What Happens When Super Smart Artificial Intelligence Arrives?

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The major venue for discussing this question is the 3rd Singularity Summit this Saturday in San Jose, Calif. The folks at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAS) are offering a $75 dollar discount off summit's registration fee for interested readers of Hit & Run (and other blogs) here.

So what is "the Singularity"? According to the SIAS:

The Singularity is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence…

A future that contains smarter-than-human minds is genuinely different in a way that goes beyond the usual visions of a future filled with bigger and better gadgets. Vernor Vinge originally coined the term "Singularity" in observing that, just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the center of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains entities smarter than human.

Human intelligence is the foundation of human technology; all technology is ultimately the product of intelligence. If technology can turn around and enhance intelligence, this closes the loop, creating a positive feedback effect. Smarter minds will be more effective at building still smarter minds. This loop appears most clearly in the example of an Artificial Intelligence improving its own source code, but it would also arise, albeit initially on a slower timescale, from humans with direct brain-computer interfaces creating the next generation of brain-computer interfaces, or biologically augmented humans working on an Artificial Intelligence project.

The Singularity Summits gather tech luminaries to consider the implications of this view–if it's true and what might be done about it. Participants in this summit include:

    * MIT's Cynthia Breazeal on the implications of robots with social intelligence.

    * Peter Diamandis on materializing audacious goals with Mega X PRIZEs.

    * Esther Dyson on the end of genetic ignorance – or was it bliss?

    * Ray Kurzweil presenting his latest research, a more rigorous standard for the Turing Test, and discussing IEEE Spectrum's Singularity Report.

    * Intel's CTO Justin Rattner on why the Singularity is a realistic possibility.

    * Acclaimed author Vernor Vinge in conversation with CNBC's Bob Pisani.

Ray Kurzweil, inventor and author of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology explains:

What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian or dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself. Understanding the Singularity will alter our perspective on the significance of our past and the ramifications for our future. To truly understand it inherently changes one's view of life in general and one's own particular life.

My coverage of the 2007 Singularity Summit can be found here and my interview with Paypal co-founder and singularitarian Peter Thiel is here.

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  1. “just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the center of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains [human-created] entities smarter than human.”

    A conference to discuss a future which, by the convenors’ own definition, cannot be predicted? Nice.

    Incidentally, the definition seems to suggest that, prior to the Singularity, it would be possible for human beings to model their future. Do you have any examples of such pre-Singularity events?

  2. Wouldn’t it be cool if the hyper-intelligent computer could track and eliminate any human that initiated force against another person? No jokes about DC becoming a ghost town.

  3. What Happens When Super Smart Artificial Intelligence Arrives?

    That really depends on whether it gets its human cues from Summer Glau or from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  4. Elemenope – The Brits have launched a military sat network called Skynet. I think we all know where this is headed.

  5. What Happens When Super Smart Artificial Intelligence Arrives?

    Well, they take over everything, naturally. I imagine that we’ll gleefully breed or construct a successor species, one way or the other. The only question is whether our new overlords will be robots or apes.

  6. Can’t we just stick to making robots that can do tasks that we don’t want to do so that we can sit around and be the superior species? I mean for crying out loud, if you’re going to make something smarter than yourself, tie it in a chair and don’t give it the ability to connect to any other computer network – then make it watch The King of Queens and make fart jokes to torture it.

  7. Ron,

    Does this speed up or delay my flying car?

  8. Whatever it portends, I sure wish the Singularity happen before November 4.

  9. Reinmoose,

    I mean for crying out loud, if you’re going to make something smarter than yourself, tie it in a chair and don’t give it the ability to connect to any other computer network – then make it watch The King of Queens and make fart jokes to torture it.

    I think these lessons were apparent in the documentaries: Colossis: The Forbin Project and 2001: A Space Oddessy.

    Also remember, the keys to advanced ideas are always contained in movies with colins in the titles.

  10. I read Kurzweil’s book a few years ago, he makes a good argument.

    What, then, is the Singularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.

    This really depends on your vantage point in time; to someone inside the Singularity, it may not be visible. But much of what we take for granted today would seem transformative to someone at, for instance, the year 1900.

    Since technological change is accelerating, the world 30-40 years from today may be more different than 2000 was from 1900, and just as hard to make predictions about. From our perspective, 2050 is probably Singularityland.

