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?

Can Artificial Intelligence steal jobs?

RoboticsRobotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) is one of the ‘Eight Great Technologies’ identified by the UK Government in 2012 and under analysis to verify the risks and opportunities for the society and companies.

The popular belief is that these technologies will replace human’s labor in many tasks and activities because they are very cheap and provides satisfactory results. Before jump to conclusions, let’s evaluate if this belief is completely true.

We use this technology already when we use virtual assistant built in smartphones and driverless car technology. Besides, investments are made also to facilitate the work of professionals such as scientists and doctors primarily. Indeed, in hospitals around the world, surgeons are getting help from new robotic assistants.

According to professor Nick Jennings, chair in Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Imperial College London’s Departments of Computing and in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the health care sector is where AI will bring more results in terms of efficiencies and improvements without put people out of jobs. In specific, AI helps to understand better the situations and facilitate the decision making process. He sustains that AI does not replace humans but work in partnership with them and make suggestions.

On this point I would like also adding that AI technology has been developed also to act because technologies recognize the situation and they can take the actions if programmed to do so.

Compared to humans, machines are able to elaborate millions of hypothesis and present them to scientists for a decision. Professor Nelson, from the Imperial College London, states: “The one fact that we have learned from the internet revolution, and the rapid deployment of computers, is that worries about large-scale unemployment have largely evaporated because other jobs have been created and that’s an important point to make”. In brief, if some jobs were lost others jobs would be created in their place.

For example, if a new technology is discovered and implemented in the society, this needs new qualified people (this means new jobs) for things like implementation and maintenance and, besides, this also reduce cost for companies. This mean more cash to reinvest etc.

Now, I have also say that the two comments above are the classic ones that suit and justify any technology progress. I completely agree and respect those but there is something more that sometime is never taken in consideration when new technology is used and made available for the market. Therefore, let’s consider also other aspect of this technology progress and in particular AI.

Today, the role of AI is mostly supporting people for decision making but combined with Internet Of Things we can also assume they will replace human tasks. As I said above, they also create more job opportunities but at what cost? There is always a time frame for people to recognize the risks and take the precautions. This means, if a new technology takes somebody’s job, this is never being recognized on time by the worker. This situation requires that he/she might needs other skills so this entails time to requalify the professional figure and find a new job. If the situation involves few hundred people, probably this can be easily managed by community. Unfortunately, I have not seen any quantification of the real impact on the job market. Moreover, we have to comprehend that the use of AI impacts all the productive sectors and all Countries and we also don’t know if the replacement will be gradual or aggressive.

Compared to other technologies, AI can be implemented and used at any level of the society and industry. With this I want to say that in the past any technology was created and used to improve the labor condition, making easy the hard work or replacing people in situation of danger. This pushed people to be more qualified and seek jobs with specific characteristics. In contrast, the use of AI challenges also the white-collar workers; this push people to see new jobs not only based on studies and qualification but probably find the way to benefit from them.

As for every big change, the education is the foundation of every decision. Know well the situation and the threat is fundamental to take the right decision.