From: Patrick McCuller (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Thu Apr 19 2001 - 10:18:03 MDT
The only problem I have with the story is that Friendly AI isn't exactly
'released'. But it is an entertaining read.
(Forwarding allowed by restricted license; see below.)
[mailto:email@example.com]On Behalf Of Declan McCullagh
Sent: Thursday, April 19, 2001 11:29 AM
Subject: FC: Group releases "Friendly AI guidelines," Webmind goes
Intelligenesis Faces Dim Future
By Declan McCullagh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2:00 a.m. Apr. 19, 2001 PDT
A pioneering New York company that once hoped to develop the first
artificial intelligence is preparing to declare bankruptcy.
Intelligenesis Corp., which was creating the Webmind software, has
been evicted from its Broadway office suite and plans to file for
Chapter 7 bankruptcy next week.
Making HAL Your Pal
by Declan McCullagh (email@example.com)
2:00 a.m. Apr. 19, 2001 PDT
Eliezer Yudkowsky has devoted his young life to an undeniably unusual
pursuit: planning for what happens when computers become far smarter
Yudkowsky, a 21-year-old researcher at the Singularity Institute, has
spent the last eight months writing an essay that's half precaution,
half thought exercise, and entirely in earnest.
This 750 KB treatise, released Wednesday, is not as much speculative
as predictive. If a computer becomes sufficiently smart, the argument
goes, and if it gains the ability to harm humans through
nanotechnology or some means we don't expect, it may decide it doesn't
need us or want us around.
One solution: Unconditional "friendliness," built into the AI as
surely as our genes are coded into us.
"I've devoted my life to this," says Yudkowsky, a self-proclaimed
"genius" who lives in Atlanta and opted out of attending high school
It's not for lack of smarts. He's a skilled, if verbose, writer and an
avid science-fiction reader who reports he scored 1410 on his SATs,
not far below the average score for Stanford or MIT students.
Yudkowsky's reason for shunning formal education is that he believes
the danger of unfriendly AI to be so near -- as early as tomorrow --
that there was no time for a traditional adolescence. "If you take the
Singularity seriously, you tend to live out your life on a shorter
time scale," he said.
Mind you, that's "Singularity" in capital letters. Even so-called
Singularitians like Yudkowsky admit that the term has no precise
meaning, but a commonly accepted definition is a point when human
progress, particularly technological progress, accelerates so
dramatically that predicting what will happen next is futile.
The term appears to have been coined by John von Neumann, the great
mathematician and computer scientist who used it not to refer to
superhuman intelligence, but to the everyday pace of science and
Science-fiction author Vernor Vinge popularized the concept in the
1980s, capitalizing the word and writing about whether mankind would
approach Singularity by way of machine intelligence alone or through
augmented mental processes. Predictions vary wildly about what happens
at the Singularity, but the consensus seems to be that life as
humanity currently knows it will come to a sudden end.
Vinge is the closest thing Singularitians have to a thought leader,
spokesman and hero. He offers predictions based on measures of
technological progress such as Moore's Law, and sees the Singularity
as arriving between 2005 and 2030 -- though some Vinge aficionados
hope the possibility of uploading their brains into an immortal
computer is just around the corner.
One of them is Yudkowsky, who credits Vinge for turning him onto the
Singularity at age 11. "I read True Names," he said, referring to a
Vinge novel. "I got to page 47 and found out what I was going to be
doing for the rest of my life."
Since then, Yudkowsky has become not just someone who predicts the
Singularity, but a committed activist trying to speed its arrival. "My
first allegiance is to the Singularity, not humanity," he writes in
one essay. "I don't know what the Singularity will do with us. I don't
know whether Singularities upgrade mortal races, or disassemble us for
spare atoms.... If it comes down to Us or Them, I'm with Them."
Like a character from science fiction, Yudkowsky sees his efforts as
humanity's only hope.
In an autobiographical essay, he writes: "I think my efforts could
spell the difference between life and death for most of humanity, or
even the difference between a Singularity and a lifeless, sterilized
planet... I think that I can save the world, not just because I'm the
one who happens to be making the effort, but because I'm the only one
who can make the effort."
[Clarification: Yudkowsky just emailed me to say he received a 1600 on his
SATs when he took them again. --Declan]
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