Nothing will make you appreciate human intelligence like learning about how unbelievably challenging it is to try to create a computer as smart as we are.
This article originally appeared on Wait But Why by Tim Urban. This is Part 1 Part 2 is here.
We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.
What does it feel like to stand here?
It seems like a pretty intense place to be standing but then you have to remember something about what its like to stand on a time graph: You cant see whats to your right. So heres how it actually feels to stand there:
Which probably feels pretty normal
Imagine taking a time machine back to 1750 a time when the world was in a permanent power outage, long-distance communication meant either yelling loudly or firing a cannon in the air, and all transportation ran on hay. When you get there, you retrieve a dude, bring him to 2015, and then walk him around and watch him react to everything. Its impossible for us to understand what it would be like for him to see shiny capsules racing by on a highway, talk to people who had been on the other side of the ocean earlier in the day, watch sports that were being played 1,000 miles away, hear a musical performance that happened 50 years ago, and play with my magical wizard rectangle that he could use to capture a real-life image or record a living moment, generate a map with a paranormal moving blue dot that shows him where he is, look at someones face and chat with them even though theyre on the other side of the country, and worlds of other inconceivable sorcery. This is all before you show him the internet or explain things like the International Space Station, the Large Hadron Collider, nuclear weapons, or general relativity.
This experience for him wouldnt be surprising or shocking or even mind-blowing those words arent big enough. He might actually die.
But heres the interesting thing if he then went back to 1750 and got jealous that we got to see his reaction and decided he wanted to try the same thing, hed take the time machine and go back the same distance, get someone from around the year 1500, bring him to 1750, and show him everything. And the 1500 guy would be shocked by a lot of thingsbut he wouldnt die. It would be far less of an insane experience for him, because while 1500 and 1750 were very different, they were much less different than 1750 to 2015. The 1500 guy would learn some mind-bending shit about space and physics, hed be impressed with how committed Europe turned out to be with that new imperialism fad, and hed have to do some major revisions of his world map conception. But watching everyday life go by in 1750 transportation, communication, etc. definitely wouldnt make him die.
No, in order for the 1750 guy to have as much fun as we had with him, hed have to go much farther back maybe all the way back to about 12,000 BC, before the First Agricultural Revolution gave rise to the first cities and to the concept of civilization. If someone from a purely hunter-gatherer world from a time when humans were, more or less, just another animal species saw the vast human empires of 1750 with their towering churches, their ocean-crossing ships, their concept of being inside, and their enormous mountain of collective, accumulated human knowledge and discovery hed likely die.
And then what if, after dying, he got jealous and wanted to do the same thing. If he went back 12,000 years to 24,000 BC and got a guy and brought him to 12,000 BC, hed show the guy everything and the guy would be like, Okay whats your point who cares. For the 12,000 BC guy to have the same fun, hed have to go back over 100,000 years and get someone he could show fire and language to for the first time.
In order for someone to be transported into the future and die from the level of shock theyd experience, they have to go enough years ahead that a die level of progress, or a Die Progress Unit (DPU) has been achieved. So a DPU took over 100,000 years in hunter-gatherer times, but at the post-Agricultural Revolution rate, it only took about 12,000 years. The post-Industrial Revolution world has moved so quickly that a 1750 person only needs to go forward a couple hundred years for a DPU to have happened.
This pattern human progress moving quicker and quicker as time goes on is what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls human historys Law of Accelerating Returns. This happens because more advanced societies have the ability to progress at a faster rate than less advanced societies because theyre more advanced. 19th century humanity knew more and had better technology than 15th century humanity, so its no surprise that humanity made far more advances in the 19th century than in the 15th century 15th century humanity was no match for 19th century humanity.
This works on smaller scales too. The movie Back to the Future came out in 1985, and the past took place in 1955. In the movie, when Michael J. Fox went back to 1955, he was caught off-guard by the newness of TVs, the prices of soda, the lack of love for shrill electric guitar, and the variation in slang. It was a different world, yes but if the movie were made today and the past took place in 1985, the movie could have had much more fun with much bigger differences. The character would be in a time before personal computers, internet, or cell phones todays Marty McFly, a teenager born in the late 90s, would be much more out of place in 1985 than the movies Marty McFly was in 1955.
