used for putting something like GPT-3 in your toaster for one dollar, so running on a few watts, you can have a conversation with your toaster.”

My thought is that one should take care to pronounce the bound phrase morTal computers so that a listener is less likely to hear moral computers.

Philosophy and computers are an interesting intersection but mortal and moral may be a little more interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, December 9, 2022


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