Smart Cascio article in Atlantic

Smart Cascio article in Atlantic

Jamais Cascio has an article in the current Atlantic about how humans are getting smarter. This is the best article on the subject I’ve seen in the mainstream press, and better than most in the transhumanist corner of the web.

Cascio’s main point is that, as we’ve always done, we build our technology to make ourselves smarter. It doesn’t matter if it’s drugs or PDAs or Google, the technology (and the ideas it embodies) makes us effectively smarter. This has been true since the invention of writing, or longer.

Cascio has one point that transhumanists such as Michael Anissimov disagree with. Cascio writes:

My own suspicion is that a stand-alone artificial mind will be more a tool of narrow utility than something especially apocalyptic. I don’t think the theory of an explosively self-improving AI is convincing—it’s based on too many assumptions about behavior and the nature of the mind.

and Anissimov replies at length.

Gah! I’d like to hear more on this from other people of the same position, because I just don’t understand it.

Happy to oblige. The bottom line is that AI simply isn’t going to appear all at once in a single, anthropomorphic system. Intelligence is a huge, complicated mass of knowledge that is being invented one little piece at a time. A lot of the pieces are the very kind of thing that Cascio talks about in the article, which we are applying piecemeal to improve our own intelligence. Chances are that in a decade or so we’ll have enough of the pieces worked out that it will be possible to put them all together in system which evaluates, controls, selects, and otherwise manages them so as to act like an integrated, human-style intelligence. But that won’t be an easy task — and at the same time we humans will be using the pieces ourselves, and doing just the parts of the managing puzzle that we’re best at. Human-level intelligence is a moving target.

The key part of AI yet uninvented is the fluid, intuitive, estimating, connection-making, higher-level manager that controls the formal, boiled-down, automatable skills that form most current AI. But that’s exactly the form Cascio claims the human mind is moving toward (since we’re putting the rest on silicon). Machines have a huge advantage over human brains when it comes to hard, symbolic, calculation. Now I’m not among those who believe that the nebulous intuitive stuff can’t be done by computer, but I do think that to do it, you’re going to have to use some pretty brute-force methods and the machine-to-neuron advantage will shrink considerably.

Will pure machine intelligence pass us, individually? Almost certainly yes, because a wild-type human has a fixed amount of processing power, and the machines won’t have such limits. Will the machines surpass us as a civilization? No — because they’re part of civilization. We build machine intelligence specifically to make ourselves, collectively, smarter.

By | 2017-06-01T14:05:26-07:00 June 18th, 2009|Nanodot, Nanotechnology|6 Comments

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  2. Michael Anissimov June 18, 2009 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the response. Essentially, it sounds like you’re saying, “AI will be kept separately in so many pieces that it will be integrated into society as a whole rather than being an independent force”. I can see this happening for a while, but once you cross that threshold where any one AI can think creatively and quickly without the human bottleneck, doesn’t that have special implications?

    You mention that generally intelligent AI would require some pretty brute-force methods. This means you think that it will be so computationally costly that it will never accelerate independently ahead of humans, even if it can use additional computing power to accelerate its own thinking speed, and humans can’t?

    It sounds like you’re saying, “narrow AI will be ubiquitous in the long term, while general AI will start to exist, but it will be so expensive and inconvenient that it will never surpass human civilization.” Wouldn’t there be a powerful incentive to create AI that is entirely independent of human supervision, and once that AI is created, couldn’t it be applied to making itself more efficient and therefore less computation-hungry?

    Taking a guess in a different direction, I think a stronger reason why many people are skeptical about the notion of a hard takeoff is that they think that the virtual/physical barrier cannot be crossed that easily. (I assume) they believe that AI will never start independently fabricating robotics and controlling them autonomously because humans will always forbid that from happening. But won’t there be a large incentive to develop such systems, which can fabricate robotics and use them to pursue goals even if humans are asleep or otherwise uninterested in supervising the low-level stuff?

  3. […] Jamais Cascio has an article in the current Atlantic about how humans are getting smarter. Read More here […]

  4. […] Smart Cascio article in Atlantic […]

  5. […] For another take on Cascio’s article, go to the Foresight Institute here. […]

  6. Joe Sampson June 28, 2009 at 11:44 pm - Reply

    I believe the most likely scenario is a merging of computers and humans as Kurzweil describes. In fact you see it today. I am smarter given access to a cell phone and computer. You could in a way think of these as extensions of my brain. I can search google on my phone and look up news, etc at any time. I can send emails look on social networking sites, use GPS. This trend will continue and the connection between human / cell phone (or whatever we start calling it) will become much more intimate. Also, the software available on the phone (and internet) will become more powerful. Theoretically as computers advance enough, the brain would be fully replaced with a computing substrate, this will happen as cell phone upgrades (assuming the name doesn’t change). Separate AI probably will not be able to pass us because we will continue upgrading our brains as we do now by buying the latest tech gadgets.

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