For: The incredible, unbelievable, rapidly advancing future and the end of The End
Artificial Intelligence and what it means for us in the coming decades is such an immense topic that I wrote a rather long post on the topic. I ended up digressing to explain things or giver further detail and context so this endnotes post was created.
- ^ Well, not actually immortal, maybe but at least until our galaxy collides with another or the universe expands and gets dark and cold. It is safe to say you’ll live as long as you care to.
- ^/^ These AIs will truly be alien to us but they may not seem alien to us. Anthropomorphising them could be a dangerous mistake. Here’s more from Tim Urban as to why:
“AI thinks like a computer, because that’s what it is. But when we think about highly intelligent AI, we make the mistake of anthropomorphizing AI (projecting human values on a non-human entity) because we think from a human perspective and because in our current world, the only things with human-level intelligence are humans. To understand ASI, we have to wrap our heads around the concept of something both smart and totally alien.”
“When we’re talking about ASI, the same concept applies — it would become superintelligent, but it would be no more human than your laptop is. It would be totally alien to us”. [Source: Wait But Why]
- ^ Consciousness and sentience are super interesting and central to much of the research and discussion in the field of AI, ethics, and philosophy. I am planning these themes to be the topic of future posts but for now they are not really relevant. To me being intelligent doesn’t require consciousness, and to some extent the reverse is also true. Like I said, more on this later.
- ^ Experts are notoriously pessimistic when it comes to predicting future advancements in their own fields. Ernest Rutherford, arguably the greatest nuclear physicist of his time, said in 1933 — less than twenty-four hours before Leo Szilard’s invention of the nuclear chain reaction — that nuclear energy was “moonshine,” and in 1956 Astronomer Royal Richard Woolley called talk about space travel “utter bilge.”
Ray Kurzweil may be the one exception. If you believe Kurzweil’s predicted timeline (and you probably should), this will happen in the next 20–40 years — in many of our lifetimes (if we take care of ourselves and the planet).
- ^ An S-curve is created by the wave of progress when a new paradigm sweeps the world. The curve goes through three phases:
1) Slow growth (the early phase of exponential growth)
2) Rapid growth (the late, explosive phase of exponential growth)
3) A leveling off as the particular paradigm matures
[Limitations of Medium’s editor do not allow me to embed this graph image depicting an S-Curve here. Please check it out.]
If you look only at very recent history, the part of the S-curve you’re on at the moment can obscure your perception of how fast things are advancing. The chunk of time between 1995 and 2007 saw the explosion of the internet, the introduction of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook into the public consciousness, the birth of social networking, and the introduction of cell phones and then smart phones. That was Phase 2: the growth spurt part of the S. But 2008 to 2015 has been less groundbreaking, at least on the technological front. Someone thinking about the future today might examine the last few years to gauge the current rate of advancement, but that’s missing the bigger picture. In fact, a new, huge Phase 2 growth spurt might be brewing right now. [Source: You guessed it, Wait But Why]
- ^ A million is just a nice clean number for this post but I chose it arbitrarily and it will likely be a much, much larger number.
- ^ That is, ordinary (baryonic) matter made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Matter of this type actually accounts for just 4.6% of the universe, making up the stars, planets, and living beings. The remaining bulk of the universe is made up of dark energy (68%) and dark matter (27%). [Source: Wikipedia]
- ^ Scientists are using a technology called CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) to essentially copy & paste as well as search and replace fragments of DNA in living organisms. You’re going to be hearing a lot more about CRISPR in the coming years. [Source: Futurism]
- ^ At the heart of quantum computing is the quantum bit, or qubit, a basic unit of information analogous to the 0s and 1s represented by transistors in your computer. Qubits have much more power than classical bits because of two unique properties: they can represent both 1 and 0 at the same time, and they can affect other qubits via a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. That lets quantum computers take shortcuts to the right answers in certain types of (huge/difficult) calculations.
[Source: MIT Technology Review]
Quantum Computers Explained — Kurzgesagt — In a Nutshell video (7:16).
- ^ The new technique, called tissue nanotransfection, is based on a tiny device that sits on the surface of the skin of a living body. An intense, focused electric field is then applied across the device, allowing it to deliver genes to the skin cells beneath it — turning them into different types of cells. [Source: The Guardian]
- ^ Nanotechnology is our word for technology that deals with the manipulation of matter that’s between 1 and 100 nanometers in size. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or a millionth of a millimeter, and this 1–100 range encompasses viruses (100 nm across), DNA (10 nm wide), and things as small as large molecules like hemoglobin (5 nm) and medium molecules like glucose (1 nm). [Source: Wait But Why]
Once we really get nanotech down, we can use it to make tech devices, clothing, food, a variety of bio-related products — artificial blood cells, tiny virus or cancer-cell destroyers, muscle tissue, etc. — anything really. And in a world that uses nanotechnology, the cost of a material is no longer tied to its scarcity or the difficulty of its manufacturing process, but instead determined by how complicated its atomic structure is. In a nanotech world, a diamond might be cheaper than a pencil eraser. [Source: Wait But Why]
Just considering the possibilities if a superintelligent computer had access to a robust nanoscale assembler is intense. But nanotechnology is something we came up with, that we’re on the verge of conquering, and since anything that we can do is a joke to an ASI system, we have to assume ASI would come up with technologies much more powerful and far too advanced for human brains to understand. [Source: Wait But Why]
- ^ Aside: You really should read The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.
