Documenting the Coming Singularity

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why Create Super-Intelligence?

You will recall, if you are a fan of Seinfeld, a particularly heated debate between Jerry and George concerning Superman's super-powers. The subject of the argument was simple: Whether or not Superman's super-powers included super-humor. It went like this:
Jerry: "I think Superman probably has a very good sense of humor." George: "I never heard him say anything really funny." Jerry: "It's common sense. He's got super strength, super-speed; I'm sure he's got super-humor." George: "Either you're born with a sense of humor or you're not. It's not going to change. Even if you go from the red sun of Krypton all the way to the yellow sun of the Earth." As George makes his point, he uses the red ketchup bottle and yellow mustard bottle to represent the red and yellow suns. Jerry: "Why? Why would that one area of his mind not be affected by the yellow sun of the Earth?" George: "I don't know. But he ain't funny."
As far as we know, George was correct. Superman was not funny. Neither was he unusually intelligent. But what if he was? What if Superman were super-intelligent. Well then, he would probably be able to come up with a few solutions to humanity's problems that we were too stupid to see.

Not just because we can

This somewhat silly speculation about Superman has a point, and you don't have to have super-intelligence to see it. Many people who are opposed to the idea of creating artificial super-intelligence see efforts to do so as purely whimsical. Supposedly, we only want to do it because we think we can, and we are fascinated by what it might look like. Certainly there is some of that. But there's something much more important behind the drive to create it.

Consider the problems we face today and those we might face tomorrow. Global warming, whatever causes it. Asteroids and comets planning to say hello to the Earth. Pandemics. Imminent collapse of the Medicare system. The shrinking U.S. dollar. At the moment we have no solutions to these and many other problems. And there's no one smart enough around to come up with solutions anytime soon.

Let's ask the smart guy

But what if we were able to build a super-intelligent machine? Assuming we could build it in such a way that it is favorably disposed to our continued existence, then we could pose our problems to it, and we would be very likely to get back some answers that we hadn't thought of and would never have thought of. Mitchell Howe posted some thoughts on this topic on The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. In one particularly salient paragraph, he writes:
When something is really important, you look for the mind best able to turn information about your problem into a possible solution. Think about this, though: Every mind you can hit up for advice today is just a human brain, and therefore nearly identical in structure. That 14-ounce bundle of monkey neurons is our best example of general intelligence because it happens to be our only example. I suspect that if we could donate the human brain to a museum of all possible minds, it would end up in a special novelty exhibit where gawkers could laugh at the idea that people ever managed to think with those things.
So, why create super-intelligence? So we can have some super-humor, of course. Stay tuned.

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