The thing that I find interesting about this book is its philosophical message; the prospect of the advent of a superintelligence that is capable of our extinction or subjugation. Most interestingly it raises the awareness as to why and how should we control the situation before it is too late. At first the premise might come across as a banal and hackneyed idea which is not different from some cheap sci-fi movie, however, Nick Bostrom tries to convince you otherwise. It is interesting to see how Nick Bostrom challenges the palpable cultural and religious obsession with us that we, the human beings, deem ourselves as the overlords of this Planet Earth and would stay like this forever. We tell ourselves that we are the center of the creation, but the truth is far contrary to this naïve notion.
Despite its flaws, however, the idea of Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom will appeal strongly to certain techno-futurist Silicon Valley types that I am. Here I would interject though. I find the example of a sudden spike in GDP over last few centuries, given in the book to substantiate the claim that humans can perform such great feat in achieving superintelligence as well, rather strange. But the idea that we and monkeys shared the same ancestor some certain generations back are cogent enough for me to believe that we are ushering into a new era of an intelligence explosion. Nevertheless, whether you believe or not, given the extraordinary accomplishments of humanity in the past and grave implications it might have on us in some unforeseeable future, it warrants that a possibility of such is worth investigating.
Another interesting point raised in the book is that of anthropomorphizing. Nick Bostrom wants us to refrain us from anthropomorphizing when it comes to superintelligence. It is commonplace that we attribute consciousness to animals, trees, rivers, storms, ghosts, angels and gods. So, my answer to this question why humans have hair triggered tendency to attribute consciousness to everything around us and why we have this yearn for consciousness is simple. I believe this to be a fact coming from evolutionary biology that It’s a consequence of our hyper-social nature. Evolutionary has escalated our tendency to model and judge others and everything and now we’re supremely synced up with each other’s mental states. No doubt it gives us our evolutionary advantage. The inevitable side effect is the detection of false positives or falling for ideas and myths as fallible as ghosts. So, we should be cautious lest we fall for unjustified expectations about the growth trajectory of a seed AI and about the motivations, and capabilities of a mature superintelligence.
I believe before one digresses running different scenarios of the world overtaking, it is only reasonable to list all the functionalities and superpowers one might deem necessary for such task. Nick Bostrom does the same in his book. But I feel that the idea of such superintelligence is not explored in detail and such a short list of strategically relevant tasks is not enough to carry out world domination. Take for instance some of the skills like rhetoric persuasion and forecasting. They are not only quite impossible to achieve without a great deal of human intervention only via intelligence amplification, but they are subject to chance also. In short, we are effectively unable to predict how and when we run into such future.
Now assuming a mature superintelligence has come into being, how we are going to control it. In my opinion, it fails to answer this question as well. Moreover, I find the idea of fashioning machines after human values rather vague. Why and how should I hope that a superintelligence more intelligent than humans in every cognitive aspect can be enslaved by humans?
Now comes the question of superintelligence prospect within rational bounds: is it a philosophical hoax or the greatest prediction? Today’s media, let alone the academic circles, is bombarded by news about AI. AI seems to progress with breaking neck speed. In every circle, may it be of technology-oriented entrepreneur’s elites or libertarians, most are convinced of the eventual victory of the machine over humans, the birth of a new world where human intellectual prowess has been replaced by superintelligence. Quite interestingly, although media might have convinced me in the past that a super-intelligence separate from human beings is reachable within a few years, yet now I believe to the contrary.
I strongly feel Nick line of argument lacking a rational basis. Nick Bostrom strongly believe that the human brain isn’t some uncrackable sorcery; nor are the cognitive abilities our brains possess. They are merely poorly understood and mimicked. If there’s nothing magical about our brains or essential about the substrate that makes them up, then we can imagine eventually building machines that at least possess all the same cognitive abilities as we do. I believe despite the recent advances in the field of artificial intelligence, it is still unclear how we might achieve this feat, how many pieces of the puzzle are still missing, and what the consequences might be when we do. So, we should refrain from jumping on big conclusions like that.
Moreover, even if I believe for the sake of argument that the making of such superintelligence is ultimate eventuality, it is still in its infancy. Numerous artists who transcend their field — from Ludwig Van Beethoven to John Lennon — have admittedly made this fact clear that they have never been able to predict what, when or how creations will emerge next; and indeed, or know the source of it. Moreover, I believe that the act of bringing those “artworks” into the world, usually ascribed to be driven by innate passion, motivation, empathy to break the status quo, is itself a uniquely human talent, and still not possible to be incorporated in any of available machines. For this reason, I am convinced that no machine, no matter how much endowed in a computational sense, will ever be able to meaningfully innovate an artistic breakthrough like Jazz Music; or a commercial one like Microsoft from scratch. Breakthrough creativity is fundamentally organic, not algorithmic. Whilst computers and the businesses that run on are breakthroughs; they themselves will never make them. Although I feel much of the idea of arriving and dealing with such a superintelligence in any point in future is debatable and futile, yet it has far more potential to have implications in a broad spectrum of disciplines and fields. That is why I believe whether such prospect is realistic or not, the human pursuit for such must be endorsed anyways.
In the end on a personal note, I would like to share a muse that I had while reading about the prospect of superintelligence. I still do not understand as to why we revere human intelligence as a singularity; it is being called best creation or spitting image of God in most religious circles and now being perpetrated as holy grail or last invention of science by human beings in the scientific world. Instead, I believe that human intelligence and AI have their own limitation and disadvantages, and any realistic prospect of the “seed” of such super-intelligence might not grow separately out of some manmade machine but rather a fusion of AI and humans. A cyborg generation better than simple humans; effectively the same species yet as different as a modern man of today from a caveman.
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