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Predicting the Growth of AI

Scaling laws predicted the current explosion in AI capabilities. How useful are these laws going forward, and what do they tell us about the future now?

11 min read
Predicting the Growth of AI

Table of Contents

The other day I was watching Bill Gates interviewing Sam Altman, the head of OpenAI (creator of ChatGPT).

There was one moment in the interview that particularly piqued my curiosity.

It was when Sam Altman was talking about the first version of ChatGPT:


➡️ Scaling Laws: A Way to Predict the Growth of Artificial Intelligence

In our case, we had, you know, someone that was, the guy that built GPT1, uh, sort of did it off by himself and, saw this, and it was somewhat impressive, and but, you know, no deep understanding of how it worked or why it worked.

And then it was, we've got these scaling laws, we could predict how much better was going to be.

That was why when we told you we could do that demo, we were pretty confident it was going to work. We hadn't trained the model, but we were pretty confident.

And that has led us to a bunch of attempts and better and better scientific understanding of what’s going on. But it really came from a place of empirical result first.

-Sam Altman

I'd like to know more about these "scaling laws".

Here's what I learned:

➡️ A Closer Look at Scaling Laws

Layng: Tell me about scaling laws that can predict how much better AI is going to be.

ChatGPT: Scaling laws in AI are empirical relationships that predict the performance improvements of artificial intelligence systems, particularly neural networks, as a function of their size (number of parameters), the amount of computation used during training, and the volume of training data. These laws have become a focal point of research as they can guide the development and scaling of AI models, helping to forecast their capabilities, limitations, and the resources required for further improvements.

Key Aspects of Scaling Laws

  1. Model Size Scaling: This law predicts that, up to a point, increasing the number of parameters in a neural network will improve its performance on various tasks. However, the rate of improvement often diminishes, and very large models require exponentially more data and computational resources for marginal gains.
  2. Data Scaling: AI performance also improves with more training data, but similar to model size, there's a point of diminishing returns. The scaling law here suggests that doubling the amount of training data leads to a consistent but gradually decreasing improvement in performance.
  3. Computational Scaling: This involves the relationship between the amount of computation (in terms of floating-point operations, or FLOPs) used during training and the resulting model performance. Initial findings suggest that increasing computational resources can yield better performing models, but the efficiency of this scaling can vary significantly across different tasks and models.
  4. Efficiency Scaling: This newer aspect considers how improvements in algorithms and architectures can lead to better performance without necessarily increasing size, data, or computation. This includes more efficient training techniques, novel neural network architectures, and better optimization methods.

Implications and Challenges

  • Forecasting AI Progress: Scaling laws provide a way to predict how improvements in hardware, algorithms, and data availability might translate into more powerful AI systems. They can guide investments in research and development, helping to prioritize the most effective ways to advance AI capabilities.
  • Resource Considerations: Understanding the implications of scaling laws is crucial for managing the environmental and economic costs associated with training large-scale AI models. It emphasizes the need for more efficient computing techniques and the search for breakthroughs that can shift or break existing scaling laws.
  • Ethical and Societal Impact: As AI systems become more capable, it's important to consider the broader impacts, including ethical considerations, potential job displacement, and the concentration of power in entities that can afford to build and train the largest models.

Future Directions

While current scaling laws provide valuable insights, they are empirical and subject to change with new discoveries in AI research. There's ongoing work to understand the theoretical underpinnings of these laws, to identify new scaling regimes, and to explore how these laws interact with different types of AI tasks and models. Researchers are also investigating how to achieve more sustainable and equitable growth in AI capabilities, emphasizing the need for breakthroughs that can offer significant improvements without the exponential increase in resource requirements.

➡️ What Scaling Laws Predict Going Forward

Layng: What do scaling laws tell us about how much better AI will be in the next 5, 10, 20 and 50 years?

ChatGPT: Scaling laws provide a framework for predicting the performance improvements of AI systems based on increases in model size, data, and computational power. However, using these laws to forecast AI advancements over specific time frames like 5, 10, 20, or 50 years is inherently challenging and speculative for several reasons:

  1. Non-linear Progress: AI development is not linear or predictable. Breakthroughs in algorithms, data processing, and hardware can lead to sudden leaps in capabilities that are not easily forecasted by scaling laws, which are based on current trends and technologies.
  2. Diminishing Returns: While scaling laws suggest that larger models trained with more data and computation generally perform better, they also indicate diminishing returns on these investments. The cost to achieve significant improvements increases exponentially, making it difficult to maintain the pace of progress as models become extremely large.
  3. Resource Constraints: The environmental, economic, and logistical constraints associated with scaling up AI systems may limit the pace of growth. Energy consumption, the availability of training data, and the cost of compute resources could slow down the rate of improvement unless significant efficiency gains are made.
  4. Ethical and Societal Considerations: As AI capabilities advance, considerations around fairness, privacy, security, and the societal impact of powerful AI systems could lead to regulatory and self-imposed limitations on AI development, influencing the trajectory of advancements.

