Operators of Second Life don’t seem concerned about
synthetic agents lurking in their world. John Lester, Boston
operations manager for Linden Lab, said the San Francisco-based
company sees a fascinating opportunity for AI to evolve. “I think
the real future for this is when people take these AI-controlled
avatars and let them free in ‘Second Life,’” Lester said, ” ... let
them randomly walk the grid.”
With AI characters within a grid of tens of thousands of active
users the social experimentation is nearly limitless. Social
scientists can examine certain behaviors and even provoke them
through the AI interface. Most interesting is if the AI can
recognize and then smoothly translate languages the program could
create cultural bridges and even examine cultural behavior
For the better part of two decades Peter
Voss has been hard at work developing what he hopes will be the
world’s first funtional Artificial
General Intelligence (AGI). His company, Adaptive AI, believes that with
the right amount of man-power this goal is well within reach, and
far earlier than you may think is possible.
“Personally, I would be surprised if it’s more than ten years
before we have human level, or effective AGI, and I think it could be quite a bit less than
that, as little as five years,” predicts Voss in his recent
audio interview with Future Blogger.
Any such breakthrough would indeed be a game changer,
transforming almost every existing industry. Voss is particularly
excited about just this sort of cascade.
“AGI will allow us to accelerate nanotech development, medical
research, that will allow us to deal much better with all
sorts of problems, of course disease and aging, but also just
reduce the cost of production of all sorts of goods and foods very
dramatically and also helped with environmental issues so there
will be a snowballing effect started by AGI development,” he argues, then qualifies as any
careful futurist should, “In terms of what will happen and in what
year and what chain of events, I have no way of really putting any
more numbers on that.
“Once we have machines that are as smart as humans and we can
employ them to help us develop other technologies I think things
will happen quite quickly. ... You can do a lot of simulations but
ultimately they have to be tested in real humans and that takes
time. So it’s very difficult to predict the interaction between
those various dynamics.”
When asked if he sees this as an industry that can produce a
company inside of 10 years, Voss’ unhesitating response is a
Moderator Jonas Lamis just asked the distinguished AI Panel what they would advise the new Obama administration to do if, by chance, each was appointed national CTO?
Google’s Peter Norvig: First advice, “Don’t choose me.” (Audience laughs.) Most important advice is to do what the President-Elect is already doing. #1: Believe in reality. The next thing is to invest in R&D. It’s important to re-establish the United States as a leader there. We’ve slipped over the last 8 years or so interms of funding research.
Steve Omohundro: Imprtant to use tech to make better decisions in our society. This is a huge opportunity for aggregating beliefs and desires of voters. Through semantic consensus we could better express nuances. The bailout is the perfect example – 99 to 1 against bailout, ended up passing it. Morphing as we speak… Potential pathways as we move to the future – now a smattering of diff orgs – better to have country-wide analysis of this future pathway.
The Flynn Effect is a
fascinating observation that average human IQ has been rising
steadily since the invention of tests that measure it. It’s
possible that it has been caused directly or indirectly by
increased access to information, technology and human networks. If
that’s the case, and the trend in human IQ is pegged to trends in
these areas, then it’s also possible that we’re about to get a heck
of a lot smarter in a very short span of time. Perhaps even
Ray Kurzweil has
shown that technology is increasing at an exponential, or even
double-exponential rate. A
Berkeley study and a
report by IDC both have confirmed
that the amount of information on Earth is growing at an
exponential rate. It is clear that advances in communication
technology are facilitating an explosion in the rate of
communication between people, thus increasing the value of the
whole according to Metcalfe’s Network
It’s undeniable that these accelerating trends have had a
profound impact on social behavior, in particular our ability to
solve ever more complex problems. If you don’t believe me, simply
take a look at how quickly a person or a group can locate
information, bounce it off of others and output that as a rich
white paper, business strategy or more advanced technology—then
imagine how difficult that same task would have been minus the
internet, huge bodies of amassed knowledge and an environment chock
full of complex and inspirational solutions to diverse problem
Human brains are not closed systems. They are constantly
learning better ways to input, sort and output information
(ultimately this manifests as culture). In order to increase their
intelligence, they must encounter information, technology and
interact with other humans. It has been shown that children raised
sans society are beyond dysfunctional, and that humans who miss
critical periods for learning things as simple as counting from 1
to 10 or certain ways of looking at time
cannot regain those abilities once the developmental windows
close. This indicates that there is a strong relationship between
access to information + technology and human intelligence.
But just how strong is the link? Will humans get smarter faster
or is there a cut-off point after which technology and information
systems speed off into a phase place where we cannot follow?
Obviously, these are questions with far reaching consequences. The
answers will determine how we evolve, the likelihood of our
survival and/or expansion, whether AI or
the future, and if a singularity
is possible, impossible or desirable.
The more critical the human-tech-info symbiosis, the more likely
it is that the Flynn Effect will continue and translate into
exponential growth of our own intelligence parallel to these other
trends (auto-catalytically), rather than subsequently and as a
by-product of them.
To what extent are we going to let technology run our lives? I can understand wanting the Internet, a cellphone, even a bazillion-inch flat screen TV. But this latest gadget to come on the market, the iPosture, which screams at you whenever you sit in a hunched position, well, it’s just plain silly.
