A Trillion-Dollar Enterprise Requires Major Scientific Advances

Source: The New Yorker, Oct 2016

Altman wanted to create a trillion-dollar conglomerate and to move the world forward. “you couldn’t have a trillion-dollar enterprise without major scientific advances.”

Altman said, “hard things are actually easier than easy things. Because people feel it’s interesting, they want to help. Another mobile app? You get an eye roll. A rocket company? Everyone wants to go to space.”

Altman recognized, he told me, that “there’s absolutely no reason to believe that in about thirteen years we won’t have hardware capable of replicating my brain. Yes, certain things still feel particularly human—creativity, flashes of inspiration from nowhere, the ability to feel happy and sad at the same time—but computers will have their own desires and goal systems. When I realized that intelligence can be simulated, I let the idea of our uniqueness go, and it wasn’t as traumatic as I thought.” He stared off. “There are certain advantages to being a machine. We humans are limited by our input-output rate—we learn only two bits a second, so a ton is lost.

Altman believes that a true general A.I. should do more than deceive; it should create, discovering a property of quantum physics or devising a new art form simply to gratify its own itch to know and to make.

Sam’s program for the world is anchored by ideas, not people,” Peter Thiel said. “And that’s what makes it powerful—because it doesn’t immediately get derailed by questions of popularity.”

I’m on Team Human. I don’t have a good logical reason why I’m sad, except that the class of things that humans are better at continues to narrow.” After a moment, he added, “ ‘Melancholy’ is a better word than ‘sad.’ ”

The merge has begun—and a merge is our best scenario. Any version without a merge will have conflict: we enslave the A.I. or it enslaves us. The full-on-crazy version of the merge is we get our brains uploaded into the cloud. I’d love that,” he said. “We need to level up humans, because our descendants will either conquer the galaxy or extinguish consciousness in the universe forever. What a time to be alive!”

He is thinking about establishing a group to prepare for our eventual successor, whether it be an A.I. or an enhanced version of Homo sapiens. The idea would be to assemble thinkers in robotics, cybernetics, quantum computing, A.I., synthetic biology, genomics, and space travel, as well as philosophers, to discuss the technology and the ethics of human replacement.

In the best case, tech will be so transformative that Altman won’t have to choose between the few and the many. When A.I. reshapes the economy, he told me, “we’re going to have unlimited wealth and a huge amount of job displacement, so basic income really makes sense. Plus, the stipend will free up that one person in a million who can create the next Apple.”

“The missing circuit in my brain, the circuit that would make me care what people think about me, is a real gift. Most people want to be accepted, so they won’t take risks that could make them look crazy—which actually makes them wildly miscalculate risk.


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