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A Brief Blip

Entry 1684, on 2014-10-29 at 16:19:23 (Rating 2, Philosophy)

A while back I listened to a podcast interview with Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom. I have commented on his intriguing ideas regarding the possibility that we are actually living in a computer simulation and not a real universe before (in a post "Not Crazy Enough" on 2012-11-06) and while his latest musings aren't quite as far reaching they are still really interesting.

In this interview he talked about the probable outcome of future advances in artificial intelligence and how that is likely to lead to disaster for humans. The idea that creating a super-intelligence (one significantly beyond human abilities) would be the last invention ever required is an old and well known one in science fiction. Once an intelligence capable of inventing further more advanced intelligences is created the situation rapidly escalates out of control as machine intelligence evolves faster than biology ever could.

But when will artificial intelligence reach this point, if ever? According to Bostrom a survey of experts gave a median answer of 2045 but it should be noted there was a large spread in the answers, so this is far from certain. One major question affecting the answer is: does existing technology scale or do we need something fundamentally different? Many current efforts in AI involve simulating a brain in software on a digital computer. This may not be the right approach and a new type of (analog) thinking machine might be required instead. If that is true then the 2045 timeframe is probably too optimistic - or should that be pessimistic?

But surely the point is not if but when this will happen. At some point, by whatever means (maybe something totally unheard of at this time) a super-human intelligence will be created. So should AI researchers be considering the consequences of their research even now? Should there be safeguards put in place to protect the creators from their creations?

This idea has been examined in science fiction for years, the most well known example being Asimov's laws of robotics. The first (and most relevant) law states: "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." This seems fine but what does it really mean? Would a super-intelligence interpret this as meaning that all humans need to be (metaphorically, I hope) wrapped in cotton-wool and be prevented from engaging in any possible dangerous activity? Would an even better solution be to not allow new humans to be born and therefore remove any possible chance of harm? Who knows how a super-intelligence would think.

One objection to these doomsday predictions is that super-intelligences might not be given access to the real world: they might be computers instead of robots. But will this only delay the inevitable? How long would it take a super-intelligent computer to figure out a way to influence the real world?

Presumably it would have some interaction with the real world, through its human operators, or through a network like the internet. And the "next big thing" on the internet will be "the internet of things" where everything will be connected, making influencing the real world even easier. And if that doesn't work there is always spamming, hacking, denial of service attacks, and blackmail as possible methods of influence. So it surely wouldn't be that difficult for something so smart to find a way to "take over the world".

And maybe that's why we don't see signs of intelligence elsewhere in the universe through studies such as SETI. We might represent a tiny transitional period in the evolution of life and intelligence. Maybe a typical time-line is 3 billion years of primitive pre-life and unicellular life, then half a billion years of increasing complex multicellular life, then a hundred thousand years of intelligence but without any real technology, then a few hundred years of more advanced technology, then synthetic life takes over for the rest of time.

Maybe a technological civilisation like ours is just a brief blip on the Universe's vast timeline and the chance of seing that tiny period of evolution between non-technological life and synthetic life is very low. Maybe the next stage happens so quickly after the technology stage begins and is so strange and unlike what we know that we wouldn't even know what to look for.

Or this all could be idle speculation and there might not be anything to worry about. Or maybe the whole universe is just a simulation anyway!

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Comment 54 (4219) by richard on 2014-12-10 at 17:39:10: (view earlier comments)

Thanks for something real to comment on. :)
The opening words whether you 'like' them or not are absolutely true both for theists and atheists alike. I see no issue with that at all. It is a statement of fact. Whether human beings ARE created in the image of God is not in question within that particular truth claim, only that 'the proposition was one of the bedrock principles...' is. So... what?

Second phrase. Again - Reasoned folk will understand the predication of this statement on the belief that Design theory is true. IF it is true, then this straight forward proposition statement, is also perfectly true. Without full context and taking as you have supplied it, a fair reading is that it is a simple statement about Design Theory, (more than the DI) and if Design Theory is true as they believe then there should no problem at all for anyone to understand that the promise statement would be a true one.

