Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, in his recent and celebrated book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, argues that advanced AI poses a potentially major existential risk to humanity, and that advanced AI development should be heavily regulated and perhaps even restricted to a small set of government-approved researchers.
Bostrom’s ideas and arguments are reviewed and explored in detail, and compared with the thinking of three other current thinkers on the nature and implications of AI: Eliezer Yudkowsky of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (formerly Singularity Institute for AI), and David Weinbaum (Weaver) and Viktoras Veitas of the Global Brain Institute. Relevant portions of Yudkowsky’s book Rationality: From AI to Zombies are briefly reviewed, and it is found that nearly all the core ideas of Bostrom’s work appeared previously or concurrently in Yudkowsky’s thinking.
However, Yudkowsky often presents these shared ideas in a more plain-spoken and extreme form, making clearer the essence of what is being claimed. For instance, the elitist strain of thinking that one sees in the background in Bostrom is plainly and openly articulated in Yudkowsky, with many of the same practical conclusions (e.g., that it may well be best if advanced AI is developed in secret by a small elite group).
Bostrom and Yudkowsky view intelligent systems through the lens of reinforcement learning — they view them as “reward-maximizers” and worry about what happens when a very powerful and intelligent reward-maximizer is paired with a goal system that gives rewards for achieving foolish goals, like tiling the universe with paperclips. Weinbaum and Veitas’s recent paper “Open-Ended Intelligence” presents a starkly alternative perspective on intelligence, viewing it as centered not on reward maximization, but rather on complex self-organization and self-transcending development that occurs in close coupling with a complex environment that is also ongoingly self-organizing, in only partially knowable ways.
It is concluded that Bostrom and Yudkowsky’s arguments for existential risk have some logical foundation, but are often presented in an exaggerated way. For instance, formal arguments whose implication is that the “worst case scenarios” for advanced AI development are extremely dire are often informally discussed as if they demonstrated the likelihood, rather than just the possibility, of highly negative outcomes. And potential dangers of reward-maximizing AI are taken as problems with AI in general, rather than just as problems of the reward-maximization paradigm as an approach to building superintelligence.
If one views past, current, and future intelligence as “open-ended,” in the vernacular of Weaver and Veitas, the potential dangers no longer appear to loom so large, and one sees a future that is wide-open, complex and uncertain, just as it has always been.
WHEN I WAS a wee Catholic lad growing up in the New York City suburbs of the late 1950s and early 1960s, I learned that good people go to heaven after they die. This was consoling. But it made me wonder precisely which part of me would go to heaven: my body, my mind, or my soul. Thanks to dead hamsters and such, I understood that bodies die, decay, and disperse. There was talk in school and at church of the resurrection of the body on Judgment Day, but that event, I reckoned, might not happen for several million years, and surely I’d be well ensconced in heaven by then. My mother tentatively explained that the part of me that loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate ice cream sodas would most likely not go to heaven, or, if it did, would not need or want peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chocolate ice cream sodas anymore — possibly, I speculated, because, in the heavenly state, I’d be able mentally to conjure those great pleasures without there being actual physical manifestations of me or them. I surmised that those perfectly good human desires would either be gone (because my body would be gone), or somehow be eternally satisfied.
So, which was it, my mind or my soul that would go to heaven? Or both? And how did they differ? I didn’t want to go to heaven without my personality and memories. I wanted to be in heaven with my brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, if not bodily then at least mentally. But personality and memories were, in my little boy ontology, associated with mind, and there was talk that the part of me that would go to heaven was something more ethereal than my mind. It was my eternal soul. But my soul, unlike my mind, seemed a bit too vague and general to be “me.” I wanted to be in heaven with me as me myself. Such were the vicissitudes of boyhood. I was troubled by three-ism. I was not, and am not, alone.
Could an AI avatar collect all your thoughts and memories, then become a digital clone of yourself and “live” forever?
It is 2015 and we are closer to launching the Eternime avatar that will eventually become your digital alter ego, your immortal bits-and-bytes clone. Two years, two pivots, all personal savings invested, a new team, more than 30,000 people waiting for it, and we’re one step further on this amazing journey, ready to launch and start fundraising for the next chapter. The past two years have been “part poetry, part hero’s journey, part weird Tarantino movie” as a friend of mine says, so here’s the story of the Eternime journey until today.
I consider Ray Kurzweil a very close friend and a very smart person. Ray is a brilliant technologist, futurist, and a director of engineering at Google focused on AI and language processing. He has also made more correct (and documented) technolo...
The idea that our ability to reflect has been outsourced to algorithms may seem hyperbolic. We assume we have agency regarding the choices we make, influenced by the paradigm of personalization but not subsumed within a Matrix of someone else’s making.
But how do you know? Have you created a list of activities you’d never delegate? Could you even discern where your moral boundaries end and codified biases begin?
While welcoming the feedback that sensors, data and Artificial Intelligence provide, we’re at a critical inflection point. Demarcating the parameters between assistance and automation has never been more central to human well-being. But today, beauty is in the AI of the beholder. Desensitized to the value of personal data, we hemorrhage precious insights regarding our identity that define the moral nuances necessary to navigate algorithmic modernity.