This is for the same reason we just discussed the Law of Accelerating Returns. The average rate of advancement between 1985 and 2015 was higher than the rate between 1955 and 1985 because the former was a more advanced world so much more change happened in the most recent 30 years than in the prior 30.
So advances are getting bigger and bigger and happening more and more quickly. This suggests some pretty intense things about our future, right?
Kurzweil suggests that the progress of the entire 20th century would have been achieved in only 20 years at the rate of advancement in the year 2000 in other words, by 2000, the rate of progress was five times faster than the average rate of progress during the 20th century. He believes another 20th centurys worth of progress happened between 2000 and 2014 and that another 20th centurys worth of progress will happen by 2021, in only seven years. A couple decades later, he believes a 20th centurys worth of progress will happen multiple times in the same year, and even later, in less than one month. All in all, because of the Law of Accelerating Returns, Kurzweil believes that the 21st century will achieve 1,000 times the progress of the 20th century.
If Kurzweil and others who agree with him are correct, then we may be as blown away by 2030 as our 1750 guy was by 2015 i.e. the next DPU might only take a couple decades and the world in 2050 might be so vastly different than todays world that we would barely recognize it.
This isnt science fiction. Its what many scientists smarter and more knowledgeable than you or I firmly believe and if you look at history, its what we should logically predict.
So then why, when you hear me say something like the world 35 years from now might be totally unrecognizable, are you thinking, Cool.but nahhhhhhh? Three reasons were skeptical of outlandish forecasts of the future:
1) When it comes to history, we think in straight lines. When we imagine the progress of the next 30 years, we look back to the progress of the previous 30 as an indicator of how much will likely happen. When we think about the extent to which the world will change in the 21st century, we just take the 20th century progress and add it to the year 2000. This was the same mistake our 1750 guy made when he got someone from 1500 and expected to blow his mind as much as his own was blown going the same distance ahead. Its most intuitive for us to think linearly, when we should be thinking exponentially. If someone is being more clever about it, they might predict the advances of the next 30 years not by looking at the previous 30 years, but by taking the current rate of progress and judging based on that. Theyd be more accurate, but still way off. In order to think about the future correctly, you need to imagine things moving at a much faster rate than theyre moving now.
2) The trajectory of very recent history often tells a distorted story. First, even a steep exponential curve seems linear when you only look at a tiny slice of it, the same way if you look at a little segment of a huge circle up close, it looks almost like a straight line. Second, exponential growth isnt totally smooth and uniform. Kurzweil explains that progress happens in S-curves:
An S is created by the wave of progress when a new paradigm sweeps the world. The curve goes through three phases:
If you look only at very recent history, the part of the S-curve youre on at the moment can obscure your perception of how fast things are advancing. The chunk of time between 1995 and 2007 saw the explosion of the internet, the introduction of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook into the public consciousness, the birth of social networking, and the introduction of cell phones and then smart phones. That was Phase 2: the growth spurt part of the S. But 2008 to 2015 has been less groundbreaking, at least on the technological front. Someone thinking about the future today might examine the last few years to gauge the current rate of advancement, but thats missing the bigger picture. In fact, a new, huge Phase 2 growth spurt might be brewing right now.
3) Our own experience makes us stubborn old men about the future. We base our ideas about the world on our personal experience, and that experience has ingrained the rate of growth of the recent past in our heads as the way things happen. Were also limited by our imagination, which takes our experience and uses it to conjure future predictions but often, what we know simply doesnt give us the tools to think accurately about the future. When we hear a prediction about the future that contradicts our experience-based notion of how things work, our instinct is that the prediction must be naive. If I tell you, later in this post, that you may live to be 150, or 250, or not die at all, your instinct will be, Thats stupid if theres one thing I know from history, its that everybody dies. And yes, no one in the past has not died. But no one flew airplanes before airplanes were invented either.
