Keeping up with the intelligence explosion

David Mack
Octavian
Published in
4 min readFeb 16, 2021

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Photo by BRUNO DIAS on Unsplash

We’re on the cusp of the total intelligence in the world rapidly increasing. With both the proliferation of deep learning and AGI on the horizon, the world may begin to change much faster than it does today.

How will humans cope with this?

Things may change

There are two main effects of artificial intelligence: more intelligent agents in the world, and agents with super-human capabilities. Both of these will contribute to increasing the rate of change, the super-human agents moreso.

As an example, imagine if some possible future technologies were to come much quicker: you wake up, plentiful fusion power comes online at breakfast, then twenty minutes later a new form of supersonic passenger vehicle is announced, five minutes after that robots are constructing a world-wide network of landing-pads, one beside your house, then a new chapter of aviation law has been written, then atomic-level rapid printers are invented (you’ve just finished brewing your coffee) and an international war has started for a rare element crucial to printing. You’re not sure if your Uber driving job still exists, nor whether America is a safe place to be any more.

With surplus intelligence, we can better organize the world and increase the rate at which we can create further intelligence. This compounds, ad-infinitum.

The world (particularly anything information based: scientific research, business strategies, the legal system, software) may begin to change and progress at a nauseating pace, one which outstrips individuals’ biological ability to learn and adapt. Job destruction and creation would happen faster than humans can retrain.

Humans may find themselves retreating to stable environments for comfort against this tempest. Perhaps VR worlds will provide a comfortable, stable wrapper around the world and its changes. Or cottages in the woods.

Ignorance is bliss

Humans have a long precedent for dealing with the world that is too complex for them to fully grasp. The very nature of our attention mechanism is to filter our immediate senses. We are used to having a limited understanding of the things we interact with and we accept that, and we attempt to grasp just enough to help us towards our goals. We’re used to working with experts to help us navigate that which we don’t understand. We’re also used to interacting with people who are smarter than us.

The tax system is a good example of this. Few of us understand all of the tax system. Most of us happily understand just part of it, and employ accountants and software to mediate between us and the tax code.

In this vein, it’s easily imaginable for us to employ intelligent systems to help navigate the world created by intelligent systems

Access to these agents may quickly become the most critical determinant of each individual’s ability to be successful in the world. Everyone will be the CEO of a company staffed by artificial agents.

In a global game of intelligence cat and mouse, there is no obvious upper bound to how much engineering (done by humans or AIs) and compute one can spend on one’s own intelligent agents to achieve greater outsmarting of others and resource extraction. Assuming that we can expand beyond the resources of the earth, there may always be positive ROI to employing more intelligence to find more ways to amass resources and power.

There might be a strong monopoly advantage — those who first employ intelligent agents accumulate resources faster, which compounds, until they are far ahead of everyone else. This may strongly increase inequality

Intelligence may become the most valuable resource in the future; it is a resource that can be transformed into most others (money, time, property ownership, business advantage). Governments that care about combating inequality (of which there seem to be few today) will need to regulate the accumulation of intelligence as they do with the accumulation of money currently.

Merging

Rather than trying to make external interfaces that help us interface with a world that is too complex and quickly changing, we could also change ourselves. The fundamental impediments to us keeping up are our sensory bandwidth, cognitive bandwidth, memory size and speed of learning.

It’s conceivable that a glut of intelligence could be used towards re-engineering our brains, to increase those capacities mentioned above. We could add new sensory channels to plug into the digital world. We could edit human DNA to fundamentally change what we are and our experience of the world.

Few of us would turn down being more capable. To completely solve the problem of keeping up with the world’s intelligence, we need to augment our brains as fast as global intelligence is increasing. For any individual to maintain their status as master of the universe, they will need to continually reconstruct themselves at an unimaginable pace, forever.

What to do?

Given all this, what should an individual do? These future developments seem heavily geared towards the richest benefitting most given their access to resources and therefore intelligence. Fatalism aside, individuals should get ready to try to accumulate intelligence as fast as possible as this becomes feasible, and accept that this might become the primary focus of their lives. Either that, or knowingly step aside from this entire cosmic game.

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David Mack
Octavian

@SketchDeck co-founder, https://octavian.ai researcher, I enjoy exploring and creating.