Even IF a concession was made in your favour to interpret that as some secret mission statement more like "The DI wants to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions" Again - so what? This is a shock to you?

Any reasoned adult can understand that they are simply saying we'd like to ensure Science matches REALITY (as they interpret REALITY based on the scientific evidence).

If you (or the NCSE) were to pen a similar statement relevant when reflecting on your scientific beliefs, then of course it would be something like: "Evolution theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of Theistic convictions and replace it with a science consonant with materialism".

I don't have an issue with the truth of that statement IF Evolution (in the macro sense) were true. Nor do I even see any sense in complaining that that this is undoubtedly their MISSION - other than of course that imo their belief on the premise re evo and materialsim is mistaken.

In short anyone complaining about this as some kind of conspiracy needs to grow up and get over it. This is like somehow being 'shocked' that Richard Dawkins want to convert theists to atheism as if this isn't obviously the goal. Am I shocked? Not at all - though in that case, the grounding for justifying the endeavour has no sound rational. If he is right - then why bother?! Cheers, Rich.

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Comment 55 (4220) by OJB on 2014-12-10 at 22:38:43:

OK, so the point I was trying to make is that the Discovery Institute is a religious/political organisation and has done no science. Therefore its opinion on scientific subjects should be treated with extreme skepticism.

You also accused me several times of using an ad hominem attack. You're right I did, and I explained above why. Ad hominem is an informal logical fallacy and there are times when it is perfectly reasonable to use it. This is one of those times.

Note that there is no science supporting ID, and as far as I know no real theology either. It is nothing. The only reason for its existence is the opinions of people like those from the DI. I've shown that their opinion is worthless making DI (in it's current form) also worthless.

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Comment 56 (4221) by richard on 2014-12-11 at 09:01:16:

Well if there are really any other readers, (I doubt it) we'll just have to leave it for them to decide whether you have truly'shown' that, or rather merely stated it as your opinion several times, in several creative and increasingly desperate ways during this thread. Funny thing is, the 'point you are trying to make' has been clear from the beginning, I am just trying to encourage you to use real science to make that case. The fact that reality is different, means of course that there is no science that can do this. Hence the resorting to other techniques (the word fallacy, does have a clear meaning you know). There is no case when it's reasonable to use it if one is capable of restricting oneself to a single specific truth claim. This is basic stuff. Well, it's been fun. I have as always enjoyed the exchange. Hope you did too. Cheers.

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Comment 57 (4223) by OJB on 2014-12-11 at 10:02:12:

Sounds like you want to wrap up this particular discussion so I will summarise my points here. I believe these are indisputable by any reasonable person...

1. There is little if any support for intelligent design in the scientific community. Any examples of design (such as claims of irreducible complexity) given in books have been disproved when credible natural processes have been demonstrated.

2. The major driver of ID is the Discovery Institute which is accepted by all neutral sources as a political/religious organisation rather than a scientific one.

3. The Wedge Document clearly shows the hidden agenda of the DI is to push creationism (disguised as ID) into schools and to attempt to discredit evolution.

4. The consensus in the scientific community is that evolution is the correct explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. It is supported by 95% of scientists and 99% of biologists.

5. If signs of intelligent design did exist in biology it would quickly be detected (without the specific need for a discipline of intelligent design) and result in necessary changes to current theories. That hasn't happened.

6. The search for intelligent design is potentially a real scientific activity but it has been hijacked by the religious community and used in an extremely cynical and dishonest way purely to advance their political and religious agenda.

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Comment 58 (4225) by OJB on 2014-12-11 at 10:21:44:

And regarding the other readers... looking at the logs there have been a lot of views from IP addresses quite different from those you and I use. I guess they could be automated services, etc, but I have most of those mapped out. I have always suspected there are a few readers of this blog who don't like to comment. I doubt whether anyone has bothered reading the whole debate here however!

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