If you thought your parents were nagging you pretty hard at the dinner table, imagine a device that watches your every move (“beep I saw you hide your spinach in the napkin, eat it or no dessert beep“) without the ability to judge when it’s over-stretching its boundaries. Scores of children would grow up hating both the device and their parents, wishing they had received more attention from them, swearing not to raise their kids the same way.
Sure, most people won’t buy these products (at least in the near-future) since it seems so insane and counter-natural, but what about those few who will? For example, parents who think their own parenting techniques are faulty may well wish for a family butler that can help teach their children proper manners. Just imagine if Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes had his own personal assistant, or had been forced to do his homework by an ever-watching guardian…
A friend forwarded me this awesome short interview of Nova Spivack,
founder of EarthWeb in 1994 and Radar Networks in 2003 (which just
launched the much-hyped app Twine), in which he discusses
predictions for the coming year and the longer term.
Spivack’s prognostications largely focus on widespread adoption
of the semantic web. He believes the semantic web will enable the
broader web’s evolution to one big database via linked metadata,
and that Facebook is slowly becoming a search engine to compete
with Google, while Google is becoming a social network to compete
In the longer term, by 2020, “[W]e will move toward an
intelligent web where the web moves from a just knowledge base to a
kind of global mind – an intelligent entity comprised of billions
of pieces of software and billions of people working together to
make some new form of intelligence that transcends human or machine
intelligence on its own.”
Spivack also points out that he disagrees with Ray
Kurzweil on the fundamental roles humans and machines will play
in the coming decades.
A favorite debate topic for many futurists, humanists, advanced
defense theorists, sci-fi authors and Future Bloggers is the nature of
future terrestrial intelligence increase. As change accelerates,
how how exactly will we and/or the system around us get
The most popular scenario by far is Artificial General
Intelligence , aka AI that equals or surpasses that of
humanity, probably because it is the most immediately relatable and due to the fact that so much money is being
poured into AGI research. In fact, some
researchers are predicting a breakthrough in the field in just
But there are a variety of other scenarios that could either
outcompete this paradigm or conspire with it to accelerate
intelligence in our system. These include human-based, alien-based,
deeply systemic, or even exo-systemic possibilities.
Applying your particular brand of intelligence, which
of the following do you think is the most optimal path to
intelligence increase in the acceleration era? (Survey at end
Individual Intelligence Amplification: Individual humans
that grow vastly smarter due to hard, biological and/or soft
cognitive upgrades, such as Bean in Ender’s Game.
Social Intelligence Amplification: A group or humanity as
a whole collectively grows smarter, thus taking on the stewardship
role for our Earth and species.
Biological Intelligence Amplification: One, more or all
of the other species on Earth evolve or emerge, aided or
automatically, the foremost intelligence on the planet. This could
be viewed as a Gaiian awakening.
Alien Contact: Through efforts like SETI or
those of the aliens themselves, we come into contact with some
extra-terrestrial intelligence based in our universe that either
stewards us or gives us a nice boost, a la the Vulcans in
although this would likely be considerably more extreme.
The Singularity Frankenstein has been rearing its morphous head of late and evoking reactions from a variety of big thinkers. The latest to draw a line in the sands of accelerating change is Kevin Kelly, Wired co-founder and evolutionary technologist, who makes a compelling case against a sharply punctuated and obvious singularity. His argument is based on the following points:
1) A Strong-AI singularity is unlikely to emerge before Google does it first.
“My current bet is that this smarter-than-us intelligence will not be created by Apple, or IBM, or two unknown guys in a garage, but by Google; that is, it will emerge sooner or later as the World Wide Computer on the internet,” writes Kelly.
More fundamentally, I think our system is consistently advancing its intelligence, making human intelligence non-static. Therefore the notion of Strong AI is an illusion because our basis for comparison 1) is constantly changing, and 2) is erroneously based on a simple assessment of the computational power of a single brain outside of environmental context, a finding backed by cognitive historian James Flynn.
So yes, Google may well mimic the human brain and out-compete other top-down or neural net projects, but it won’t really matter because intelligence will increasingly be viewed as a network related property. (It’s a technical point, but an important distinction.)
2) The Singularity recedes as we develop new abilities.
Kelly writes, “The Singularity is an illusion that will be constantly retreating—always ‘near’ but never arriving.”
This statement is spot-on. As we amplify our collective intelligence (IA) at an accelerating rate and develop new capabilities we get better at peering ahead. The implication is that we co-evolve with technology and information to do so, assimilating intelligence along the way. In such an IA scenario, there simply is no dichotomy between us and it. It’s a we.
While Kelly alludes to IA in his World Wide Computer statement, he could bloster his argument by stressing the connection between human, informational and technological evolution and development.
3) Imagining a sequence of scenarios doesn’t take into account system dynamics. Thinking machines must co-evolve with the environment in order for intelligence to be meaningful.
“Thinking is only part of science; maybe even a small part,” points out Kelly. “Without conducting experiments, building prototypes, having failures, and engaging in reality, an intelligence can have thoughts but not results. It cannot think its way to solving the world’s problems. There won’t be instant discoveries the minute, hour, day or year a smarter-than-human AI appears.”