A fascinating conference on artificial intelligence was recently hosted by the Future of Life Institute, an organization aimed at promoting “optimistic visions of the future”. The conference “Superintelligence: Science or Fiction?” included such luminaries as Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, futurist Ray Kurzweil, Demis Hassabis of MIT’s DeepMind, neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, philosopher Nick Bostrom, philosopher and cognitive scientist David Chalmers, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, as well as computer scientists Stuart Russell and Bart Selman. The discussion was led by MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark.
The group touched on a number of topics about the future benefits and risks of coming artificial superintelligence, with everyone generally agreeing that it’s only a matter of time before AI becomes ubiquitous in our lives. Eventually, AI will surpass human intelligence, with the risks and transformations that such a seismic event would entail.
Elon Musk has not always been an optimistic voice for AI, warning of its dangers to humanity. But here he sounds more muted about the threat. He sees the AI future as inevitable, with dangers to be mitigated through government regulation, as much as he doesn’t like the idea of them being a “bit of a buzzkill”.
He also brings up an interesting perspective that our fears of the technological changes the future will bring are largely irrelevant. According to Musk, we are already cyborgs by utilizing “machine extensions” of ourselves like phones and computers.
“By far you have more power, more capability, than the President of the United States had 30 years ago. If you have an Internet link you have an article of wisdom, you can communicate to millions of people, you can communicate to the rest of Earth instantly. I mean, these are magical powers that didn’t exist, not that long ago. So everyone is already superhuman, and a cyborg,” says Musk [at 33:56].
He sees humans as information-processing machines that pale in comparison to the powers of a computer. What is necessary, according to Musk, is to create a greater integration between man and machine, specifically altering our brains with technology to make them more computer-like.
“I think the two things that are needed for a future that we would look at and conclude is good, most likely, is, we have to solve that bandwidth constraint with a direct neural interface. I think a high bandwidth interface to the cortex, so that we can have a digital tertiary layer that’s more fully symbiotic with the rest of us. We’ve got the cortex and the limbic system, which seem to work together pretty well - they’ve got good bandwidth, whereas the bandwidth to additional tertiary layer is weak,” explained Musk [at 35:05]
Once we solve that issue, AI will spread everywhere. It’s important to do so because, according to Musk, if only a smaller group would have such capabilities, they would become “dictators” with “dominion over Earth”.
What would a world filled with such cyborgs look like? Visions of Star Trek’s Borg come to mind.
Musk thinks it will be a society full of equals:
“And if we do those things, then it will be tied to our consciousness, tied to our will, tied to the sum of individual human will, and everyone would have it so it would be sort of still a relatively even playing field, in fact, it would be probably more egalitarian than today,” points out Musk [at 36:38].
The whole conference is immensely fascinating and worth watching in full. Check it out here: