Signal to Noise Report
First the all-too-frightening noise, then a heavy dose of SIGNAL.
The Signal to Noise Report collects headlines to illustrate humanity’s move into what is beginning to resemble a hybrid species: The Jetsons meets Blade Runner. The idea being that we have a proclivity to accept (with glee) whatever new techno gizmos are shoved at us, yet rarely question their purpose and/or their long-term effects on our health and sanity.
Today is a stand-alone report. From TIME Magazine, a strongly worded plea written by Eliezer Yudkowsky, a decision theorist from the U.S. and leads research at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. He's been working on aligning Artificial General Intelligence since 2001 and is widely regarded as a founder of the field…
The key issue is not “human-competitive” intelligence (as the open letter puts it); it’s what happens after AI gets to smarter-than-human intelligence. Key thresholds there may not be obvious, we definitely can’t calculate in advance what happens when, and it currently seems imaginable that a research lab would cross critical lines without noticing.
Many researchers steeped in these issues, including myself, expect that the most likely result of building a superhumanly smart AI, under anything remotely like the current circumstances, is that literally everyone on Earth will die. Not as in “maybe possibly some remote chance,” but as in “that is the obvious thing that would happen.” It’s not that you can’t, in principle, survive creating something much smarter than you; it’s that it would require precision and preparation and new scientific insights, and probably not having AI systems composed of giant inscrutable arrays of fractional numbers.
Without that precision and preparation, the most likely outcome is AI that does not do what we want, and does not care for us nor for sentient life in general. That kind of caring is something that could in principle be imbued into an AI but we are not ready and do not currently know how…
To visualize a hostile superhuman AI, don’t imagine a lifeless book-smart thinker dwelling inside the internet and sending ill-intentioned emails. Visualize an entire alien civilization, thinking at millions of times human speeds, initially confined to computers—in a world of creatures that are, from its perspective, very stupid and very slow. A sufficiently intelligent AI won’t stay confined to computers for long. In today’s world you can email DNA strings to laboratories that will produce proteins on demand, allowing an AI initially confined to the internet to build artificial life forms or bootstrap straight to postbiological molecular manufacturing.
If somebody builds a too-powerful AI, under present conditions, I expect that every single member of the human species and all biological life on Earth dies shortly thereafter.
Read the letter in its entirety here.
*Editor’s Note: Because everything I read about AI drives me straight to despair, and because we seem to need a reminder these days of what humans are, what only humans can do (other than fight and destroy each other), I thought I’d add a little wintertime gift to Ned’s report today: a short sampling of what I still love about our exasperating, mixed-up species. Remember humans, those silly creatures?
(p.s. you may not be able to see/listen to everything in your email browser. Hit any of the links below to click through to the website.)* —Tonya M
Minnie the Moocher, performed by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra:
The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac
by Mary Oliver
1. Why should I have been surprised? Hunters walk the forest without a sound. The hunter, strapped to his rifle, the fox on his feet of silk, the serpent on his empire of muscles— all move in a stillness, hungry, careful, intent. Just as the cancer entered the forest of my body, without a sound. 2. The question is, what will it be like after the last day? Will I float into the sky or will I fray within the earth or a river— remembering nothing? How desperate I would be if I couldn’t remember the sun rising, if I couldn’t remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t even remember, beloved, your beloved name. 3. I know, you never intended to be in this world. But you’re in it all the same. so why not get started immediately. I mean, belonging to it. There is so much to admire, to weep over. And to write music or poems about. Bless the feet that take you to and fro. Bless the eyes and the listening ears. Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste. Bless touching. You could live a hundred years, it’s happened. Or not. I am speaking from the fortunate platform of many years, none of which, I think, I ever wasted. Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going? Let me be urgent as a knife, then, and remind you of Keats, so single of purpose and thinking, for a while, he had a lifetime.
“So why not get started immediately…”
Ned Mudd resides in Alabama where he engages in interspecies communication, rock collecting, and frequent cloud watching. He is the author of The Adventures of Dink and DVD (a space age comedy). Some of Ned’s best friends are raccoons.
Tonya Morton is, among other things, the publisher of Juke.
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