— The Erimtan Angle —


The other day, the China-based AI researcher Hugo De Garis appeared on Sophie & Co. And the ensuing conversation made for some uncomfortable listening, though Miss Shevardnadze at times appeared to take the whole thing as a bit of a joke: ‘Humanity may be wiped out by machines this century – leading AI scientist. It took millions of years of evolution for nature to come up with something that changed the face of the planet forever – the human brain. Now, the new mind is to be born, and the best cyber scientists will be its midwife. Artificial Intelligence is said to be just decades away from creation, and it will probably change life on Earth entirely. Some predict the coming of Utopia, where machines will help humanity fight disease, poverty and even death. But that’s as others see a way more darker future, with machines rising up to eradicate humankind once and for all. So what does the future hold for us? Should research into AI be stopped for our own good, or will banning it leave us with no future at all? We ask one of the brilliant minds behind the development of Artificial Intelligence, assistant director of the Artificial Brains Lab in China’s Xiamen University. Published on May 6, 2016’.

In the course of the conversation De Garis himself appeared to veer between hyper-enthusiasm and paranoid fearfulness . . . as the prospect of self-evolving machines is indeed a frightening reality to contemplate. The one thing that was not mentioned yet appears of vital importance was money and the political willingness to spend it. As De Garis indicated, the U.S. Defense Department is at the moment heavily investing in the construction and development of autonomous war-machines. As a result, the means and the military will are already in place, and given that political masters more often than not all but follow the suggestions made by their majors and generals, it seems a fair bet that the political will is here already . . . and thus, the future of humanity would indeed appear to be bleak. Let me just repeat some of the words spoken by De Garis: “once these ‘artilects’, artificial intellects, artificial brain, once they reach human level of intelligence, and I predict that’s probably just a matter of few decades away from now. Once they achieve it, then they would start modifying themselves, because they can do a better job of it, than human beings, artificial brain designers, can do, because they are so much smarter and think so much faster. Once they start designing themselves, God knows what direction they will go in, because they’re the boss, and if they decide that human beings are pest and decide to wipe us out – then for human beings, not only it will be the last thing we invent, it’s the last thing we do, and that’s scary”.

final inventionThough it is a nice phraseology, De Garis is not the only one saying it. The documentary filmmaker James Barrat even wrote a book about the very same theme. In the book, the author quotes the Distinguished Professor of Statistics I. J. Good’s 1965 paper “Speculations Concerning the First Ultra-intelligent Machine” and the quote goes like this: “Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make . . .”.[1] And now we know that the phraseology has been around since at least 1965.

I. J. Good

Irving John “Jack” Good (1916-2009), a “statistician and mathematical genius”, was “born Isidore Jacob Gudak to Polish-Jewish parents in London. His father was a watchmaker. He was educated at the Haberdashers’ Aske’s boys’ school then in Hampstead, north London, where he effortlessly outpaced the mathematics teaching curriculum. In 1938 he graduated with first-class honours in mathematics from Jesus College, Cambridge and stayed on to work for his PhD”, according to the obituary written by Dan van der Vat.[2] From thence he moved to Bletchley Park where he, in conjunction with the legendary Alan Turing, made “crucial contributions to the successful assault on German codes and ciphers at Bletchley Park during the second world war”. In the post-war period, Good successfully pursued an academic career: “In 1947 [Max] Newman [,British mathematician and codebreaker] invited Good to join him and Turing at Manchester University. There for three years he lectured in mathematics and researched computers – including the Manchester Mark 1. Then, in 1948, he was recruited by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the successor to Bletchley Park, where he stayed until 1959. This did not prevent him from taking up a brief associate professorship at Princeton University and a short consultancy with IBM. From 1959 until he moved to the US in 1967 he held various government-funded posts and a senior research fellowship at Trinity College, Oxford. He was made a doctor of science at Cambridge in 1963 and at Oxford in 1964. Three years later he was appointed professor of statistics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University”.[3] And that is where he authored “such treatises as Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine and Logic of Man and Machine (both 1965)”.[4]


Virginia Polytechnic Institute

In spite of the above-quoted dire warning, Good’s Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine begins with the following seemingly optimistic sentence: “[t]he survival of man depends on the early construction of an ultraintelligent machine”.[5] In the further course of the treatise, Good develops the notion of an “intelligence explosion”, as mentioned above, but adds the following disclaimer: “provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control”.[6] But De Garis and Barrat clearly are currently not that optimistic about the intentions of future artilects or ultraintelligent machines . . . even Good, in later life, stopped being so sanguine about the docility of future machines, as attested by a passage in an autobiographical text he penned in 1998, speaking about himself in the third person: ‘[The paper] “Speculations Concerning the First Ultra-intelligent Machine” (1965) . . . began: “The survival of man depends on the early construction of an ultra-intelligent machine.” Those were his [Good’s] words during the Cold War, and he now suspects that “survival” should be replaced by “extinction.” He thinks that, because of international competition, we cannot prevent the machines from taking over. He thinks we are lemmings. He said also that “probably Man will construct the deus ex machina in his own image”’.[7]


It seems that expert opinion is prone to hold the view that humanity is doomed” “[t]he extinction of man depends on the early construction of an ultraintelligent machine”, as Professor Irving John Good would have said in 1998. Taken in conjunction with the likely disastrous future effects of climate change and the looming water and food crises, it seems that the artilects will have little choice but to cure the global disease known only as humanity: “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet”.

Bacteriophage 2

[1] George Dvorsky, “Why a superintelligent machine may be the last thing we ever invent” io9 (02 Oct 2013). http://io9.gizmodo.com/why-a-superintelligent-machine-may-be-the-last-thing-we-1440091472.

[2] Dan van der Vat, “Jack Good” The Guardian (29 April 2009). https://www.theguardian.com/science/2009/apr/29/jack-good-codebreaker-obituary.

[3] Dan van der Vat, “Jack Good”.

[4] Dan van der Vat, “Jack Good”.

[5] I. J. Good, Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine (1965). p. 31.

[6] I. J. Good, Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine (1965). p. 33.

[7] George Dvorsky, “Why a superintelligent machine may be the last thing we ever invent”.


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