As developments continue to be made in the fields of consciousness and artificial intelligence, we draw closer to what is known as the Technological Singularity – the idea that we will eventually create an intelligent machine that not only has exceeded our own intelligence, but is capable of recursive self-improvement. This allows for a rapid exponential increase in its intelligence until it has far surpassed any level that we can even fathom. Possibly over the course of mere hours after being created. This sounds like science fiction but leading futurists such as Vinge and Kurzweil predict it to occur around the years 2030 and 2045 respectively, and it is a key topic of discussion at the annual Singularity Summit where many AI experts feel that it’s something that needs to be planned for. The question is what could a post singularity world look like?
The acceleration of the AI’s intelligence would probably result in several key problems currently facing humanity being resolved. However there could be a fine balance between finding a dystopia or utopia in their wake. For example let’s look at climate change. It is widely understood that our actions over the past 200 years are what’s driving the adverse changes we are seeing in our environment. It is probable that a superintelligent AI in control of Earth would find ways to reduce humanities’ impact in order to preserve life and resources on Earth longer. The problem arises when one effective solution to the problem becomes to eradicate the cause. We would need to find a way to imbue the positive attributes of ourselves – love, compassion, curiosity – into the AI in order to give us the best chance of improving the world we live in. This idea is known as ‘Friendly AI’ and it is hoped that it will work with us to create a brighter future.
For all the intelligence we have as a species, we are far from perfect. We are yet to transcend the negative evolutionary traits that whilst once were useful, now act detrimentally for our species. Too many of us are driven by greed, fear and a thirst for power leading to the betterment of the individual over the collective. In a world where we are continually at war with each other over differing ideologies rather than united in a central aim of improving the lives of everyone, we need something now more than ever that can unify us. Could an AI Superintelligence act as the catalyst?
Several astronauts after orbiting Earth have undergone a profound cognitive shift known as the ‘Overview Effect’. Seeing the fragile ball of life that we live on in the greater context of the universe allows a unique perspective in which the conflicts and divisions of humanity seem pointless and insignificant. Could creating something so beyond our comprehension and having it secede us from our place as the dominant species on Earth be enough to unite us in a global shift in consciousness? Ironically the desirable values that we strive to pass on to the AI could be the very thing that the AI returns back to us.