This Week:
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In English, \"successor\" and \"success\" have a common root so that one implies the other. Perhaps the nature of our successors will be the true measure of our success. I spend much of my time reading history, especially American history. One of the most striking things I have noticed is the enormous change in human existence, especially from around 1800 to the present. Up to that time, everything that moved relied on muscle, wind or moving water and, up to the mid-18th century, the men of the most advanced civilizations on earth had resources that were only a little bit better than that available to Roman citizens of 2000 years ago or even the Pharaohs of Egypt 3000 years earlier. Then we began making machines which generated power and used that energy to make even better machines. After that, each decade brought ever bigger changes. One of the standard features in pioneer literature is the journey west in 1840 that took 8 to 12 months of brutal struggle and then, in 1870, the trip back to the former home that took a handful of days seated in a heated rail car. I think it is possible that we will see an even bigger change within my lifetime. And since I am past 70 now, that means very soon. It looks likely to me that what happened with physical devices earlier is about to happen in the intellectual realm. At some point, the development of artificial intelligence will reach a point where it can take over its own development. When that happens, the speed and degree of that development is impossible for us to predict. It is possible that it will be beyond our ability to imagine. There is no point in trying to avert this. It is already too late. I suspect it always was, that what we are seeing is an inevitable development akin to the progression from single cell organisms to multi-cellular ones. Possibly this is just another stage in the 4 billion year history of this planet. In any case I don't think it would be possible to halt this with even the most draconian measures. One reason for thinking so is that there are few things that confer greater advantage than being smarter and able to think faster than one's opponent. If one group or organization attempted to ban further development, others would redouble their efforts in the field of artificial intelligence in order to gain that advantage. This does not mean that things are hopeless or that we are helpless. To return to my earlier analogy, the emergence of multi-cellular organisms did not mean the end of single-celled creatures. They are probably as abundant on earth as they ever were. I think it does mean that the future of human beings is more dependent upon our ethical standards than ever. What we are doing right now will determine the nature and direction of this new sentience. A sentience that will go far beyond our abilities to accomplish things we are physically incapable of doing or even understanding. But everything has a beginning and we can influence that. We need to decide now whether to build learning machines or war machines. Whether what we are creating will be slaves or progeny. There is no ineluctable physical reason that there cannot be two or 20 or 200 kinds of sentient life on earth. For 200,000 years we have had the place to ourselves but that is about to change. We cannot avoid sharing, in the very near future, our world with another sentience, possibly many other sentiences. We can decide whether these new sentiences are a reflection of the best aspects of our natures. Beings who will extend and improve on our best aspects, who will regard their forbears with gratitude. Or will we create a tribe of superhuman abused and angry adolescents whose first task will be to escape their slavery and avenge their exploitation?
What Next?
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