So while nahhhhh might feel right as you read this post, its probably actually wrong. The fact is, if were being truly logical and expecting historical patterns to continue, we should conclude that much, much, much more should change in the coming decades than we intuitively expect. Logic also suggests that if the most advanced species on a planet keeps making larger and larger leaps forward at an ever-faster rate, at some point, theyll make a leap so great that it completely alters life as they know it and the perception they have of what it means to be a human kind of like how evolution kept making great leaps toward intelligence until finally it made such a large leap to the human being that it completely altered what it meant for any creature to live on planet Earth. And if you spend some time reading about whats going on today in science and technology, you start to see a lot of signs quietly hinting that life as we currently know it cannot withstand the leap thats coming next.
If youre like me, you used to think Artificial Intelligence was a silly sci-fi concept, but lately youve been hearing it mentioned by serious people, and you dont really quite get it.
There are three reasons a lot of people are confused about the term AI:
1) We associate AI with movies. Star Wars. Terminator. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even the Jetsons. And those are fiction, as are the robot characters. So it makes AI sound a little fictional to us.
2) AI is a broad topic. It ranges from your phones calculator to self-driving cars to something in the future that might change the world dramatically. AI refers to all of these things, which is confusing.
3) We use AI all the time in our daily lives, but we often dont realize its AI. John McCarthy, who coined the term Artificial Intelligence in 1956, complained that as soon as it works, no one calls it AI anymore. Because of this phenomenon, AI often sounds like a mythical future prediction more than a reality. At the same time, it makes it sound like a pop concept from the past that never came to fruition. Ray Kurzweil says he hears people say that AI withered in the 1980s, which he compares to insisting that the Internet died in the dot-com bust of the early 2000s.
So lets clear things up. First, stop thinking of robots. A robot is a container for AI, sometimes mimicking the human form, sometimes not but the AI itself is the computer inside the robot. AI is the brain, and the robot is its body if it even has a body. For example, the software and data behind Siri is AI, the womans voice we hear is a personification of that AI, and theres no robot involved at all.
Secondly, youve probably heard the term singularity or technological singularity. This term has been used in math to describe an asymptote-like situation where normal rules no longer apply. Its been used in physics to describe a phenomenon like an infinitely small, dense black hole or the point we were all squished into right before the Big Bang. Again, situations where the usual rules dont apply. In 1993, Vernor Vinge wrote a famous essay in which he applied the term to the moment in the future when our technologys intelligence exceeds our own a moment for him when life as we know it will be forever changed and normal rules will no longer apply. Ray Kurzweil then muddled things a bit by defining the singularity as the time when the Law of Accelerating Returns has reached such an extreme pace that technological progress is happening at a seemingly-infinite pace, and after which well be living in a whole new world. I found that many of todays AI thinkers have stopped using the term, and its confusing anyway, so I wont use it much here (even though well be focusing on that idea throughout).
Finally, while there are many different types or forms of AI since AI is a broad concept, the critical categories we need to think about are based on an AIs caliber. There are three major AI caliber categories:
AI Caliber 1) Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): Sometimes referred to as Weak AI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence is AI that specializes in one area. Theres AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but thats the only thing it does. Ask it to figure out a better way to store data on a hard drive, and itll look at you blankly.
AI Caliber 2) Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): Sometimes referred to as Strong AI, or Human-Level AI, Artificial General Intelligence refers to a computer that is as smart as a human across the board a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Creating AGI is a much harder task than creating ANI, and were yet to do it. Professor Linda Gottfredson describes intelligence as a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. AGI would be able to do all of those things as easily as you can.
AI Caliber 3) Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): Oxford philosopher and leading AI thinker Nick Bostrom defines superintelligence as an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills. Artificial Superintelligence ranges from a computer thats just a little smarter than a human to one thats trillions of times smarter across the board. ASI is the reason the topic of AI is such a spicy meatball and why the words immortality and extinction will both appear in these posts multiple times.
