I.J. Good on Super Intelligence

Source: Gizmodo, Oct 2013

I. J. Good happened to invent the idea of an intelligence explosion, and if it really was possible. The intelligence explosion was the first big link in the idea chain that gave birth to the Singularity hypothesis.

In the 1965 paper “Speculations Concerning the First Ultra-intelligent Machine,” Good laid out a simple and elegant proof that’s rarely left out of discussions of artificial intelligence and the Singularity:

Let an ultraintelligent 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 ultraintelligent 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 ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make . . .

Thus the first ultraintelligent 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 (emphasis mine).

In a 1996 interview with statistician and former pupil David L. Banks, Good revealed that he was moved to write his essay after delving into artificial neural networks. Called ANNs, they are a computational model that mimics the activity of the human brain’s networks of neurons. Upon stimulation, neurons in the brain fire, sending on a signal to other neurons. That signal can encode a memory or lead to an action, or both. Good had read a 1949 book by psychologist Donald Hebb that proposed that the behavior of neurons could be mathematically simulated.

In 1998, Good was given the Computer Pioneer Award of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Computer Society. He was eighty-two years old. As part of his acceptance speech he was asked to provide a biography. He submitted it, but he did not read it aloud, nor did anyone else, during the ceremony. Probably only Pendleton knew it existed.

[The paper] “Speculations Concerning the First Ultra-intelligent Machine” (1965) . . . began:

“The survival of man depends on the early construction of an ultra-intelligent machine.” Those were his [Good’s] words during the Cold War, and he now suspects that “survival” should be replaced by “extinction.” He thinks that, because of international competition, we cannot prevent the machines from taking over. He thinks we are lemmings. He said also that “probably Man will construct the deus ex machina in his own image.”


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