A New Definition of Intelligence

Intelligence: An emergent system’s ability to respond to its environment in order to improve its conditions, perpetuate itself and maximize its future freedom of action. – Future Minds: The Rise of Intelligence from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe by Richard Yonck

In writing my latest book, Future Minds: The Rise of Intelligence from the Big Bang to the End of the Universe, it was essential to properly define intelligence in an appropriate context. However, my research led me to over 200 different definitions of this nebulous word, most of which were overly restrictive or naively broad. This is due in large part to intelligence being what AI pioneer Marvin Minsky called a “suitcase word”, a term he used to describe words having many meanings and associations. In a 1998 interview with Edge, Minsky said of suitcase-words (like ‘intelligence’, ‘intuition’ or ‘consciousness’): “all of us use these to encapsulate our jumbled ideas about our minds. We use those words as suitcases in which to contain all sorts of mysteries that we can’t yet explain.”

Because of this and for reasons I expand on throughout my book, I finally arrived at a broad definition that encompasses the ideas I’d been exploring. This allows intelligence to be seen much more as an almost inherent property of the universe, something that isn’t limited to a single species or substrate, but which is an ongoing optimization in those systems that are able to successfully perpetuate themselves into the future. Based on this, while it may take considerable time, it seems likely that advanced technological intelligences will one day become a reality.

New York Times Interview

There’s something very satisfying about waking up in the morning to find you’ve been featured in a New York Times article. Writer, consultant and workplace expert, Alexandra Levit spoke with me earlier this summer about some of the ways increasingly emotionally aware technology will change our work environment.

NYT-Preoccupations

Given the preponderance of vanishing job doom-and-gloom, we focused on the idea that more and more we’re going to see “co-work” situations in which AIs and robots work alongside people to help enhance capabilities and productivity. Such scenarios will only benefit from these technologies’ growing ability to be emotionally sensitive to their human co-workers. Since this inevitably contributes to the growth of machine intelligence, it’s a win-win for both our tribes.

“Heart of the Machine” coming to a store near you!

I haven’t been writing articles or posting for a good few months, because I’ve been head down completing my new book. Heart of the Machine is now complete and going through final edits with my publisher, Skyhorse Publishing, one of the fastest growing independent publishers in the country.

Heart of the Machine cover 600x900

Toys that change based on children’s emotional responses. Smart homes and digital assistants that sense what kind of day you had and interact with you accordingly. Devices that can artificially generate a specific feeling for you. Perhaps even the foundations for true machine consciousness. Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence explores the coming era of affective computing, social robotics and other emotionally-aware technologies. These systems are destined to transform our world and our lives over the next few decades. Already, the field is forecast to grow from a U.S. market of $9.35 billion in 2015 to $42.51 billion by 2020. That’s a heck of a growth rate for a market that virtually didn’t exist a decade ago!

Heart of the Machine is being released in March 2017 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For other outlets, ask your friendly neighborhood bookstore when they plan to get it on their shelves. To learn more about this incredible future, please visit this page.

 

Review: Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

Since the advent of the computer age and quite possibly before, popular media has seized on the idea of a superintelligent machine and turned it into a clichéd tale of warning. Too often a monolithic mind with an ill-defined need for global destruction or domination is eventually thwarted because a chisel-jawed protagonist identifies and exploits some flimsy flaw in the machine’s operations or logic, saving the world at the last possible moment. Of course, few of these movies or books move beyond the trope and adequately considers the difficulties of building such a machine, nor do they really explore just how alien such an intellect could actually be.

For many years, various artificial intelligence aficionados – AI professionals, cognitive scientists, philosophers and even hobbyists – have discussed the realities of just such a development in a much more serious vein. As with any good debate about such a speculative subject, this has resulted in a number of good ideas and papers, as well as a great deal of frivolous speculation. Some of the better work to come from this ongoing discussion has been in the form of several papers by Oxford professor of philosophy Nick Bostrom. Now Bostrom has expanded considerably on this work in his new book, “Superintelligence.” Bostrom takes the reader step-by-step from the potential methods and difficulties in achieving a superintelligence through to the likelihood of it actually occurring within a specific time frame. Given that several expert surveys converge on a point near the middle of this current century, it seems prudent that we begin to give the matter critical consideration as soon as possible.

One of the primary dangers Bostrom discusses (as have others), is the potential for an intelligence explosion – that point when an artificial intelligence has acquired sufficient ability to direct its own self-improvement. This potentially leads to a positive feedback loop that could result in a human level machine intelligence (HLMI) rapidly developing into a true superintelligence. Such a superintelligence is often defined as an “intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of human beings in virtually all domains of interest” and may surpass the sum intellect of the world’s entire human population. Such a mind would be completely alien to us, potentially with motives and goals very much in conflict with our own. This creates a very worrying scenario, one that could in fact bring about the end of humanity.

As the potential severity of the existential threat such an entity could present is explored, so too are the considerable difficulties if not impossibility of containing it. The strategies for containment differ greatly depending on the kinetics of the intelligence explosion, that is, whether the intelligence achieves criticality in a fast run-up taking from hours to days, or a medium one that takes months to years, or a slow run-up that occurs over decades or even centuries. Interestingly, Bostrom later makes the argument that under certain global conditions, a fast run-up might actually be the preferred option. If we have any say in the matter, that is.

As Bostrom points out repeatedly, we need to deal with this issue well before an AI actually achieves take-off. Any sufficiently powerful superintelligence is extremely likely to have motives and goals that conflict with our own and will strive to thwart any of our efforts to change or control it. More importantly, it will have the ability to do so. Basically, we have one opportunity to get this right. There won’t be any chance for a do-over. This is the point Elon Musk was making recently when he said, “with artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.” Supernatural references aside, developing a superintelligence is playing with superheated fire.

It should be noted that “Superintelligence,” published by Oxford Press, is an academic, not a trade book. While well-reasoned and explained, this is no narrative romp through the subject and the casual reader may find the material arduous at times. For instance, unless you have some familiarity with the methods used to create AI algorithms, it’s unlikely you’ll appreciate the benefits of Bayesian inference. But really you don’t need to. Far more important are concepts such as Bostrom’s explications of Yudkowsky’s idea of providing a seed AI with humanity’s “coherent extrapolated volition” or CEV, essentially a means of coding a humanity-compatible value system into an AI, absent the many problems culture-bound morality has historically caused for our species.

The book finishes off with an exploration of possible strategies in light of the challenges that have been identified. Because the entire future existence of humanity may be at stake, this is a decision process that cannot be taken lightly. Far from being the solution to this challenging dilemma, “Superintelligence” forces us to understand just how complex a task this really will be. As important a work as Bostrom’s book is, it isn’t a book of answers. Rather, it is a clarion call to those who will one day find the solutions to this very considerable problem. That is, if we are lucky.

Affective Computing and the Future of Marketing

My new article “How Your Computer Will Read You Like A Book – And Then Sell You Stuff” is up at Fast Company’s Futurist Forum. In it, I talk about ‘affective computing‘ – systems that read, interpret and even simulate human emotion. This is going to change our relationship with technology in ways you’ve probably never imagined. To my mind, one of its more interesting applications will be in the field of marketing. As human beings, we communicate volumes of information to each other via nonverbal cues – facial expressions, posture, gestures, gait. Yet for the most part, these have been inaccessible to computers. Until now. Imagine what will happen to marketing when your response
can be instantly, accurately interpreted, allowing ads to be altered on the fly, targeting you as never before? Get ready for a Brave New Shopping Experience.

Rise of the Intelligent Machines

I’m beginning a short series at Psychology Today about the ongoing advances being made in machine intelligence. I’d originally thought about using “The Ascent of Machine” for the series title — after Jacob Bronowski’s wonderful work, “The Ascent of Man”, which I found so inspiring when it first came out. But I thought it sounded a bit kludgy and so I ultimately decided on the Cameron-esque “Rise of the Intelligent Machines”.

Step by step, we’re being equaled and more importantly, surpassed. As we’ve seen in both biology and technology, this is a march that is taking place with ever more rapid strides. Complexity breeds still further complexity, cross-fertilizing itself into previously unconceived of combinations. The world is quickly approaching a time when humanity may come to share the world with an equal or greater intelligence. One that will have been of our own making.

This multi-part series will explore the rise of machine intelligence, research and advances that will impact its development and what this may mean for the future of human intelligence. Check back at Psychology Today for future installments. Next in Part 2: How to Build a Brain.