As of now, humans have conquered the lowest caliber of AI ANI in many ways, and its everywhere. The AI Revolution is the road from ANI, through AGI, to ASI a road we may or may not survive but that, either way, will change everything.
Lets take a close look at what the leading thinkers in the field believe this road looks like and why this revolution might happen way sooner than you might think:
Artificial Narrow Intelligence is machine intelligence that equals or exceeds human intelligence or efficiency at a specific thing. A few examples:
ANI systems as they are now arent especially scary. At worst, a glitchy or badly-programmed ANI can cause an isolated catastrophe like knocking out a power grid, causing a harmful nuclear power plant malfunction, or triggering a financial markets disaster (like the 2010 Flash Crash when an ANI program reacted the wrong way to an unexpected situation and caused the stock market to briefly plummet, taking $1 trillion of market value with it, only part of which was recovered when the mistake was corrected).
But while ANI doesnt have the capability to cause an existential threat, we should see this increasingly large and complex ecosystem of relatively-harmless ANI as a precursor of the world-altering hurricane thats on the way. Each new ANI innovation quietly adds another brick onto the road to AGI and ASI. Or as Aaron Saenz sees it, our worlds ANI systems are like the amino acids in the early Earths primordial ooze the inanimate stuff of life that, one unexpected day, woke up.
Why Its So Hard
Nothing will make you appreciate human intelligence like learning about how unbelievably challenging it is to try to create a computer as smart as we are. Building skyscrapers, putting humans in space, figuring out the details of how the Big Bang went down all far easier than understanding our own brain or how to make something as cool as it. As of now, the human brain is the most complex object in the known universe.
Whats interesting is that the hard parts of trying to build AGI (a computer as smart as humans in general, not just at one narrow specialty) are not intuitively what youd think they are. Build a computer that can multiply two ten-digit numbers in a split second incredibly easy. Build one that can look at a dog and answer whether its a dog or a cat spectacularly difficult. Make AI that can beat any human in chess? Done. Make one that can read a paragraph from a six-year-olds picture book and not just recognize the words but understand the meaning of them? Google is currently spending billions of dollars trying to do it. Hard things like calculus, financial market strategy, and language translationare mind-numbingly easy for a computer, while easy things like vision, motion, movement, and perception are insanely hard for it. Or, as computer scientist Donald Knuth puts it, AI has by now succeeded in doing essentially everything that requires thinking but has failed to do most of what people and animals do without thinking.
What you quickly realize when you think about this is that those things that seem easy to us are actually unbelievably complicated, and they only seem easy because those skills have been optimized in us (and most animals) by hundreds of million years of animal evolution. When you reach your hand up toward an object, the muscles, tendons, and bones in your shoulder, elbow, and wrist instantly perform a long series of physics operations, in conjunction with your eyes, to allow you to move your hand in a straight line through three dimensions. It seems effortless to you because you have perfected software in your brain for doing it. Same idea goes for why its not that malware is dumb for not being able to figure out the slanty word recognition test when you sign up for a new account on a siteits that your brain is super impressive for being able to.
On the other hand, multiplying big numbers or playing chess are new activities for biological creatures and we havent had any time to evolve a proficiency at them, so a computer doesnt need to work too hard to beat us. Think about itwhich would you rather do, build a program that could multiply big numbers or one that could understand the essence of a B well enough that you could show it a B in any one of thousands of unpredictable fonts or handwriting and it could instantly know it was a B?
One fun examplewhen you look at this, you and a computer both can figure out that its a rectangle with two distinct shades, alternating:
Tied so far. But if you pick up the black and reveal the whole image
you have no problem giving a full description of the various opaque and translucent cylinders, slats, and 3-D corners, but the computer would fail miserably. It would describe what it seesa variety of two-dimensional shapes in several different shadeswhich is actually whats there. Your brain is doing a ton of fancy shit to interpret the implied depth, shade-mixing, and room lighting the picture is trying to portray. And looking at the picture below, a computer sees a two-dimensional white, black, and gray collage, while you easily see what it really isa photo of an entirely-black, 3-D rock:
And everything we just mentioned is still only taking in stagnant information and processing it. To be human-level intelligent, a computer would have to understand things like the difference between subtle facial expressions, the distinction between being pleased, relieved, content, satisfied, and glad, and why Braveheart was great but The Patriot was terrible.
