Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

3.31.2015

From the TL;DR Files

Even though I know Urban's goal is engagement and involvement like he urges in the first part of his conclusion, I have to admit my biggest reaction was where he goes at the end of it:
But no matter what you’re pulling for, this is probably something we should all be thinking about and talking about and putting our effort into more than we are right now.

It reminds me of Game of Thrones, where people keep being like, “We’re so busy fighting each other but the real thing we should all be focusing on is what’s coming from north of the wall.” We’re standing on our balance beam, squabbling about every possible issue on the beam and stressing out about all of these problems on the beam when there’s a good chance we’re about to get knocked off the beam.

And when that happens, none of these beam problems matter anymore. Depending on which side we’re knocked off onto, the problems will either all be easily solved or we won’t have problems anymore because dead people don’t have problems.
If it all won't matter in 25-75 years, why bother?  It's not in my character to actually give in to this impulse, but after reading this piece I was left feeling like I shouldn't try to instill my kids with the value to care enough to make the world a better place.  They should just live their lives in search of as much personal enjoyment as possible since all of the world's problems will either be fixed or irrelevant by the end of their lifetimes anyway, right?  Not really, but it's hard not to feel too small and insignificant to matter in any meaningful way when considering thoughts like these.

What am I talking about?  Like always, I encourage you to actually read the entire piece to find out for yourself.  Since it's quite lengthy,* though, I'll offer a few snippets in the hopes of teasing you into following the link.  From Wait But Why:
The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence

 . . . Kurzweil suggests that the progress of the entire 20th century would have been achieved in only 20 years at the rate of advancement in the year 2000—in other words, by 2000, the rate of progress was five times faster than the average rate of progress during the 20th century. He believes another 20th century’s worth of progress happened between 2000 and 2014 and that another 20th century’s worth of progress will happen by 2021, in only seven years. A couple decades later, he believes a 20th century’s worth of progress will happen multiple times in the same year, and even later, in less than one month. All in all, because of the Law of Accelerating Returns, Kurzweil believes that the 21st century will achieve 1,000 times the progress of the 20th century.

If Kurzweil and others who agree with him are correct, then we may be as blown away by 2030 as our 1750 guy was by 2015—i.e. the next DPU might only take a couple decades—and the world in 2050 might be so vastly different than today’s world that we would barely recognize it.

This isn’t science fiction. It’s what many scientists smarter and more knowledgeable than you or I firmly believe—and if you look at history, it’s what we should logically predict. . . .

. . .

There is some debate about how soon AI will reach human-level general intelligence—the median year on a survey of hundreds of scientists about when they believed we’d be more likely than not to have reached AGI was 2040—that’s only 25 years from now, which doesn’t sound that huge until you consider that many of the thinkers in this field think it’s likely that the progression from AGI to ASI happens very quickly. Like—this could happen:

It takes decades for the first AI system to reach low-level general intelligence, but it finally happens. A computer is able to understand the world around it as well as a human four-year-old. Suddenly, within an hour of hitting that milestone, the system pumps out the grand theory of physics that unifies general relativity and quantum mechanics, something no human has been able to definitively do. 90 minutes after that, the AI has become an ASI, 170,000 times more intelligent than a human.

Superintelligence of that magnitude is not something we can remotely grasp, any more than a bumblebee can wrap its head around Keynesian Economics. In our world, smart means a 130 IQ and stupid means an 85 IQ—we don’t have a word for an IQ of 12,952.

What we do know is that humans’ utter dominance on this Earth suggests a clear rule: with intelligence comes power. Which means an ASI, when we create it, will be the most powerful being in the history of life on Earth, and all living things, including humans, will be entirely at its whim—and this might happen in the next few decades.

If our meager brains were able to invent wifi, then something 100 or 1,000 or 1 billion times smarter than we are should have no problem controlling the positioning of each and every atom in the world in any way it likes, at any time—everything we consider magic, every power we imagine a supreme God to have will be as mundane an activity for the ASI as flipping on a light switch is for us. Creating the technology to reverse human aging, curing disease and hunger and even mortality, reprogramming the weather to protect the future of life on Earth—all suddenly possible. Also possible is the immediate end of all life on Earth. As far as we’re concerned, if an ASI comes to being, there is now an omnipotent God on Earth—and the all-important question for us is:

Will it be a nice god? . . . 
In 2013, Vincent C. Müller and Nick Bostrom conducted a survey that asked hundreds of AI experts at a series of conferences the following question: “For the purposes of this question, assume that human scientific activity continues without major negative disruption. By what year would you see a (10% / 50% / 90%) probability for such HLMI to exist?” It asked them to name an optimistic year (one in which they believe there’s a 10% chance we’ll have AGI), a realistic guess (a year they believe there’s a 50% chance of AGI—i.e. after that year they think it’s more likely than not that we’ll have AGI), and a safe guess (the earliest year by which they can say with 90% certainty we’ll have AGI). Gathered together as one data set, here were the results:

