Book review: Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment.
This book contains papers of widely varying quality on superhuman intelligence, plus some fairly good discussions of what ethics we might hope to build into an AGI. Several chapters resemble cautious versions of LessWrong, others come from a worldview totally foreign to LessWrong.
The chapter I found most interesting was Richard Loosemore and Ben Goertzel’s attempt to show there are no likely obstacles to a rapid “intelligence explosion”.
I expect what they label as the “inherent slowness of experiments and environmental interaction” to be an important factor limiting the rate at which an AGI can become more powerful. They think they see evidence from current science that this is an unimportant obstacle compared to a shortage of intelligent researchers: “companies complain that research staff are expensive and in short supply; they do not complain that nature is just too slow.”
Some explanations that come to mind are:
- Complaints about nature being slow are not very effective at speeding up nature.
- Complaints about specific tools being slow probably aren’t very unusual, but there are plenty of cases where people know complaints aren’t effective (e.g. complaints about spacecraft traveling slower than the theoretical maximum [*]).
- Hiring more researchers can increase the status of a company even if the additional staff don’t advance knowledge.
They also find it hard to believe that we have independently reached the limit of the physical rate at which experiments can be done at the same time we’ve reached the limits of how many intelligent researchers we can hire. For literal meanings of physical limits this makes sense, but if it’s as hard to speed up experiments as it is to throw more intelligence into research, then the apparent coincidence could be due to wise allocation of resources to whichever bottleneck they’re better used in.
None of this suggests that it would be hard for an intelligence explosion to produce the 1000x increase in intelligence they talk about over a century, but it seems like an important obstacle to the faster time periods some people believe (days or weeks).
Some shorter comments on other chapters:
James Miller describes some disturbing incentives that investors would create for companies developing AGI if AGI is developed by companies large enough that no single investor has much influence on the company. I’m not too concerned about this because if AGI were developed by such a company, I doubt that small investors would have enough awareness of the project to influence it. The company might not publicize the project, or might not be honest about it. Investors might not believe accurate reports if they got them, since the reports won’t sound much different from projects that have gone nowhere. It seems very rare for small investors to understand any new software project well enough to distinguish between an AGI that goes foom and one that merely makes some people rich.
David Pearce expects the singularity to come from biological enhancements, because computers don’t have human qualia. He expects it would be intractable for computers to analyze qualia. It’s unclear to me whether this is supposed to limit AGI power because it would be hard for AGI to predict human actions well enough, or because the lack of qualia would prevent an AGI from caring about its goals.
Itamar Arel believes AGI is likely to be dangerous, and suggests dealing with the danger by limiting the AGI’s resources (without saying how it can be prevented from outsourcing its thought to other systems), and by “educational programs that will help mitigate the inevitable fear humans will have” (if the dangers are real, why is less fear desirable?).
* No, that example isn’t very relevant to AGI. Better examples would be atomic force microscopes, or the stock market (where it can take a generation to get a new test of an important pattern), but it would take lots of effort to convince you of that.