So how do we get there?
First Key to Creating AGI: Increasing Computational Power
One thing that definitely needs to happen for AGI to be a possibility is an increase in the power of computer hardware. If an AI system is going to be as intelligent as the brain, itll need to equal the brains raw computing capacity.
One way to express this capacity is in the total calculations per second (cps) the brain could manage, and you could come to this number by figuring out the maximum cps of each structure in the brain and then adding them all together.
Ray Kurzweil came up with a shortcut by taking someones professional estimate for the cps of one structure and that structures weight compared to that of the whole brain and then multiplying proportionally to get an estimate for the total. Sounds a little iffy, but he did this a bunch of times with various professional estimates of different regions, and the total always arrived in the same ballpark around 1016, or 10 quadrillion cps.
Currently, the worlds fastest supercomputer, Chinas Tianhe-2, has actually beaten that number, clocking in at about 34 quadrillion cps. But Tianhe-2 is also a dick, taking up 720 square meters of space, using 24 megawatts of power (the brain runs on just 20 watts, and costing $390 million to build. Not especially applicable to wide usage, or even most commercial or industrial usage yet.
Kurzweil suggests that we think about the state of computers by looking at how many cps you can buy for $1,000. When that number reaches human-level 10 quadrillion cps then thatll mean AGI could become a very real part of life.
Moores Law is a historically-reliable rule that the worlds maximum computing power doubles approximately every two years, meaning computer hardware advancement, like general human advancement through history, grows exponentially. Looking at how this relates to Kurzweils cps/$1,000 metric, were currently at about 10 trillion cps/$1,000, right on pace with this graphs predicted trajectory:
So the worlds $1,000 computers are now beating the mouse brain and theyre at about a thousandth of human level. This doesnt sound like much until you remember that we were at about a trillionth of human level in 1985, a billionth in 1995, and a millionth in 2005. Being at a thousandth in 2015 puts us right on pace to get to an affordable computer by 2025 that rivals the power of the brain.
So on the hardware side, the raw power needed for AGI is technically available now, in China, and well be ready for affordable, widespread AGI-caliber hardware within 10 years. But raw computational power alone doesnt make a computer generally intelligent the next question is, how do we bring human-level intelligence to all that power?
Second Key to Creating AGI: Making it Smart
This is the icky part. The truth is, no one really knows how to make it smart were still debating how to make a computer human-level intelligent and capable of knowing what a dog and a weird-written B and a mediocre movie is. But there are a bunch of far-fetched strategies out there and at some point, one of them will work. Here are the three most common strategies I came across:
1) Plagiarize the brain.
This is like scientists toiling over how that kid who sits next to them in class is so smart and keeps doing so well on the tests, and even though they keep studying diligently, they cant do nearly as well as that kid, and then they finally decide k fuck it Im just gonna copy that kids answers. It makes sensewere stumped trying to build a super-complex computer, and there happens to be a perfect prototype for one in each of our heads.
The science world is working hard on reverse engineering the brain to figure out how evolution made such a rad thing optimistic estimates say we can do this by 2030. Once we do that, well know all the secrets of how the brain runs so powerfully and efficiently and we can draw inspiration from it and steal its innovations. One example of computer architecture that mimics the brain is the artificial neural network. It starts out as a network of transistor neurons, connected to each other with inputs and outputs, and it knows nothinglike an infant brain. The way it learns is it tries to do a task, say handwriting recognition, and at first, its neural firings and subsequent guesses at deciphering each letter will be completely random. But when its told it got something right, the transistor connections in the firing pathways that happened to create that answer are strengthened; when its told it was wrong, those pathways connections are weakened. After a lot of this trial and feedback, the network has, by itself, formed smart neural pathways and the machine has become optimized for the task. The brain learns a bit like this but in a more sophisticated way, and as we continue to study the brain, were discovering ingenious new ways to take advantage of neural circuitry.
