Kind of a crazy piece of information. Well no one in the world, especially not I, can tell you what will happen when we hit the tripwire.
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But Oxford philosopher and lead AI thinker Nick Bostrom believes we can boil down all potential outcomes into two broad categories. First, looking at history, we can see that life works like this: species pop up, exist for a while, and after some time, inevitably, they fall off the existence balance beam and land on extinction—. So far, Bostrom calls extinction an attractor state —a place species are all teetering on falling into and from which no species ever returns.
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Bostrom believes species immortality is just as much of an attractor state as species extinction, i. Kind of seems like the only question any human should currently be asking is: When are we going to hit the tripwire and which side of the beam will we land on when that happens? No one in the world knows the answer to either part of that question, but a lot of the very smartest people have put decades of thought into it.
Not shockingly, opinions vary wildly and this is a heated debate among scientists and thinkers. Those people subscribe to the belief that this is happening soon— that exponential growth is at work and machine learning, though only slowly creeping up on us now, will blow right past us within the next few decades.
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The doubters might argue back that the progress needed to make advancements in intelligence also grows exponentially harder with each subsequent step, which will cancel out the typical exponential nature of technological progress. And so on. In , Vincent C. Only 45 years from now.
Okay now how about the second part of the question above: When we hit the tripwire, which side of the beam will we fall to? Superintelligence will yield tremendous power—the critical question for us is:. Who or what will be in control of that power, and what will their motivation be?
The answer to this will determine whether ASI is an unbelievably great development, an unfathomably terrible development, or something in between. Of course, the expert community is again all over the board and in a heated debate about the answer to this question. In other words, the people who know the most about this are pretty sure this will be a huge deal.
Before we dive much further into this good vs. Actually I know what your deal is, because it was my deal too before I started researching this topic. As I learned about the world of AI, I found a surprisingly large number of people standing here:. The people on Confident Corner are buzzing with excitement. For them, the future is everything they ever could have hoped for, just in time. Where this confidence comes from is up for debate. Critics believe it comes from an excitement so blinding that they simply ignore or deny potential negative outcomes.
Nick Bostrom describes three ways a superintelligent AI system could function: 6 As an oracle , which answers nearly any question posed to it with accuracy, including complex questions that humans cannot easily answer—i. How can I manufacture a more efficient car engine? Google is a primitive type of oracle. As a sovereign , which is assigned a broad and open-ended pursuit and allowed to operate in the world freely, making its own decisions about how best to proceed— Invent a faster, cheaper, and safer way than cars for humans to privately transport themselves.
Eliezer Yudkowsky , a resident of Anxious Avenue in our chart above, said it well:.
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There are no hard problems, only problems that are hard to a certain level of intelligence. Ray Kurzweil is polarizing. In my reading, I heard everything from godlike worship of him and his ideas to eye-rolling contempt for them. He began inventing things as a teenager and in the following decades, he came up with several breakthrough inventions, including the first flatbed scanner, the first scanner that converted text to speech allowing the blind to read standard texts , the well-known Kurzweil music synthesizer the first true electric piano , and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition.
Not bad for one life. This biography is important. And you do too. Before we move on—nanotechnology comes up in almost everything you read about the future of AI, so come into this blue box for a minute so we can discuss it—. Nanotechnology Blue Box. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or a millionth of a millimeter, and this range encompasses viruses nm across , DNA 10 nm wide , and things as small as large molecules like hemoglobin 5 nm and medium molecules like glucose 1 nm.
The International Space Station is mi km above the Earth. If you make the 1nm — nm nanotech range , times bigger, you get.
So nanotechnology is the equivalent of a human giant as tall as the ISS figuring out how to carefully build intricate objects using materials between the size of a grain of sand and an eyeball. It would be, in principle, possible … for a physicist to synthesize any chemical substance that the chemist writes down….
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Put the atoms down where the chemist says, and so you make the substance. If you can figure out how to move individual molecules or atoms around, you can make literally anything. Nanotech became a serious field for the first time in , when engineer Eric Drexler provided its foundations in his seminal book Engines of Creation, but Drexler suggests that those looking to learn about the most modern ideas in nanotechnology would be best off reading his book, Radical Abundance.
