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Eliezer Yudkowsky made a similar point when he asked us to imagine what values the ancient Greeks might have tried to instill in their AIs. Surely AIs incorporating ancient Greek values would have vetoed our civilization which outlawed slavery and gave women rights.
Hall suggested that instead of fixed moral rules (which a super smart AI with access to its own source code could change later anyway) progenitors should try to inculcate something like a conscience into the AIs they foster. A conscience allows humans to extend and apply moral rules flexibly in new and different contexts. One rule of thumb that Hall would like to see implemented in AIs is: "Ideas should compete; bodies should cooperate." He also suggested that AIs (robots) should be open source. Hall said that his friend economist Robin Hanson pointed out to him that we already live with superhuman psychopaths—modern corporations—and we're not all dead. Part of what reins in corporations is transparency, e.g., the requirement that outsiders audit their books. Indeed, governments are also superhuman psychopaths, and generally the less transparent a government the more likely it is to commit atrocities. So the idea here is that more AI source code is inspected, the more likely we are to trust them. Finally, Hall also suggested that AIs also be instilled with the Boy Scout Law.
Given these big concerns about how super smart AIs might treat humanity, should they be created at all? Famously, former Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy declared that they are too dangerous and that we should relinquish the drive to create them. Charles Harper, senior vice president of the Templeton Foundation, suggested there was a "dilemma of power." The dilemma is that "our science and technology create new forms of power but our cultures and civilizations do not easily create parallel capacities of stewardship required to utilize newly created technological powers for benevolent uses and to restrain them from malevolent uses."
Actually the arc of modern history strongly suggests that Harper's claim is wrong. More people than ever are wealthier and more educated and freer. Despite the tremendous toll of the 20th century, even social levels of violence per capita have been decreasing. We have been doing something more right than wrong as our technical powers have burgeoned. (It is worth noting the most of the 262 million people who died of violence in the 20th century died as the result of the actions of those superhuman psychopaths called governments using pretty crude technologies.)
Nevertheless, it is a reasonable question to ask if self-willed super smart AIs are too dangerous to unleash. The IEET's James Hughes suggested that one solution could be modeled on how the world currently handles nuclear weapons. If AIs are so dangerous, perhaps only governments should be allowed to own them. But this doesn't address the problem that governments themselves can be not-so-smart superhuman psychopaths. In addition, it seems unlikely that true human psychopaths (either individuals or collectives) can be permanently restrained from covertly creating AIs. If that is the case, we should all hope for and support the Singularity Institute's efforts to create friendly AI first.
When are AIs likely to arise? Ray Kurzweil, who joined the Summit by video link, predicted that computational power sufficient to simulate the human brain will be available on a laptop for $1000 in the next 15 years. Kurzweil believes that AIs will come into existence before 2030. Peter Voss was even more bullish, declaring, "In my opinion AIs will be developed almost certainly in less than 10 years and quite likely in less than five years."
If the Singularity Summiteers are right, buckle up and get ready for a really fast ride to the future. Let's hope their efforts will keep the ride from getting too rough.
Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His most recent book, Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution, is available from Prometheus Books.