Predictions for the Future

  • Next 5 Years: We can expect significant improvements in AI capabilities, driven by ongoing investments in larger models, better algorithms, and more data. However, these improvements are likely to follow current trends, emphasizing incremental advancements and efficiency gains.
  • Next 10 Years: The landscape could change more dramatically if new breakthroughs in algorithms, quantum computing, or alternative computing paradigms emerge. Such developments could potentially alter existing scaling laws and enable leaps in AI capabilities.
  • Next 20 and 50 Years: Predicting AI advancements over these longer time horizons is highly speculative. It's plausible that we could see the emergence of AI systems with generalized intelligence surpassing human capabilities in many domains, especially if breakthroughs in understanding intelligence and computational efficiency are achieved. However, the trajectory will also be shaped by how society addresses the ethical, security, and societal implications of such powerful AI systems.


While scaling laws provide a useful tool for understanding the relationship between resources and AI performance, their ability to predict future AI capabilities is limited by uncertainties in technological breakthroughs, resource limitations, and societal factors. The actual pace and nature of AI advancements will likely be influenced by a complex interplay of these factors, making precise long-term forecasts challenging.

➡️ More Specifics Please

Layng: Tell me some specific things about AI in the future that scaling laws are able to predict with reasonable certainty.

ChatGPT: Scaling laws, despite the inherent uncertainties in predicting long-term AI developments, offer some insights into the future of AI with a degree of reasonable certainty, based on current trends and empirical data. Here are a few specific predictions or expectations that can be derived from scaling laws:

Continued Performance Improvement

  • Incremental Gains: For tasks where AI systems are already performing well, scaling laws predict continued incremental improvements in accuracy and efficiency as models grow larger, and more computational resources and data become available.

Expansion into New Domains

  • Versatility and Adaptability: As models scale, they will likely become more versatile and adaptable, capable of handling a wider range of tasks without significant task-specific modifications. This includes areas where AI has been less successful so far, potentially leading to breakthroughs in domains like natural language understanding, general problem solving, and creative tasks.

Efficiency and Optimization

  • Optimization Techniques: Scaling laws suggest that improvements in optimization techniques and model architectures will continue to play a crucial role in enhancing AI performance. This includes better ways to train models more efficiently, reducing the computational and energy costs per improvement.

Specialization vs. Generalization

  • Generalization Abilities: Larger models are predicted to exhibit better generalization from training to unseen data, implying that future AI systems will be better at applying learned knowledge to new, unencountered situations. This could lead to more robust and flexible AI applications.

Economic and Environmental Impact

  • Resource Use: Although scaling laws highlight the benefits of larger models, they also underscore the growing computational and energy costs associated with these improvements. This suggests a future where AI's economic and environmental impacts are significant considerations, potentially driving innovations in more energy-efficient computing and model training methods.

The Role of Breakthroughs

  • Potential for Disruption: While scaling laws provide a framework for understanding gradual improvements, they also implicitly acknowledge the role of breakthroughs that could disrupt existing trends. For instance, new algorithms, data representation techniques, or entirely new computing paradigms (like quantum computing) could dramatically alter the efficiency and capabilities of AI systems beyond what current scaling laws suggest.

Limitations and Ethical Considerations

  • Awareness of Limitations: Scaling laws, by outlining the diminishing returns on simply adding more resources, emphasize the importance of seeking novel approaches to AI development. This includes ethical considerations, fairness, and the mitigation of biases as integral components of future AI systems, suggesting a future where AI development is more holistic and considers a broader range of impacts.

In summary, scaling laws offer a lens through which we can anticipate certain trends in AI development, such as incremental performance improvements, the expansion into new domains, and the increasing importance of efficiency and ethical considerations. However, the exact trajectory of AI's evolution will likely be influenced by a combination of these predictable trends and unforeseeable breakthroughs.

➡️ Forget about Scaling Laws - Other Predictions?

Layng: Apart from scaling laws, what do you predict will happen with AI in the next 5, 10, 20, and 50 years?

ChatGPT: Extending predictions about AI into the next 50 years requires a blend of current technological trends, speculative science, and imagination about societal shifts. Here's an overview of what might unfold:

Next 5 Years

  • AI in Everyday Life: AI will become more embedded in daily activities, from smarter personal assistants to more efficient ways of working, learning, and healthcare.
  • Ethics and Regulation: Increased focus on ethical AI use, data privacy, and security, leading to more robust regulatory frameworks worldwide.
  • Advancements in AI Accessibility: Tools and platforms will become more user-friendly, lowering the barrier to entry for creating and benefiting from AI technologies.