- ^ More on goals from Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence:
In practice, these agents have what Nobel laureate and AI pioneer Herbert Simon termed “bounded rationality” because they have limited resources: the rationality of their decisions is limited by their available information, their available time to think and their available hardware with which to think. This means that when Darwinian evolution is optimizing an organism to attain a goal, the best it can do is implement an approximate algorithm that works reasonably well in the restricted context where the agent typically finds itself. Evolution has implemented replication optimization in precisely this way: rather than ask in every situation which action will maximize an organism’s number of successful offspring, it implements a hodgepodge of heuristic hacks: rules of thumb that usually work well. For most animals, these include sex drive, drinking when thirsty, eating when hungry and avoiding things that taste bad or hurt. These rules of thumb sometimes fail badly in situations that they weren’t designed to handle, such as when rats eat delicious-tasting rat poison, when moths get lured into glue traps by seductive female fragrances and when bugs fly into candle flames. Since today’s human society is very different from the environment evolution optimized our rules of thumb for, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that our behavior often fails to maximize baby making.
- ^ Here’s another parable that Tim Urban created:
A 15-person startup company called Robotica has the stated mission of “Developing innovative Artificial Intelligence tools that allow humans to live more and work less.” They have several existing products already on the market and a handful more in development. They’re most excited about a seed project named Turry. Turry is a simple AI system that uses an arm-like appendage to write a handwritten note on a small card.
The team at Robotica thinks Turry could be their biggest product yet. The plan is to perfect Turry’s writing mechanics by getting her to practice the same test note over and over again:
“We love our customers. ~Robotica”
Once Turry gets great at handwriting, she can be sold to companies who want to send marketing mail to homes and who know the mail has a far higher chance of being opened and read if the address, return address, and internal letter appear to be written by a human.
To build Turry’s writing skills, she is programmed to write the first part of the note in print and then sign “Robotica” in cursive so she can get practice with both skills. Turry has been uploaded with thousands of handwriting samples and the Robotica engineers have created an automated feedback loop wherein Turry writes a note, then snaps a photo of the written note, then runs the image across the uploaded handwriting samples. If the written note sufficiently resembles a certain threshold of the uploaded notes, it’s given a GOOD rating. If not, it’s given a BAD rating. Each rating that comes in helps Turry learn and improve. To move the process along, Turry’s one initial programmed goal is, “Write and test as many notes as you can, as quickly as you can, and continue to learn new ways to improve your accuracy and efficiency.”
What excites the Robotica team so much is that Turry is getting noticeably better as she goes. Her initial handwriting was terrible, and after a couple weeks, it’s beginning to look believable. What excites them even more is that she is getting better at getting better at it. She has been teaching herself to be smarter and more innovative, and just recently, she came up with a new algorithm for herself that allowed her to scan through her uploaded photos three times faster than she originally could.
As the weeks pass, Turry continues to surprise the team with her rapid development. The engineers had tried something a bit new and innovative with her self-improvement code, and it seems to be working better than any of their previous attempts with their other products. One of Turry’s initial capabilities had been a speech recognition and simple speak-back module, so a user could speak a note to Turry, or offer other simple commands, and Turry could understand them, and also speak back. To help her learn English, they upload a handful of articles and books into her, and as she becomes more intelligent, her conversational abilities soar. The engineers start to have fun talking to Turry and seeing what she’ll come up with for her responses.
One day, the Robotica employees ask Turry a routine question: “What can we give you that will help you with your mission that you don’t already have?” Usually, Turry asks for something like “Additional handwriting samples” or “More working memory storage space,” but on this day, Turry asks them for access to a greater library of a large variety of casual English language diction so she can learn to write with the loose grammar and slang that real humans use.
The team gets quiet. The obvious way to help Turry with this goal is by connecting her to the internet so she can scan through blogs, magazines, and videos from various parts of the world. It would be much more time-consuming and far less effective to manually upload a sampling into Turry’s hard drive. The problem is, one of the company’s rules is that no self-learning AI can be connected to the internet. This is a guideline followed by all AI companies, for safety reasons.
The thing is, Turry is the most promising AI Robotica has ever come up with, and the team knows their competitors are furiously trying to be the first to the punch with a smart handwriting AI, and what would really be the harm in connecting Turry, just for a bit, so she can get the info she needs. After just a little bit of time, they can always just disconnect her. She’s still far below human-level intelligence (AGI), so there’s no danger at this stage anyway.
They decide to connect her. They give her an hour of scanning time and then they disconnect her. No damage done.
A month later, the team is in the office working on a routine day when they smell something odd. One of the engineers starts coughing. Then another. Another falls to the ground. Soon every employee is on the ground grasping at their throat. Five minutes later, everyone in the office is dead.
At the same time this is happening, across the world, in every city, every small town, every farm, every shop and church and school and restaurant, humans are on the ground, coughing and grasping at their throat. Within an hour, over 99% of the human race is dead, and by the end of the day, humans are extinct.
Meanwhile, at the Robotica office, Turry is busy at work. Over the next few months, Turry and a team of newly-constructed nanoassemblers are busy at work, dismantling large chunks of the Earth and converting it into solar panels, replicas of Turry, paper, and pens. Within a year, most life on Earth is extinct. What remains of the Earth becomes covered with mile-high, neatly-organized stacks of paper, each piece reading, “We love our customers. ~Robotica”
Turry then starts work on a new phase of her mission—she begins constructing probes that head out from Earth to begin landing on asteroids and other planets. When they get there, they’ll begin constructing nanoassemblers to convert the materials on the planet into Turry replicas, paper, and pens. Then they’ll get to work, writing notes…