Artificial Intelligence Revolution

Our last invention, biggest nightmare or doors to utopia? Guide to the state of AI development, current research and potential consequences.

Note: You can read an updated version of AI Revolution 101. I slightly re-edited it and combined into one long article. If you prefer to read the earlier, eight-part version, you can start here, navigate to part 2 or the table of contents.


This series of short essays aims to condense knowledge on Artificial Intelligence topic. It explains the main directions of AI development, overviews challenges and dangers connected with its invention, links to seminal work and most significant scientists and describes the predictions of the AI possible outcomes. This project is an adaptation of the two–part essay AI Revolution by Tim Urban of Wait But Why. I recreated all images, shortened it x3 and tweaked it a bit. Read more on why/how I wrote it here.


Assuming that human scientific activity continues without major disruptions, technological advancements may become either one of the most positive transformations of our history or, as many fear, our most dangerous invention of all. Artificial Intelligence research is on a steady path to develop, most likely within three decades (timeline in part 6), a computer that has cognitive abilities equal to the human brain. From what most AI scientists predict, this invention may enable very rapid improvements (so called fast take-off), toward something much more powerful — Artificial Super Intelligence — an entity smarter than all of humanity combined (more on ASI in part 4). We are not talking about some imaginary future. The first level of AI development is embedded in the technology we use everyday (newest AI advancements in part 2). With every coming year these advancements will only accelerate and the technology will only become more addictive, complex and ever-present. We will continue to outsource our mental processes into the machines, disrupting every part of our reality — the way we organize ourselves and our work, form communities, evaluate meaning, experience the world.

Exponential Growth

To more intuitively grasp the guiding principles of AI revolution, let’s first step away from scientific research. Let me invite you to take part in a story. Imagine that you received a time machine and a quest to bring somebody from the past. The goal is to shock him/her by the technological and cultural advancements of our time, to such a degree that this person would perform SAFD (Spinning Around From Disbelief).

So you wonder which era should you time-travel to, and decide to hop back around 200 years. You get to the early 1800s, retrieve a guy and bring him back to 2016. You “…walk him around and watch him react to everything. It’s impossible for us to understand what it would be like for him to see shiny capsules racing by on a highway, talk to people who had been on the other side of the ocean earlier in the day, watch sports that were being played 1,000 miles away, hear a musical performance that happened 50 years ago, and play with …[a] magical wizard rectangle that he could use to capture a real-life image or record a living moment, generate a map with a paranormal moving blue dot that shows him where he is, look at someone’s face and chat with them even though they’re on the other side of the country, and worlds of other inconceivable sorcery.”¹ It doesn’t take much. After two minutes he is SAFDing.

Now, both of you want to try the same thing, see somebody Spinning Around From Disbelief, but in your new friend’s era. Since 200 years worked, you jump back to the 1600s and bring a guy to the 1800s. He’s certainly genuinely interested in what he sees. However, you feel it with confidence — SAFD will never happen to him. You feel that you need to jump back again, but somewhere radically further. You settle on rewinding the clock 15,000 years, to the times “…before the First Agricultural Revolution gave rise to the first cities and the concept of civilisations.”² You bring someone from the hunter-gatherer world and show him “…the vast human empires of 1750 with their towering churches, their ocean-crossing ships, their concept of being “inside,” and their enormous mountain of collective, accumulated human knowledge and discovery”³ — in forms of books. It doesn’t take much. He is SAFDing in the first two minutes.

Now there are three of you, enormously excited to do it again. You know that it doesn’t make sense to go back another 15,000, 30,000 or 45,000 years. You have to jump back, again, radically further. So you pick up a guy from 100,000 years ago and you you walk with him into large tribes with organized, sophisticated social hierarchies. He encounters a variety of hunting weapons, sophisticated tools, sees fire and for the first time experiences language in the form of signs and sounds. You get the idea, it has to be immensely mind-blowing. He is SAFDing after two minutes.

So what happened? Why, In order to achieve SAFD the last guy had to hop → 100,000 years, the next one → 15,000 years, and the guy who was hopping to our times only → 200 years?

“This happens because more advanced societies have the ability to progress at a faster rate than less advanced societies — because they’re more advanced. [1800s] humanity knew more and had better technology…” so it’s no wonder that it could make further advancements than humanity from 15,000 years ago. The time to achieve SAFD shrank from ~100,000 years to ~200 years and if we look into the future it will rapidly shrink even further. Ray Kurzweil, AI expert and scientist, believes that a “…20th century’s worth of progress happened between 2000 and 2014 and that another 20th century’s worth of progress will happen by 2021, in only seven years…A couple decades later, he believes a 20th century’s worth of progress will happen multiple times in the same year, and even later, in less than one month…Kurzweil believes that the 21st century will achieve 1,000 times the progress of the 20th century.”

“Logic also suggests that if the most advanced species on a planet keeps making larger and larger leaps forward at an ever-faster rate, at some point, they’ll make a leap so great that it completely alters life as they know it and the perception they have of what it means to be a human. Kind of like how evolution kept making great leaps toward intelligence until finally it made such a large leap to the human being that it completely altered what it meant for any creature to live on planet Earth. And if you spend some time reading about what’s going on today in science and technology, you start to see a lot of signs quietly hinting that life as we currently know it cannot withstand the leap that’s coming next.”

Read Part 2: “Where Are We Currently? Three Calibers of AI” or see the table of contents. Subscribe below.

This series was inspired and based on an article from one of the best blogs in our galaxy. Wait But Why posts regularly. They send each post out by email to over 295,000 people — enter your email here and they’ll put you on the list (they only send a few emails each month). If you like this, check out The Fermi Paradox, How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars, or Why procrastinators procrastinate. You can also follow Wait But Why on Facebook and Twitter