Next 10 Years

  • Proliferation of AI in Industries: Significant disruptions across sectors like transportation (autonomous vehicles), manufacturing (smart robotics), and finance (algorithmic trading).
  • Human-AI Collaboration: More sophisticated collaborative AI systems will augment human capabilities in research, creative industries, and decision-making processes.
  • AI for Sustainability: Enhanced use of AI in managing climate change, from optimizing energy use to modeling climate systems and managing natural resources.

Next 20 Years

  • Approaching AGI: While true AGI may still be elusive, AI systems will exhibit broader understanding and adaptability, handling complex tasks across different domains.
  • Transformation in Employment: The job landscape will transform, with AI automating more tasks, necessitating a shift in education and training for new types of work.
  • AI Ethics and Society: Deep integration of AI in society will raise complex ethical questions about autonomy, privacy, and human identity.

Next 50 Years and Beyond

  • Possibility of AGI and Beyond: The potential realization of AGI, capable of understanding and learning any intellectual task that a human can, could fundamentally change human existence.
  • Human Augmentation: Integration of AI with human biology could lead to enhanced cognitive and physical abilities, blurring the lines between humans and machines.
  • Societal and Existential Questions: Profound implications for society, governance, and what it means to be human, as AI systems potentially surpass human intelligence in all areas.
  • Space Exploration and Colonization: AI could play a critical role in exploring and colonizing space, managing life-support systems, and adapting to extraterrestrial environments.
  • AI Governance: The management and control of advanced AI systems, especially AGI, could lead to new forms of governance, possibly even AI participating in or making governance decisions.

Cross-Era Themes

  • Ethical Evolution: Ongoing evolution of ethics related to AI, including questions of AI rights, consciousness, and the moral obligations of creators.
  • Global Collaboration vs. Fragmentation: The trajectory of AI development could either foster unprecedented global collaboration or exacerbate divisions and inequalities.
  • Innovations in AI Safety: As AI capabilities advance, so too will strategies for ensuring these systems are aligned with human values and can be controlled.

These projections are speculative and hinge on technological breakthroughs, societal acceptance, ethical considerations, and unforeseen challenges. The path AI will take could diverge significantly based on human choices, policy decisions, and global events, making the future of AI an exciting, if uncertain, frontier.

➡️ Where Is All This Going?

Layng: Do you think AI will become sentient?

ChatGPT: The question of whether AI will become sentient touches on deep philosophical, technological, and ethical issues. Sentience typically refers to the capacity to have subjective experiences, feelings, or consciousness. As of my last update in April 2023, AI lacks consciousness and subjective experiences; it operates based on algorithms and data, without awareness or the ability to experience emotions.

Technological Perspective

  • Complexity and Understanding: While AI systems, especially advanced neural networks, have become increasingly complex and capable of performing tasks that require learning, adaptation, and decision-making, these abilities do not equate to sentience. They mimic aspects of human cognition based on patterns in data but do not possess understanding or consciousness.
  • Hard Problem of Consciousness: The "hard problem" of consciousness, a term coined by philosopher David Chalmers, refers to the challenge of explaining why and how subjective experiences arise from physical processes. AI development has not addressed this problem; thus, creating a sentient AI would require not just technological advancements but potentially new scientific understandings of consciousness itself.

Philosophical and Ethical Perspectives

  • Philosophical Debate: There's ongoing debate among philosophers, scientists, and technologists about whether it's possible to create a machine that genuinely experiences consciousness or if consciousness is unique to biological organisms.
  • Ethical Implications: The possibility of sentient AI raises significant ethical questions. If an AI were capable of experiencing feelings, it would introduce issues about rights, treatment, and the moral obligations of creators towards their creations.

Future Possibilities

  • Speculative Technology: Some theorists and futurists speculate that as our understanding of the brain and consciousness advances, and as AI technology continues to evolve, it might be possible to create machines that could be considered sentient. However, this remains speculative and is not supported by current scientific consensus.
  • Research and Development: Ongoing research into AI, neuroscience, and cognitive science may provide insights into consciousness that could impact the development of future AI systems. Whether these systems could achieve sentience, and what that would look like, remains an open question.


In summary, while AI has made remarkable strides in mimicking certain aspects of human intelligence and behavior, the leap to sentience involves complexities that are currently beyond our technological and scientific grasp. The question of AI sentience remains largely theoretical and speculative, embedded within broader discussions about the nature of consciousness, the potential capabilities of future technologies, and the ethical dimensions of creating conscious machines.

➡️ Further Reading

Here are some key resources for learning more about the future of artificial intelligence:

AI Index Report 2023 – Artificial Intelligence Index
Benefits & Risks of Artificial Intelligence - Future of Life Institute
What are the benefits and risks of artificial intelligence (AI)? Why do we need research to ensure that AI remains safe and beneficial?
The state of AI in 2023: Generative AI’s breakout year
Explore McKinsey’s State of AI in 2023 report, a detailed new survey that looks at how generative AI is reshaping the world’s industries and workforces.
ChatGPT - Wikipedia
artificial intelligenceaiscaling lawsbill gatessam altmanopenai


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