If no values-based standards exist for Artificial Intelligence, then the biases of its manufacturers will define our universal code of human ethics. But this should not be their cross to bear alone. It’s time to stop vilifying the AI community and start defining in concert with their creations what the good life means surrounding our consciousness and code.
Among dance forms, tango holds a unique and potent allure. It showcases two individuals—each with a separate mind, body, and bundle of goals and intentions, moving at times in close embrace, at times stepping away from each other, improvising moves and flourishes while responding to the imaginative overtures of the other—who somehow manage to give the impression of two bodies answering to a single mind. For performers and viewers alike, much of tango’s appeal comes from this apparent psychic fusion into a super-individual unit. Michael Kimmel, a social and cultural anthropologist who has researched the interpersonal dynamics of tango, writes that dancers “speak in awe of the way that individuality dissolves into a meditative unity for the three minutes that the dance lasts. Time and space give way to a unique moment of presence, of flow within and between partners.”
Tango offers more than aesthetic bliss; like all artistic practices that demand great skill, it also presents a seductive scientific puzzle, highlighting the mind’s potential to learn and re-shape itself in dramatic ways. But it’s only very recently that scientists have started building a systematic framework to explain how a person might achieve the sort of fusion that is needed for activities like social dancing, and what the impact of such an interpersonal entanglement might be.
At the heart of the puzzle is the notion of a body schema—a mental representation of the physical self that allows us to navigate through space without smashing into things, to scratch our nose without inadvertently smacking it, and to know how far and how quickly to reach for a cup of coffee without knocking it over. We can do all these things because our brains have learned to identify the edges of our bodies using information from multiple senses and devote exquisite attention to stimuli near our bodily boundaries.
Scientists from Imperial College London have identified two clusters (“gene networks”) of genes that are linked to human intelligence. Called M1 and M3, these gene networks appear to influence cognitive function, which includes memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning.
Importantly, the scientists have discovered that these two networks are likely to be under the control of master regulator switches. The researcher want to identify those switches and see if they can manipulate them, and ultimately find out if this knowledge of gene networks could allow for boosting cognitive function.
“We know that genetics plays a major role in intelligence but until now, haven’t known which genes are relevant,” said Michael Johnson, lead author of the study from the Imperial College London Department of Medicine. Johnson says the genes they have found so far are likely to share a common regulation, which means it may be possible to manipulate a whole set of genes linked to human intelligence.
Combining data from brain samples, genomic information, and IQ tests
In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the international team of researchers looked at samples of human brain from patients who had undergone neurosurgery for epilepsy. The investigators analyzed thousands of genes expressed in the human brain, and then combined these results with genetic information from healthy people who had undergone IQ tests and from people with neurological disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability.
Then they conducted various computational analyses and comparisons to identify the gene networks influencing healthy human cognitive abilities. Remarkably, they found that some of the same genes that influence human intelligence in healthy people cause impaired cognitive ability and epilepsy when mutated. And they found that genes that make new memories or sensible decisions when faced with lots of complex information also overlap with those that cause severe childhood onset epilepsy or intellectual disability.
Bostrom and Yudkowsky view intelligent systems through the lens of reinforcement learning – they view them as “reward-maximizers” and worry about what happens when a very powerful and intelligent reward-maximizer is paired with a goal system that gives rewards for achieving foolish goals like tiling the universe with paperclips. Weinbaum and Veitas’s recent paper “Open-Ended Intelligence” presents a starkly alternative perspective on intelligence, viewing it as centered not on reward maximization, but rather on complex self-organization and self-transcending development that occurs in close coupling with a complex environment that is also ongoingly self-organizing, in only partially knowable ways.
How can technology that we are able to build with today’s tools help us to solve the big problems of individuals, organizations, and the world at large? More specifically: How can we use the internet in the best way to improve our collective problem-solving capabilities? Questions like these don’t seem to be asked very often, perhaps because people usually focus on specific problems, rather than general problem-solving in its own right.
Get Nima Arkani-Hamed going on the subject of the universe—not difficult—and he’ll talk for as many minutes or hours as it takes to transport you to the edge of human understanding, and then he’ll talk you past the edge, beyond Einstein, beyond space-time and quantum mechanics and all those tired tropes of 20th-century physics, to a spectacular new vision of how everything works. It will seem so simple, so lucid. He’ll remind you that, in 2015, it’s still speculative. But he’s convinced that, someday, the vision will come true.On the strength of the torrent of ideas he has produced over the past 20 years—he won the inaugural $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize in 2012 “for original approaches to outstanding problems in particle physics, including the proposal of large extra dimensions, new theories for the Higgs boson, novel realizations of supersymmetry, theories for dark matter, and the exploration of new mathematical structures in gauge theory scattering amplitudes”—Arkani-Hamed, 43, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, N.J., is widely considered one of the best theoretical physicists working today. Colleagues point to his knack for simplifying impossibly complex problems, as well as his exceptional mathematical ability, creativity, instincts and vast knowledge of physics. “Nima is amazing in every component of talent space,” said Savas Dimopoulos, a theoretical particle physicist at Stanford University.
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