Of an average, inconspicuous human being.

Like a lot of pontificaters, professional and amateur alike, I’ve had recent AI developments on my mind. Scary stuff, in many ways, all depending on the sort of newsletters you subscribe to. I was also reading Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, the great Russian novel of World War 2, finished in 1960 and very far from science fiction. One chapter, short enough I can type it all out, jumped out at me for reasons that should be clear enough.

An electronic machine can carry out mathematical calculations, remember historical facts, play chess and translate books from one language to another. It is able to solve mathematical problems more quickly than man and its memory is faultless. Is there any limit to progress, to its ability to create machines in the image and likeness of man? It seems that the answer is no.

It is not impossible to imagine the machine of future ages and millennia. It will be able to listen to music and appreciate art; it will even be able to compose melodies, paint pictures and write poems. Is there a limit to its perfection? Can it be compared to man? Will it surpass him?

Childhood memories … tears of happiness … the bitterness of parting … love of freedom … feelings of pity for a sick puppy … nervousness … a mother’s tenderness … thoughts of death … sadness … friendship … love of the weak … sudden hope … a fortunate guess … melancholy … unreasoning joy … sudden embarrassment …

The machine will be able to recreate all of this! But the surface of the whole earth will be too small to accommodate this machine — this machine whose dimensions and weight will continually increase as it attempts to reproduce the peculiarities of mind and soul of an average, inconspicuous human being.

Fascism annihilated tens of millions of people.

Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate, chapter 51. Translation by Robert Chandler