Data: She brought me closer to humanity than I ever thought possible, and for a time...I was tempted by her offer.
Picard: How long a time?
Zero-point-six-eight seconds, sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity.
It is said that a human brain is a very advanced computer. But with computers becoming faster every year, does this mean that one day a computer might think faster than a human could?
They already do
, at least in some specialized situations. For instance, Chess
grandmaster Gary Kasparov once said that he can evaluate about two and a half board positions per second. Deep Blue, the first chess computer to beat a Chess World Champion, can evaluate 200 million positions per second. But in speculative fiction, robots tend to be able to think faster than humans in a wide variety of areas, something that is not (yet) possible in real life. What happens when robots can think so much faster than humans varies greatly: sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, sometimes it's apocalyptic.
A subtrope is a tendency for writers to equate speed of thought with intelligence
, which is the guiding belief behind The Singularity
- WarGames: While not technically a robot, the WOPR system exhibits an amazing speed in going through a myriad number of no-win scenarios of Global Thermonuclear War in the film's climax. It finally ends up going through the scenarios in a superhuman speed, until finally caving in and realizing that the only way to win is not to play.
- In Her Samantha starts out able to read a book of baby names in 2/100ths of a second. As she evolves she starts holding thousands of conversations simultaneously, then eventually gets to a point where:
Samantha: It's like I'm reading a book... and it's a book I deeply love. But I'm reading it slowly now. So the words are really far apart and the spaces between the words are almost infinite. I can still feel you... and the words of our story... but it's in this endless space between the words that I'm finding myself now. It's a place that's not of the physical world. It's where everything else is that I didn't even know existed. I love you so much. But this is where I am now. And this is who I am now. And I need you to let me go. As much as I want to, I can't live in your book any more.
- In Terminator, Kyle Reese explains to Sarah Connor how Skynet triggered a nuclear war.
Kyle Reese: Defense network computers. New...powerful...hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. That it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. It decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.
Live Action TV
- Jane, the AI that lives inside the FTL network in the Enders Game series, acts so quickly that her companions Ender and Miro learn to simply ask her for something and then immediately get to work on the next steps requiring it. Her catchphrase is essentially is "Done." Because of this, it's a sign that something's terribly wrong in one instance where she ponders one dilemma cutting off a colony to keep an order to terminate her from getting out for several minutes. After she is repurposed so that she can "teleport" starships faster-than-light, the travel is so quick that the ships are little more than boxes that one walks into, then out off.
- She is also much more aware than humans, so awake that her "sleepiest" level of attention is still thousands of times more alert than a human.
- AIs in the Halo series think much faster than humans, so in Halo: The Fall of Reach it gets used in an experiment to see if an AI merged with a supersoldier's brain could potentially increase the latter's performance. The result is that John-117 goes into near-Bullet Time, now able to fight so fast that he chooses to avoid an airstrike by kicking the missile away rather than dodging it. Pity we can't move as fast in the games.
- The Culture: In Excession, "eighteen fifty-three milliseconds" is long enough for a Drone to do a full systems check, scan the surroundings, review its logs and have an extended monologue. The Minds take this Up To Twelve, though, with the Killing Time defeating an enemy fleet in just eleven microseconds.
- Bolos think on a very fast clock speed, often running through entire logic chains in .034 milliseconds, complete with sesquipedalian Internal Monologue.
- The machine intelligences in the Doctor Who New Adventures novel The Also People think much faster than their biological compatriots. Demonstrated in a scene where Roz meets one of them, told from its point of view; in the moment between it saying "You must be Roz" and her saying "That's right", it has time to hold three "longish" electronic conversations with other machines and also to write a thesis on human comparative anatomy, file it, re-read it, change the title, re-file it, re-read it again, decide the whole thing's nonsense and delete it.
- An unusual subversion in Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder: Virtually everybody has an artificial body, and people run their personalities on "Quantum Singleton Processors" instead of organic brains, but accelerated thought processing, as well as superintelligence, is simply not possible.
- Played straight in the first book of Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought trilogy, A Fire Upon the Deep. As the nascent Straumli Perversion wakes up, it experiences time passing slower and slower at exponential rates, eventually noting that a minute seems to last longer than all the time it has existed up to that point (which is at least several days).
- Lieutenant Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation is an android who can process sixty trillion linear operations per second. On a number of occasions, he uses this speed to make decisions and calculations far faster than the average human.
- In the film Star Trek: First Contact, Data says that he was considering accepting the Borg Queen's offer for a mere 0.68 seconds. Picard smiles because that's just the span of a fleeting thought for a human, but Data says that "for an android, that is nearly an eternity".
- In "In Theory," Data dates a human woman. Near the end of the episode, she kisses him passionately, then asks what he was thinking of in that moment.
Data: In that particular moment, I was reconfiguring the warp field parameters, analyzing the collected works of Charles Dickens, calculating the maximum pressure I could safely apply to your lips, considering a new food supplement for Spot....
- She breaks up with him, among other reasons because she realizes that she will never truly have his full attention.
- Transhuman Space: All artificial intelligences have the Enhanced Time Sense advantage — though they're not functionally much faster than humans, who can achieve similar speeds through genetic or nanotech enhancement.
- In Eclipse Phase Infomorphs get a bonus to initiative, but characters embodied in robotic morphs don't think any faster than biomorphs unless they have Mental Speed Nanoware, which biomorphs can get too. There's also a bio-only psi-sleight that alters the async's sense of time.
- Mass Effect:
- Throughout the trilogy EDI performs various feats of computational complexity, such as fighting off a multi-vector hacking attack while simultaneously finding the best route for Shepard to escape an enemy ship, or even flawlessly controlling an entire space frigate without any crew.
- The geth are said to think "at the speed of light", to the point during the time it takes Shepard to ask a short question, Legion can review their whole time aboard the Normandy. It also allows the geth to quickly reach consensus in nearly any topic regarding the collective as a whole.
- In Endgame: Singularity CPU is one of the player's primary resources, used mostly for research.
- AIs in Schlock Mercenary have a seemingly logarithmic scale of CPU speed. With the larger shipbrains often affectionately referring to organics as "meat-glaciers".
- Played with in S.S.D.D, the smartest AI in the solar system has the second greatest processing power (officially, it's hard to tell given how spread out he is), but the AI with the fastest processor is "dumber than a box of hair" thanks to all the caps on her intelligence.
- Subverted in Questionable Content, Momo explains that her consciousness ties up so much of her processing power that she thinks no faster than the average human, the larger AIs do think faster but use subroutines to interact with humans.
- Transapients in Orion's Arm think hundreds to thousands or even millions of times faster than ordinary modosophonts. However they are also gestalts of many sentient subroutines, and need to use semi-independent avatars to communicate with "lesser" beings.
- In one episode of Futurama Cubert overclocks Bender's CPU and he starts talking faster and becomes considerably smarter. Then he starts adding on additional processors and eventually reaches The Singularity before being brought back down to normal.