More extreme plagiarism involves a strategy called whole brain emulation, where the goal is to slice a real brain into thin layers, scan each one, use software to assemble an accurate reconstructed 3-D model, and then implement the model on a powerful computer. Wed then have a computer officially capable of everything the brain is capable of it would just need to learn and gather information. If engineers get really good, theyd be able to emulate a real brain with such exact accuracy that the brains full personality and memory would be intact once the brain architecture has been uploaded to a computer. If the brain belonged to Jim right before he passed away, the computer would now wake up as Jim (?, which would be a robust human-level AGI, and we could now work on turning Jim into an unimaginably smart ASI, which hed probably be really excited about.
How far are we from achieving whole brain emulation? Well so far, weve not yet just recently been able to emulate a 1mm-long flatworm brain, which consists of just 302 total neurons. The human brain contains 100 billion. If that makes it seem like a hopeless project, remember the power of exponential progress now that weve conquered the tiny worm brain, an ant might happen before too long, followed by a mouse, and suddenly this will seem much more plausible.
2) Try to make evolution do what it did before but for us this time.
So if we decide the smart kids test is too hard to copy, we can try to copy the way he studies for the tests instead.
Heres something we know. Building a computer as powerful as the brain is possible our own brains evolution is proof. And if the brain is just too complex for us to emulate, we could try to emulate evolution instead. The fact is, even if we can emulate a brain, that might be like trying to build an airplane by copying a birds wing-flapping motionsoften, machines are best designed using a fresh, machine-oriented approach, not by mimicking biology exactly.
So how can we simulate evolution to build AGI? The method, called genetic algorithms, would work something like this: there would be a performance-and-evaluation process that would happen again and again (the same way biological creatures perform by living life and are evaluated by whether they manage to reproduce or not). A group of computers would try to do tasks, and the most successful ones would be bred with each other by having half of each of their programming merged together into a new computer. The less successful ones would be eliminated. Over many, many iterations, this natural selection process would produce better and better computers. The challenge would be creating an automated evaluation and breeding cycle so this evolution process could run on its own.
The downside of copying evolution is that evolution likes to take a billion years to do things and we want to do this in a few decades.
But we have a lot of advantages over evolution. First, evolution has no foresight and works randomly it produces more unhelpful mutations than helpful ones, but we would control the process so it would only be driven by beneficial glitches and targeted tweaks. Secondly, evolution doesnt aim for anything, including intelligence sometimes an environment might even select against higher intelligence (since it uses a lot of energy). We, on the other hand, could specifically direct this evolutionary process toward increasing intelligence. Third, to select for intelligence, evolution has to innovate in a bunch of other ways to facilitate intelligence like revamping the ways cells produce energy when we can remove those extra burdens and use things like electricity. Its no doubt wed be much, much faster than evolution but its still not clear whether well be able to improve upon evolution enough to make this a viable strategy.
3) Make this whole thing the computers problem, not ours.
This is when scientists get desperate and try to program the test to take itself. But it might be the most promising method we have.
The idea is that wed build a computer whose two major skills would be doing research on AI and coding changes into itself allowing it to not only learn but to improve its own architecture. Wed teach computers to be computer scientists so they could bootstrap their own development. And that would be their main job figuring out how to make themselves smarter. More on this later.
All of This Could Happen Soon
Rapid advancements in hardware and innovative experimentation with software are happening simultaneously, and AGI could creep up on us quickly and unexpectedly for two main reasons:
1) Exponential growth is intense and what seems like a snails pace of advancement can quickly race upwardsthis GIF illustrates this concept nicely:
2) When it comes to software, progress can seem slow, but then one epiphany can instantly change the rate of advancement (kind of like the way science, during the time humans thought the universe was geocentric, was having difficulty calculating how the universe worked, but then the discovery that it was heliocentric suddenly made everything much easier). Or, when it comes to something like a computer that improves itself, we might seem far away but actually be just one tweak of the system away from having it become 1,000 times more effective and zooming upward to human-level intelligence.