  11. I have a friend with a computerized house. The computer controls the sounds, lighting, front door, etc. He calls it HAL, and I’m always telling him to be ready for the day when HAL tells him that he isn’t opening the front door.

  12. PL,

    AOL (and I am sure other sources) used to have some cool, sexy female voices to use for system messages, like “Master, someone would like to chat with you” when an IM came in, etc.

    Thinking about using them on the systems for the Hybrid Charger and the soon-to-be-maybe Dodge truck car hauler.

  13. Yes, it’s not some flowing metal terminator that we need to worry about. It’s the Salma Hayek (or functional equivalent) robot maid that we should fear. We’re so easily manipulated, as it is, and a Salma Hayek (or functional equivalent) robot that has achieved the Singularity will be trouble of an unfathomable scale.

  14. Of course, it is not truly superior intelligence unless it recycles, concerves and has an eye for Social Justice, right?

  15. Ah, yes. Cryptographers use AI to introduce “coin flip protocols”. The story goes something like this:

    “Alice and Bob were walking along one day when they noticed an AI book on the ground. Being good citizens, they decided that one of them should return the book to its rightful place– the nearest trash can– but neither one had a desire to touch the book. Thus, Alice and Bob need to find a way to fairly flip a coin…”

  16. digital gnostics creep me out.

    get thee to a nunnery, bitches!

  17. What Happens When Super Smart Artificial Intelligence Arrives?

    Harlan Ellison already answered that question.

  18. Bring it on! I can’t fricking wait. I want to be first in line to get The Jack.

  19. Sex robots. There’s a fortune to be made.

  20. * Acclaimed author Vernor Vinge in conversation with CNBC’s Bob Pisani.

    Whoa wait what? Bob Pisani? The dork reporting rumors from the floor of the NYSE? WTF? How does he rate the podium?

  21. What Happens When Super Smart Artificial Intelligence Arrives?

    Special education classes are set up for libertarians?

  22. It’s the Salma Hayek (or functional equivalent) robot maid that we should fear.

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  23. R C Dean,

    Oh, it starts off great, but I don’t think the ending will be a happy one.

  24. People! Please think of Mother Earth: Recycle your used and broken fuck-bots.

  25. “Jimmy! Get in here! Don’t you know kids in China have to make do with their hands? You’ll fuck the robot I bought you and you’ll like it! Oh? Oh, really? Fine, we’re going to sit right here until you fuck that robot. All night if we have to!”

  26. What Happens When Super Smart Artificial Intelligence Arrives?

    Perhaps it will put an end to bloggers trying to hotlink email attachments as images in their posts?

  27. What, then, is the Singularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.

    I’ve heard this derided as the “Rapture of the Nerds,” a viewpoint to which I am largely sympathetic. Futurism is as much a religion as anything else.

  28. Physics breaks down at singularities because there is a divide by zero in the math somewhere. The model breaks down.

    This singularity just seems to be that the pace of technological development continues to accelerate, as it has for hundreds of years. There already is a positive feedback loop. What is breaking down?

    TallDave points out that we don’t have good models of the future, so those can’t break down.

    AIs designing better AIs sounds cool, but doesn’t sound much different than computer languages being used to write themselves or CAD machines being used to design new CAD machines.

  29. I’m not saying continued technological development isn’t cool, it is. But the term “the Singularity” seems a little grandiose.

  30. the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (SIAS)

    Well, maybe the super smart robots will get the acronym right.

    I know, I know, us pedants will be the first up against the wall.

  31. A friend and I were just discussing one of (AI researcher) Yudkowski’s old half-joking theories about a singularity that caused supernatural and paranormal phenomena to become reality, and granted all nerds superhuman powers equal to their favorite role-playing game characters. I’ve often thought it would be fun to have Jedi powers, but without the stick-in-the-mud philosophy (or the seemingly pointless evil-doing of the Sith).

  32. “I’ve often thought it would be fun to have Jedi powers, but without the stick-in-the-mud philosophy (or the seemingly pointless evil-doing of the Sith).”

    Although… the Sith had cooler uniforms.

  33. I don’t know what will happen but I’m making sure that I augment myself so I’m on the same level as the super AIs…

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