Have you ever considered the immediate images appearing in your mind when you hear the word super intelligence? Maybe an alien with a huge cranium staring at you… or a computer controlling every step you take…?
Or have you ever tried to imagine what such a super intelligence actually thinks of you?
It might turn out to be difficult, but I think it’s a useful thing to reflect on.
As I have mentioned before, there are good reasons to believe that artificial intelligence by 2045 will surpass the total intelligence of all human brains in the world, both in an intellectual, emotional and moral sense.
That’s a scary prospect in itself, but even though it might be difficult to imagine what this really means, it’s probably even harder to imagine what a super intelligence would be like.
Or what it would be like to be super intelligent.
One reason is that even if some humans are more intelligent than others – and sometimes one individual is more intelligent in one way but less in another – generally speaking all humans are more or less equally intelligent, compared to other animals for example.
So when we think of difference in intelligence, or someone more intelligent than ourselves, we don’t have any reference than a very slight difference in intelligence.
A super intelligence is something completely different, rather like the difference between us and a chimpanzee.
This is actually a crucial point in order to have any idea of what super intelligence would mean for the world’s development, and I believe that most people stop at the word super intelligent without even reflecting on what it represents.
On the other hand I believe that we can get a basic understanding of its properties.
The easiest way to start is to have a look at powerful computer systems today. In the last decade they have become impressively good at analyzing enormous quantities of data – often called Big Data.
This happens all around us. Banks are continuously monitoring transaction data from credit and debit cards in order to discover attempts at fraud, and often they can prevent your card details from being used by someone else in a matter of seconds.
The same goes for mobile network operators, monitoring calls and transactions made with mobile phones.
Google introduced its Flu Trends in 2008 – a website giving accurate information on flu activity in real time in over 30 countries, based on patterns in masses of certain flu related web searches fed into an algorithm developed by Google.
Big Data is a new gold mine with a vast number of opportunities not yet discovered. Its potential is being investigated by both private companies and public organizations, such as the UN through the initiative Global Pulse.
Computer systems analyzing Big Data are in some sense similar to humans when it comes to discovering patterns and trends in information.
Pattern recognition is actually one of the human brain’s most characteristic strengths, used both for recognizing known objects or faces in images, or words in the sound of spoken language, in milliseconds.
The difference with computer systems is of course that they are immensely much more capable than humans of grasping enormous quantities of unstructured data and finding patterns and trends in that ocean of data.
This capability is already in place, and it will only get stronger in the years until 2045. Reasonably it will then include capability in sorting out patterns in all kinds of data from all kinds of sensors – and thus not only numbers and transactions but also sounds, images, videos, radio waves, movements, temperatures, chemical concentrations on so on.
Now try to imagine this capability combined with the human capacity do make associations between different observations of patterns. This kind of capacity is not yet well developed within artificial intelligence but there’s no doubt it will be.
And once such a feature will be achieved it will most certainly also be much more powerful than the human one.
So we can imagine some kind of consciousness being able to monitor enormous quantities of data and information in real time and discover patterns and trends in that information, and then also immediately put these observations in relation with other earlier or present observations.
Then try to imagine such a consciousness develop over time by learning from its observations and associations.
Whatever physical shape this consciousness might have, I would expect it to have a vastly more complete understanding of the world than mine, and also be able to come up with much more elaborate and powerful new ideas than the most brilliant human person, and also much faster.
Personally I believe that you should also expect it to develop a much greater emotional capacity than humans, which would ultimately make it a very impressive being, in front of which I would feel very limited and have reason to be extremely humble.
The beauty in all this is of course the possibility that we might integrate with this kind of consciousness.
Now if you imagine lots of them, or lots of us integrated with them – all with different experiences (which is one of the fundamental strengths of humanity and nature in general), it’s also possible to imagine an unprecedented speed of progress, development and expansion of the world we live in.
In the end it all adds up to a possible way to explain how the exponentially accelerating property of the development, identified by Kurzweil and others, could actually be expected to continue even though it will lead to a pace which is very hard to imagine.
At least for us, ordinary intelligent humans.
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PS. To have lots of super intelligent beings, with different experiences, will of course be very important in order to have a safe and well balanced development.
The most difficult step might then be when the second super intelligence in the world is created. The day it’s born, will the first super intelligence ever created then feel jealous towards its younger sibling and get hostile, wishing to remain the one and only super intelligence in the world?
Think about that.
Because we will be its parents.