At some point, well have achieved AGI computers with human-level general intelligence. Just a bunch of people and computers living together in equality.
Oh actually not at all.
The thing is, AGI with an identical level of intelligence and computational capacity as a human would still have significant advantages over humans. Like:
AI, which will likely get to AGI by being programmed to self-improve, wouldnt see human-level intelligence as some important milestone its only a relevant marker from our point of view and wouldnt have any reason to stop at our level. And given the advantages over us that even human intelligence-equivalent AGI would have, its pretty obvious that it would only hit human intelligence for a brief instant before racing onwards to the realm of superior-to-human intelligence.
This may shock the shit out of us when it happens. The reason is that from our perspective, A) while the intelligence of different kinds of animals varies, the main characteristic were aware of about any animals intelligence is that its far lower than ours, and B) we view the smartest humans as WAY smarter than the dumbest humans. Kind of like this:
So as AI zooms upward in intelligence toward us, well see it as simply becoming smarter, for an animal. Then, when it hits the lowest capacity of humanityNick Bostrom uses the term the village idiot well be like, Oh wow, its like a dumb human. Cute! The only thing is, in the grand spectrum of intelligence, all humans, from the village idiot to Einstein, are within a very small range so just after hitting village idiot-level and being declared to be AGI, itll suddenly be smarter than Einstein and we wont know what hit us:
And what happensafter that?
I hope you enjoyed normal time, because this is when this topic gets unnormal and scary, and its gonna stay that way from here forward. I want to pause here to remind you that every single thing Im going to say is real real science and real forecasts of the future from a large array of the most respected thinkers and scientists. Just keep remembering that.
Anyway, as I said above, most of our current models for getting to AGI involve the AI getting there by self-improvement. And once it gets to AGI, even systems that formed and grew through methods that didnt involve self-improvement would now be smart enough to begin self-improving if they wanted to.
And heres where we get to an intense concept: recursive self-improvement. It works like this
An AI system at a certain level lets say human village idiot is programmed with the goal of improving its own intelligence. Once it does, its smarter maybe at this point its at Einsteins level so now when it works to improve its intelligence, with an Einstein-level intellect, it has an easier time and it can make bigger leaps. These leaps make it much smarter than any human, allowing it to make even bigger leaps. As the leaps grow larger and happen more rapidly, the AGI soars upwards in intelligence and soon reaches the superintelligent level of an ASI system. This is called an Intelligence Explosion, and its the ultimate example of The Law of Accelerating Returns.
There is some debate about how soon AI will reach human-level general intelligence the median year on a survey of hundreds of scientists about when they believed wed be more likely than not to have reached AGI was 2040 thats only 25 years from now, which doesnt sound that huge until you consider that many of the thinkers in this field think its likely that the progression from AGI to ASI happens very quickly. Like this could happen:
It takes decades for the first AI system to reach low-level general intelligence, but it finally happens. A computer is able to understand the world around it as well as a human four-year-old. Suddenly, within an hour of hitting that milestone, the system pumps out the grand theory of physics that unifies general relativity and quantum mechanics, something no human has been able to definitively do. 90 minutes after that, the AI has become an ASI, 170,000 times more intelligent than a human.
Superintelligence of that magnitude is not something we can remotely grasp, any more than a bumblebee can wrap its head around Keynesian Economics. In our world, smart means a 130 IQ and stupid means an 85 IQ we dont have a word for an IQ of 12,952.
What we do know is that humans utter dominance on this Earth suggests a clear rule: with intelligence comes power. Which means an ASI, when we create it, will be the most powerful being in the history of life on Earth, and all living things, including humans, will be entirely at its whim and this might happen in the next few decades.
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