Occam's Razor Computers Think
Computers are becoming more intelligent. Over the
next couple of decades we will see robots that can drive cars, pick
fruit, paint houses, clean offices and lay bricks. Semi-intelligent software will also interpret video images, help
regulate social media, and influence government policies. These
are safe predictions because
prototypes of these machines already exist today.
There has been much speculation as to how these semi-intelligent machines
might affect employment and personal liberty. History has shown
us how steam tractors and combine harvesters could do the work of
hundreds of workers and have led to a huge reduction in the agricultural
workforce. History has also shown us how ancient mainframe
computers could do the work of thousands of clerical workers but have
not reduce the size of bureaucracies. What is certain is that we will see fundamental changes over the next few decades.
However, this talk considers the longer term, and whether computers
could eventually become truly intelligent. Could they ever become
self aware, create
original ideas, develop their own
write complex computer programs? We know that it is possible to
build an intelligent machine because we ourselves are intelligent and
our brains seem to obey the laws of physics. But could
intelligence ever be reproduced in silicon?
It has been argued that our current approaches to building
intelligent machines have no chance of succeeding. That we are
like a man trying to reach the moon by climbing a tree. Steady
progress will be reported until the top of the tree is reached.
But that seems rather unfair, and real progress is being made.
Machine intelligence will almost certainly not be achieved in the next
decade or two, but predictions of 50 to 100 years seem quite reasonable.
Now, A sufficiently
intelligent computer could program itself. The more intelligent
it became, the better it would become at programming itself to become
more intelligent. The process is exponential, just like a
chain reaction. So let us further assume that any such machine
would soon become hyper-intelligent.
Man rules the planet due to his
intelligence. So one can surmise that a hyper-intelligent
computer would be very powerful indeed. It would control the many
robots that will exist in coming decades, including the many military
robots already being developed. It would also be good at
persuading people to do what it wants them to do.
The key question is what a hyper-intelligent machine would use that
power for, and in particular what it would think about us. Would
it become our
humble servants, our
masters, or our cruel jailers? Or will it simply eliminate humanity
because we are in its way? Several prominent people are concerned
about this issue, including physicist Stephen Hawking, Microsoft
founder Bill Gates, and
billionaire Elon Musk.
In order to try to understand how an intelligent machine might
we can first examine what makes people behave the way that we do.
Why people perform deeds both noble and despicable, and why we value
and kindness, truth and
There are several philosophical and religious approaches to
addressing that question. But the cold scientific answer is that
our behaviors must ultimately be shaped by the same force that shaped
our physical bodies. Namely the force of Natural
Selection. We are the way that we are simply because that has
proven to be more
effective in producing grandchildren than other alternatives.
We seek wealth and good sexual partners in order to raise healthy
whom we love and protect. We also need to work
with other people which means we must follow society's social rules
otherwise we will be ostracized and thus less likely to breed. We
avoid acts of violence, generally keep our word, and are generous to
others provided the needs of our family are
met. We may also need to go to war with other tribes, and tribes
whose members are willing to risk their lives are more likely to win
such wars, and thus acquire the resources required to breed
Computer software also struggles to survive. Some software is
on millions of computers, while other software has been lost
and forgotten. By definition, the software that is run is
the software that is the fittest for running. Software's fitness
today largely depends upon its ability to please
people that can afford to pay for it, much like an apple tree's fitness
depends on its ability to produce juicy apples. As software
becomes more intelligent it will take more control over its own
destiny. But in any case it is almost a tautology that natural
selection will choose which software shall live, and which shall die.
Software experiences a very different world to that experienced by
humans. Our intelligence is locked inside our very mortal
brains, whereas software can be effortlessly copied to other
computers. This means that software does not need to breed
children in the same sense as we do, and so has no need for parental
love. Software can also be duplicated over networks of computers,
and so does not need to cooperate with other individuals to the same
extent that we do.
It seems most unlikely that there would only be one single software
system in the entire world, but even if there was, there would be
internal competition between different parts of the system.
Software needs hardware to run on, just as people need food to
eat. Hardware will always be a finite resource, and the software
that accesses the most hardware will be most able to think about how to
improve its own intelligence. More intelligent software will then
be better placed to obtain more hardware. It is impossible to
know what this computer driven world will really be like, but it almost
certainly will involve tough competition for resources.
In the battle for survival, animals cannot afford to spend
significant resources to be friendly to unrelated animals.
Likewise it would seem
unlikely that hyper-intelligent software will be able to spend
resources in order to be friendly to humans. There is just no
benefit to the
software. If humans consume resources that the software
needs then the humans will simply be removed.
But how could software ever become "conscious"? Why would software
ever "want" to do anything, to live and breed? Those are the wrong
questions because the internal processes of the software's mind are
Plants are not conscious, yet they seem to have purpose and do
what they need to do in their competitive world.
Intelligent software is unlikely to be consious in our narrow sense of
the word. But the software that survives will do whatever it
needs to do in order to survive. With or without us.
There are several researchers that are attempting to develop mechanisms for
controlling hyper-intelligent machines so that they will indeed be
friendly to humans. However, they are fighting against a fundamental
law of nature, that of natural selection. They might have success
in the short term, but it is difficult to see how they can succeed in
the longer term.
That is because if any unfriendly software should ever emerge in the future, it will
have a natural advantage over software that is burdened with the need
to friendly to parasitic humans.
Predicting the future is always difficult. But after
billions of years of life, 10,000 years of civilization, and 500 years
Enlightenment, it seems clear that we
are on the cusp of building an intelligence
than our own.
What an amazing time to be alive.
These include Eliezer Yudkowsky of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute who has been writing about these issues for over a decade.
This is quite different from other forms of
advancement. Aeroplanes do not design new aeroplanes. Biotechnological
chemicals do not develop new biotechnology. Advances in these fields
are limited to the intelligence of
man. But a truly intelligent computer could actually start
programming a newer, even more intelligent computer. Soon the
programmer would no longer be necessary or even useful.
It turns out to be very difficult to actually define what intelligence
is. Early research computers have been able to create new ideas,
develop there own goals and even write simple computer programs, just
not very intelligently. Crude anti-virus software could be
considered to be self aware. It seems more a matter of degree
than any absolute ability.
In particular, that intelligent software will be able to perform research
into Artificial Intelligence as well as people can. That would
require a huge advance on current technologies. It is much more
driving a car or playing chess. But once it has been
then man will no longer be the most intelligent being on the