GOOD

Why the Fuss About Intelligence?

Humans have been able to change the world because we're smart. When machines outpace us, they'll change it all over again. Part two in a GOOD...


Humans have been able to change the world because we're smart. When machines outpace us, they'll change it all over again.
Part two in a GOOD miniseries on the singularity by Michael Anissimov and Roko Mijic. New posts every Monday from November 16 to January 23.

Last time, we took our first look at the concept of the technological singularity-a point in time when a genuinely smarter-than-human intelligence is developed-and saw that it is an old idea which has gained momentum and is more relevant today than ever before. Now we'll look at why smarter than human intelligence is worthy of more attention than other futuristic technologies such as spaceflight or cleaner energy technology which, on the surface, seem just as exciting.

Why are singularity researchers so concerned about the prospect of smarter-than-human intelligence? To answer this question, we must first unlearn something we all instinctively know: We must unlearn the idea that human intelligence is nothing special. In everyday life, our human intelligence-including our language ability, social intelligence, strategic thinking, planning ability, rationality, and scientific skill-is ubiquitous, so we take it for granted. But it is amazingly powerful compared to the level of intelligence that other higher animals have. There are no chimps that win Nobel Prizes in physics, no dogs that are CEOs of major corporations.

Once one realizes that the notion of human intelligence encompasses every useful skill that we perform with our brains, one begins to see that intelligence is the reason that human beings have taken control of much of the planet's land mass, constructed skyscrapers, developed economies, and invented nuclear weapons. The speed of the human takeover of earth was startling relative to the slow changes that came before it. In just a few tens of thousands of years, humans took control of a 4-billion-year-old biosphere. The effect of human intelligence on many other species living on this planet has been fatal: Human beings have caused the extinction of millions of other species, primarily because of the power that our intelligence brings. This historical perspective is key to understanding what the technological singularity is about. It isn't about shiny new gadgets or mundane, Jetsons-style futurism where humans live the same lifestyle as today but against a flashier background. It is about the next iteration of the most powerful force in the universe: intelligence. The correct metaphor for the singularity is not the image of a shiny, chrome-plated robot, it is the leap from wild animals to human societies, but this time with humans as the starting point.

In the 21st century, cognitive science or artificial intelligence researchers may find out how to construct an intelligence that surpasses ours in the same way human intelligence surpasses that of chimps. Given what happened the last time a new level of intelligence emerged (the rapid rise of humans 12,000 years ago), this is likely to be the most important event in the history of the human race. We should expect smarter-than-human intelligence to wield immense power-to be able to think through complex problems in a fraction of a second, to uniformly outclass humans in mathematics, physics, and computer science, and to build technological artifacts with superlative properties. Smarter-than-human intelligences will stand a good chance of solving the problem of how to make themselves even smarter, spiraling into ever greater heights of intelligence.

Genuinely smarter beings could solve many of the problems that humans currently find hard to deal with, such as involuntary death, disease and aging, global inequality and poverty, war and environmental degradation. If a smarter-than-human intelligence were put to the task of solving these human problems, it might not be able to solve all of them, but I bet that it could do a much better job than we are. We should expect that the result of a sequence of self-improving intelligences could probably cure all human diseases, harvest the entire energy output of the sun, and colonize the galaxy at a speed approaching the speed of light. If this kind of power seems unreasonable to you, then I agree-but reality is not limited by our very human sense of reasonableness.

Roko Mijic is a Cambridge University mathematics graduate, and has worked in ultra low-temperature engineering, pure mathematics, digital evolution and artificial intelligence. In his spare time he blogs about the future of the human race and the philosophical foundations of ethics and human values.




Articles

Some beauty pageants, like the Miss America competition, have done away with the swimsuit portions of the competitions, thus dipping their toes in the 21st century. Other aspects of beauty pageants remain stuck in the 1950s, and we're not even talking about the whole "judging women mostly on their looks" thing. One beauty pageant winner was disqualified for being a mom, as if you can't be beautiful after you've had a kid. Now she's trying to get the Miss World competition to update their rules.

Veronika Didusenko won the Miss Ukraine pageant in 2018. After four days, she was disqualified because pageant officials found out she was a mom to 5-year-old son Alex, and had been married. Didusenko said she had been aware of Miss World's rule barring mother from competing, but was encouraged to compete anyways by pageant organizers.

Keep Reading Show less

One mystery in our universe is a step closer to being solved. NASA's Parker Solar Probe launched last year to help scientists understand the sun. Now, it has returned its first findings. Four papers were published in the journal Nature detailing the findings of Parker's first two flybys. It's one small step for a solar probe, one giant leap for mankind.



It is astounding that we've advanced to the point where we've managed to build a probe capable of flying within 15 million miles from the surface of the sun, but here we are. Parker can withstand temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and travels at 430,000 miles per hour. It's the fastest human-made vehicle, and no other human-made object has been so close to the sun.

Keep Reading Show less
via Sportstreambest / Flickr

Since the mid '90s the phrase "God Forgives, Brothers Don't" has been part of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's football team's lexicon.

Over the past few years, the team has taken the field flying a black skull-and-crossbones flag with an acronym for the phrase, "GFBD" on the skull's upper lip. Supporters of the team also use it on social media as #GFBD.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture