The agent of its happening, says Barrat, will be the artificial intelligences (AI) we are beginning to create. We are, he says, a good part of the way to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): machines competitive with ourselves in intellectual abilities, including self-awareness, intentionality, and guile“as in, the kind of guile needed to deceive us as to its abilities. Acting dumb could be an excellent AGI survival strategy.
Since the design of machines is one of [humanity’s] intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind.
Like the characters in a Vernor Vinge novel, we’d be sharing spacetime with ASI, Artificial Superintelligences”strange incomprehensible “powers” who are no more interested in us than we (with a few exceptions) are in ants.
This is one of those books that anticipates and answers all the objections that come to mind when you read a synopsis of it. Since AGI will be our creation, why don’t we just design it to be friendly? Aren’t self-awareness and intentionality uniquely human? What about the Chinese Room? And Moravec’s Paradox? (In AI, the hard things are easy, the easy ones hard. A computer that plays grandmaster-level chess? Easy. One that knows a dog from a cat on sight? Hard.) This book touches all bases.
Barrat, who makes science-themed documentary films for a living, comes in for some scorn in the Amazon reviews for reporting on a field in which he has no credentials. Pshaw: Science journalists do this all the time and are often more enlightening about the specialties they report on than are the specialists.
I thought Barrat did a good job. In addition to telling us what he thinks, he takes care to tell us what the experts think. At a conference of people active in AI research:
The breakdown was this: 42 percent anticipated AGI would be achieved by 2030; 25 percent by 2050; 20 percent by 2100; 10 percent by 2200; and 2 percent never.
He adds that “I got grief for not including dates before 2030.”
I can claim some slight acquaintance with this field, having attended a discussion group on AI spawned by a course in Mathematical Logic I took during my last year at university most of a lifetime ago. One of the first things I ever published touched on the problems we might have sharing our planet with AGI. (That was in the journal of the college’s Humanist Society, which I see still exists. Possibly my undergraduate lucubrations are in their archives.)
As I said, there’s an issue of temperament here. Some will scoff at the prospect of robo-wars; some will tremble. Who’s right, the scoffers or the tremblers? We”ll soon find out.
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