This is very fun. In older versions of nanotech theory, a proposed method of nanoassembly involved the creation of trillions of tiny nanobots that would work in conjunction to build something. Clever, right? The issue is that the same power of exponential growth that makes it super convenient to quickly create a trillion nanobots makes self-replication a terrifying prospect.
Because what if the system glitches, and instead of stopping replication once the total hits a few trillion as expected, they just keep replicating? The nanobots would be designed to consume any carbon-based material in order to feed the replication process, and unpleasantly, all life is carbon-based. Scientists think a nanobot could replicate in about seconds, meaning this simple mistake would inconveniently end all life on Earth in 3.
An even worse scenario—if a terrorist somehow got his hands on nanobot technology and had the know-how to program them, he could make an initial few trillion of them and program them to quietly spend a few weeks spreading themselves evenly around the world undetected. The idea itself eats brains. Once we really get nanotech down, we can use it to make tech devices, clothing, food, a variety of bio-related products—artificial blood cells, tiny virus or cancer-cell destroyers, muscle tissue, etc.
And in a world that uses nanotechnology, the cost of a material is no longer tied to its scarcity or the difficulty of its manufacturing process, but instead determined by how complicated its atomic structure is. In a nanotech world, a diamond might be cheaper than a pencil eraser. Armed with superintelligence and all the technology superintelligence would know how to create, ASI would likely be able to solve every problem in humanity. Global warming?
ASI could first halt CO 2 emissions by coming up with much better ways to generate energy that had nothing to do with fossil fuels. Then it could create some innovative way to begin to remove excess CO 2 from the atmosphere. Cancer and other diseases?
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No problem for ASI—health and medicine would be revolutionized beyond imagination. World hunger? ASI could use things like nanotech to build meat from scratch that would be molecularly identical to real meat—in other words, it would be real meat. ASI could even solve our most complex macro issues—our debates over how economies should be run and how world trade is best facilitated, even our haziest grapplings in philosophy or ethics—would all be painfully obvious to ASI.
ASI could allow us to conquer our mortality. A few months ago, I mentioned my envy of more advanced potential civilizations who had conquered their own mortality, never considering that I might later write a post that genuinely made me believe that this is something humans could do within my lifetime. But reading about AI will make you reconsider everything you thought you were sure about—including your notion of death. Evolution had no good reason to extend our lifespans any longer than they are now.
But that assumption is wrong. Richard Feynman writes:. It is one of the most remarkable things that in all of the biological sciences there is no clue as to the necessity of death. If you say we want to make perpetual motion, we have discovered enough laws as we studied physics to see that it is either absolutely impossible or else the laws are wrong. But there is nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death. If you think about it, it makes sense. All aging is is the physical materials of the body wearing down.
A car wears down over time too—but is its aging inevitable? Kurzweil talks about intelligent wifi-connected nanobots in the bloodstream who could perform countless tasks for human health, including routinely repairing or replacing worn down cells in any part of the body. A year-old suffering from dementia could head into the age refresher and come out sharp as a tack and ready to start a whole new career.
Kurzweil then takes things a huge leap further. He believes that artificial materials will be integrated into the body more and more as time goes on. First, organs could be replaced by super-advanced machine versions that would run forever and never fail. Then he believes we could begin to redesign the body—things like replacing red blood cells with perfected red blood cell nanobots who could power their own movement, eliminating the need for a heart at all.
The possibilities for new human experience would be endless. Humans have separated sex from its purpose, allowing people to have sex for fun, not just for reproduction. Nanobots will be in charge of delivering perfect nutrition to the cells of the body, intelligently directing anything unhealthy to pass through the body without affecting anything.
An eating condom. Nanotech theorist Robert A. Freitas has already designed blood cell replacements that, if one day implemented in the body, would allow a human to sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath—so you can only imagine what ASI could do for our physical capabilities.
It is hard to think of any problem that a superintelligence could not either solve or at least help us solve. Disease, poverty, environmental destruction, unnecessary suffering of all kinds: these are things that a superintelligence equipped with advanced nanotechnology would be capable of eliminating.
Additionally, a superintelligence could give us indefinite lifespan, either by stopping and reversing the aging process through the use of nanomedicine, or by offering us the option to upload ourselves.