This essay, originally published in eight short parts, aims to necessity is the mother of invention long essay the current knowledge on Artificial Intelligence. Our last invention, greatest nightmare, or pathway to utopia?
Our last invention, greatest nightmare, or pathway to utopia? It explores the state of AI development, overviews its challenges and dangers, features work by the most significant scientists, and describes the main predictions of possible AI outcomes. Tim Urban of Wait But Why. I shortened it by a factor of 3, recreated all images, and tweaked it a bit. Assuming that human scientific activity continues without major disruptions, artificial intelligence may become either the most positive transformation of our history or, as many fear, our most dangerous invention of all. We are not talking about some imaginary future. With every coming year these advancements will accelerate and the technology will become more complex, addictive, and ubiquitous.
We will continue to outsource more and more kinds of mental work to computers, disrupting every part of our reality: the way we organize ourselves and our work, form communities, and experience the world. To more intuitively grasp the guiding principles of AI revolution, let’s first step away from scientific research. Let me invite you to take part in a story. Imagine that you’ve received a time machine and been given a quest to bring somebody from the past. So you wonder which era should you time-travel to, and decide to hop back around 200 years.
You get to the early 1800s, retrieve a guy and bring him back to 2016. After two minutes he is SAFDing. Now, both of you want to try the same thing, see somebody Spinning Around From Disbelief, but in your new friend’s era. Since 200 years worked, you jump back to the 1600s and bring a guy to the 1800s. He’s certainly genuinely interested in what he sees. SAFD will never happen to him. You feel that you need to jump back again, but somewhere radically further.
First Agricultural Revolution gave rise to the first cities and the concept of civilisations. He is SAFDing in the first two minutes. Now there are three of you, enormously excited to do it again. You know that it doesn’t make sense to go back another 15,000, 30,000 or 45,000 years. You have to jump back, again, radically further. So you pick up a guy from 100,000 years ago and you walk with him into large tribes with organized, sophisticated social hierarchies. He encounters a variety of hunting weapons, sophisticated tools, sees fire and for the first time experiences language in the form of signs and sounds.
You get the idea, it has to be immensely mind-blowing. He is SAFDing after two minutes. 200 years and if we look into the future it will rapidly shrink even further. Kurzweil believes that the 21st century will achieve 1,000 times the progress of the 20th century. 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, they’ll 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 what’s 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 that’s coming next. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is a broad term for the advancement of intelligence in computers. Despite varied opinions on this topic, most experts agree that there are three categories, or calibers, of AI development. AI that specializes in one area.
There’s AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does. Cars are full of ANI systems, from the computer that figures out when the anti-lock brakes kick in, to the computer that tunes the parameters of the fuel injection systems. Google search is one large ANI brain with incredibly sophisticated methods for ranking pages and figuring out what to show you in particular. Same goes for Facebook’s Newsfeed. Passenger planes are flown almost entirely by ANI, without the help of humans. ANI systems that allow it to perceive and react to the world around it. Pandora, check tomorrow’s weather, talk to Siri.
The world’s best Checkers, Chess, Scrabble, Backgammon, and Othello players are now all ANI systems. ANI systems as they are now aren’t especially scary. But while ANI doesn’t 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 that’s on the way. Each new ANI innovation quietly adds another brick onto the road to AGI and ASI.
This is how Google’s self-driving car sees the world. Make AI that can beat any human in chess? Make one that can read a paragraph from a six-year-old’s picture book and not just recognise the words but understand the meaning of them? Things that seem easy to us are actually unbelievably complicated. On the other hand, multiplying big numbers or playing chess are new activities for biological creatures and we haven’t had any time to evolve a proficiency at them, so a computer doesn’t need to work too hard to beat us.
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. 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 everything we just mentioned is still only taking in visual information and processing it. As of now, the human brain is the most complex object in the known universe.