I'm reporting from the Singularity Summit (AI and the Future of Humanity) in San Francisco where a bunch of fascinating luminaries (from MIT, IBM, Google, WorldChanging, etc.) are discussing the possibility that despite a lack of excitement in AI research lately, we might yet invent artificial intelligence that is smarter than we are. (The term singularity, though I'm sure you all know this, was first pulled from the physics/big bang/black hole vernacular and used in this context by Vernor Vinge, then popularized by Ray Kurzweil, who is speaking via video conference tomorrow). Some people get as excited about the Singularity as Christians do about the Rapture, thinking it might solve all of our problems via a positive feedback loop emerging from intelligent systems that are capable of making themselves recursively better. Others refer to it as a nerdpocalypse and tell tales of Hal-like doom and gloom or economic and network catastrophes that will inevitably arise from AIs (either malevolent or just behaving stupidly because of bad programming) running rampant.
It's hard to say whether it's going to be good or bad (most likely somewhere in between), but I'm fascinated by the fact that a lot of this promise appears to be intersecting with virtual worlds, despite my perception that AI in VWs has taken a backseat (relative to non-MMO games) to the desire to build increasingly more complex systems for human-to-human interaction.
Things that are being discussed here:
- The new wave of AI has moved far beyond simplistic and narrow AI with specialized functions to a desire to build artificial general intelligences (AGIs) that are capable of thinking and learning. The key to this desire is that practical learning is a product of experience. AGIs cannot be built, they must be grown. And the perfect place to grow them just might be virtual worlds - AI babies that can be raised by virtual villages. Ben Goertzel (who will be speaking at Virtual Worlds 2007 and whose kids are named Zarathustra, Zebulon and Scheherazade) is running a 15-person company called Novamente that is conceiving such babies for MMOs. One thing I wonder is what people can learn from helping baby AIs learn? And what kinds of attachments might we develop to these children we help raise? (People are apparently making clothes for their roombas - they'd go nuts with AI babies. And what are the hacking possibilities? Whewee!!). Lots of questions here... does this sort of interaction from infanthood guarantee friendly AI, or does it increase the possibilities for contention?
- The likely scenario for really advanced AI is that it will be some blend of humans and brain-computer interfaces... so the AI baby is trained in the VW then uploaded into your implant where it gets to be a little homonculous (like the rat that drives the stupid chef in Rataouille)? Or you upload your consciousness, have some sort of mash-up with your pre-trained AI (you've run raids in WoW with it) and download the whole lot back into your body? The transhumanists think about this stuff lots...
Things that have not been discussed:
- Whether de facto AGIs exist already, resident in organisms we call collective intelligences, corporations and other self-organizing systems. If so, can they be tweaked, rather than starting with AI babies?
I am almost convinced to get my head frozen so that I can witness this fabulous future. You all can listen to the podcasts and see if you are tempted, too. Cocktails are beckoning and I am not doing this topic justice, but let's discuss!