Median optimistic year (10% likelihood): 2022
Median realistic year (50% likelihood): 2040
Median pessimistic year (90% likelihood): 2075

So the median participant thinks it’s more likely than not that we’ll have AGI 25 years from now. The 90% median answer of 2075 means that if you’re a teenager right now, the median respondent, along with over half of the group of AI experts, is almost certain AGI will happen within your lifetime.
A separate study, conducted recently by author James Barrat at Ben Goertzel’s annual AGI Conference, did away with percentages and simply asked when participants thought AGI would be achieved—by 2030, by 2050, by 2100, after 2100, or never. The results:

By 2030: 42% of respondents
By 2050: 25%
By 2100: 20%
After 2100: 10%
Never: 2% . . . 
Eventually, Kurzweil believes humans will reach a point when they’re entirely artificial; a time when we’ll look at biological material and think how unbelievably primitive it was that humans were ever made of that; a time when we’ll read about early stages of human history, when microbes or accidents or diseases or wear and tear could just kill humans against their own will; a time the AI Revolution could bring to an end with the merging of humans and AI. This is how Kurzweil believes humans will ultimately conquer our biology and become indestructible and eternal—this is his vision for the other side of the balance beam. And he’s convinced we’re gonna get there. Soon. . . . 

But what surprised me is that most of the experts who disagree with him don’t really disagree that everything he’s saying is possible. Reading such an outlandish vision for the future, I expected his critics to be saying, “Obviously that stuff can’t happen,” but instead they were saying things like, “Yes, all of that can happen if we safely transition to ASI, but that’s the hard part.” . . . 

But if that’s the answer, why are so many of the world’s smartest people so worried right now? Why does Stephen Hawking say the development of ASI “could spell the end of the human race” and Bill Gates say he doesn’t “understand why some people are not concerned” and Elon Musk fear that we’re “summoning the demon”? And why do so many experts on the topic call ASI the biggest threat to humanity? These people, and the other thinkers on Anxious Avenue, don’t buy Kurzweil’s brush-off of the dangers of AI. They’re very, very worried about the AI Revolution, and they’re not focusing on the fun side of the balance beam. They’re too busy staring at the other side, where they see a terrifying future, one they’re not sure we’ll be able to escape. . . . 

 . . . 

From everything I’ve read, once an ASI exists, any human attempt to contain it is laughable. We would be thinking on human-level and the ASI would be thinking on ASI-level. Turry wanted to use the internet because it was most efficient for her since it was already pre-connected to everything she wanted to access. But in the same way a monkey couldn’t ever figure out how to communicate by phone or wifi and we can, we can’t conceive of all the ways Turry could have figured out how to send signals to the outside world. I might imagine one of these ways and say something like, “she could probably shift her own electrons around in patterns and create all different kinds of outgoing waves,” but again, that’s what my human brain can come up with. She’d be way better. Likewise, Turry would be able to figure out some way of powering herself, even if humans tried to unplug her—perhaps by using her signal-sending technique to upload herself to all kinds of electricity-connected places. Our human instinct to jump at a simple safeguard: “Aha! We’ll just unplug the ASI,” sounds to the ASI like a spider saying, “Aha! We’ll kill the human by starving him, and we’ll starve him by not giving him a spider web to catch food with!” We’d just find 10,000 other ways to get food—like picking an apple off a tree—that a spider could never conceive of. . . .



*Speaking of my annoyance with TL;DR, I'm thrilled to have discovered Wait But Why through this article and am now following them on Facebook.  In trying to learn a bit more about the site, I found it was featured in a lovely article titled The Secrets of Writing Smart, Long-form Articles That Go Absolutely Viral that discussed how it has been successful at creating thoughtful, long-form content:
"We took a bet that long but really thorough, really high-quality articles would not only be acceptable to certain people but would be a really fresh, standout thing in a current world of really short list articles. And that smart people would start reading it, and would keep reading it and get to the end. Then they'd want to share it, even more than if it were a great short article."
It's a lovely article and well worth reading.  It would be my blueprint were I actually trying to do something substantial and gain readers with this (or any other) blog ("That's all this is—a bigger version of telling my friends what I was just thinking about.").  And it includes a tweet from Elon Musk recommending the essay I excerpted above, calling it a "Good primer on the exponential advancement of technology, particularly AI."

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