The Intelligence Explosion Is Happening Now [Transcript]
Hi, I'm Tim Tyler - and this is a synopsis of an essay of mine entitled The Intelligence Explosion Is Happening Now.

The Intelligence Explosion Is Happening Now

To briefly analyse the terminology:

Intelligence is taken to be skill at transforming sensory input into motor output in order to attain goals using constrained resources.

Explosion is meant in a slightly technical sense. The term is not intended to conjour up the idea of destruction:

[Footage of exploding head]

Rather it is intended to convey the idea of exponential growth due to a chain reaction - the kind of explosion that occurs in nuclear bombs:

[Footage of chain reaction]

So the intelligence explosion of our title should be taken to refer to an exponential increase in intelligence.

Here is Eliezer Yudkowsky, to introduce the concept:

[Footage of Eliezer Yudkowsky]

A common idea is that an explosion of intelligence will take place at some point in the future - probably somewhere around the time that machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence.

Here I will argue that that is a misconception - an intelligence explosion is happening now - and it has been going on for millions of years.

Exponential growth in the size of the largest brains on the planet has been going on since the Cambrian explosion.

The effect can be seen in the cranial capacity of the fossils of our own hominid ancestors.

In modern times, intelligence has been augmented by networking technologies, that enable minds to be linked together, mind-machine interfaces, and the internet. Both humans and companies have increased in their intellectual abilities dramatically as a result of these developments.

We can reasonably predict that, in the future, the existing accelerating trend will continue - with the advent of superintelligent machines.

Machines are already heavily involved in the design of other machines. No-one could design a modern CPU without the use of computers. No one could build one without the help of sophisticated machinery.

The idea that machines will suddenly take over this task from humans when they become smart enough seems naive.

Rather there is a man-machine symbiosis involved the design of machines - with the "man" part being gradually replaced by machine elements.

Today, machines already do a lot of programming. They perform refactoring tasks which would once have been delegated to junior programmers. They compile high-level languages into machine code, and generate programs from task specifications. They also also automatically detect programming errors, and automatically test existing programs.

Machines will gradually get better at these kinds of computer programming tasks - taking over an increasing quantity of the load from humans.

It is a fallacy to argue that today's machines are designed by humans, and - since the intelligence of individual humans is not increasing - the intelligence explosion has not started yet. Today's machines are actually designed by networks of humans with the help of machines. The machines are currently improving - and so are the networking technologies that link humans with other humans and with machines. Machines pre-process our sensory data, and post-process our motor outputs - and the results are smarter than we are alone.

So: machine intelligence will not suddenly surpass humans. Rather, machines have been gradually beating humans - an application domain at a time - for decades now. A machine intelligence that is of "roughly human-level" is actually likely to be either vastly superior in some domans or vastly inferior in others - simply because machine intelligence so far has proven to be so vastly different from our own in terms of its strengths and weaknesses - so machines will take over tasks from humans gradually, a domain at a time as they increase in comptence.

These considerations suggest that there will be no terribly sudden "intelligence explosion" - which starts at some point in the future. Rather, the intelligence explosion is happening now.

The technology explosion

In fact, the current "intelligence explosion" is part of the ongoing "technology explosion".

The "technology explosion" can be traced back into biological evolution - where pioneering adaptations such as photosynthesis, cellulose, sexual recombination and so on can be seen as a kind of natural technology - put together by tinkering, rather than by engineers.

The technology explosion affects many aspects of organisms - not just intelligence.

It started a long time ago - and will likely reverberate into the future for some time to come.


Tim Tyler | Contact |