I.J. Good and the “intelligence explosion”

GoodToday I want to talk about a great man I.J. Good (9 December 1916 – 5 April 2009) who was a British mathematician and futurist.

My interest for him is due to the fact that he anticipated the concept of ultra-intelligent machines (a step ahead to AI).

Good was a mathematics prodigy, who once stood up in his crib and asked his mother what a thousand times a thousand was. During the healing period from the diphtheria, he discovered the irrational numbers and before fourteen years old he rediscovered mathematics induction.

During WWII he contributed to decode German’s encrypted communication, providing useful and sensitive information to the Allies.

At that time he introduced, for the first time, the concept of ultra-intelligent machine. He stated: Let an ultra-intelligent 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 ultra-intelligent 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 ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control”.

Intelligence explosion is the expected outcome in case the technology singularity happens. Technology singularity is the scenario where artificial intelligence triggers an unprecedented technology growth, which subverts the current human civilisation.

Nowadays, the AI is limited by the intelligence of human brain but if the IT and AI developments should continue with today trend, the risk of creating a super-intelligence (expansion of human intelligence) would be feasible. This means that computers would have more intelligence than human beings and these lose control of the situation and, therefore, end up being controlled by machines.

If, however, we assumed that humans could still control machines based on self-imposed limits (although I do not see this plausible), since the discovery generated by these ultra-intelligent servers would be truly exceptional, would these discoveries shared with all humanity or they would be used unilaterally for purpose of oppression?

Scientists have different ideas regarding the evolution of human capabilities.

  • One idea believes that the human being’s capability is immutable.
  • The second idea believes in a commensurate evolution of human with the progress of AI (due the fact that we learn from discoveries). This will create a greater human intelligence and this will support the creation of more advanced AI and so on.
  • The third idea is a combination of the previous two. Indeed, some futurists suggest that will be possible to upload minds to computers to amplificate the intelligence of humans.

Returning to the quote at the top, Good was hoped that the ultra-intelligent machine was the latest invention made by man as it would be detrimental to the human species. It must be said, though, that Good lived during the Second World War and he thought that, to overcome human problems (E.g. war, nuclear weapons and pollution), the ultra-intelligent machines were essential. I would add that are essential to the point of no return … ah yes …. what is the point of no return?

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