Dominic Fairfax Forum
Dominic Fairfax Forum




Will human beings achieve superintelligence?  Is it possible or probable that computers will surpass human intelligence eventually leaving human beings behind as fossils in history? Many transhumanists are confident that they will. It is purported that due to the acceleration of technological progress computers will eventually ‘wake up’. They will acquire absolute consciousness and this is likely to occur at some time during the late 21st Century. How will this happen?  How will we initially capture human intelligence in a machine? At the present time scientists only understand specific applications but claim that the key to wholly capturing human intelligence in a computer is to understand every aspect of how the human brain operates.  Apparently, exponential progress is being made in that endeavour. Although timescales vary somewhat, it is envisaged that scientists will have all the models and simulations of all human brain regions by the year 2029. In turn, these will provide the templates, the software and algorithms of human intelligence. 



Biological nervous systems versus machines

Theoretically, computers can be made to process information much more efficiently than biological nervous systems. Machines will have much faster processing speeds and it is estimated that there will be an intelligence explosion. An artificial neuron can operate a million times faster than its biological counterpart. Such a computer will be ‘the last machine humankind need ever make.’ Furthermore, it would not merely be a ‘tool’ for human beings to use to its advantage. “It will be no more of a tool than we are the tools of rabbits, robins or chimpanzees.” [ I. J. Good].


 Why humankind’s organic state holds him back. No competition against computers.

It is purported that intellectually, organic human beings will be unable to compete with artificial  minds. Biological organisms are determined to deteriorate no matter how much medical intervention they receive, whereas supercomputers will be immortal. Scientific, technological and philosophical thinking will be achieved much more effectively by computers. The interval where human beings and computers match in intelligence will therefore be short-lived. Hugo de Garis believes that artilects [a shortened version of artificial intellects] could wipe us out. Several science fiction films and novels have been based on the theme of wars between human beings and artificial intelligence with the humans always triumphing over AIs to show that ‘America always prevails.’ ‘In reality this is unlikely to be the case.’  De Garis envisages  massive conflicts between ‘Cosmists’ [ the artilects] and ‘Terrans’ [the 'biologicals'] with the former as the triumphant. Critics have dismissed these claims as designed to appeal to popular sci-fi enthusiasts.


Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly the case that a single human brain cannot contain all information about everything whereas supercomputers could. Human intellects are either elevated or restricted by their environmental interactions with fellowmen. They are thwarted by societal trends, poverty, petty competitiveness, trivia, economic systems and the insatiable wants and needs of the body. These tendencies and necessities are exploited to the hilt by our own kind and are hardly conducive to evolving collective superintelligence. The collective intellect of human populations cannot possibly grow under such circumstances.  It is apparent that the majority of human beings do not even understand their own physiology, psychology or socio-economic systems let alone the geological formation of the planet on which they reside. That is because most human beings are locked in a loop continuously serving the wants and needs of their own and other people's bodies. The entire economic system is constructed around that, especially for the poor and disadvantaged. Like Sisyphus, humankind is condemned  forever to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again.



Same brains/same problems

Despite the plethora of cultural information we humans gather on the causes and effects of virtually everything relating to body and mind, all we do is perpetuate the same mistakes over and over hoping that evolution will eventually solve the dilemma. It will not. But super intelligent computers could. In order for rulers to retain hierarchical systems of control most human intellects are denied and dumbed down with socially induced inanity. Intelligence is also encumbered and befuddled by misinformation and conflict in the form of superstitions and culturally induced ideologies. Humans are often emotionally damaged either deliberately or unwittingly by a multitude of factors including the intergenerational perpetuation of ignorance. It is purported that the insertion of computer chips into the biological brain will probably eliminate this problem as a forerunner.



The intergenerational emotional damage due to ignorance and oppression by our own kind interferes with the development of the intellect resulting in millions of human brains going to waste in their lifetimes. Moreover, it is stipulated that as biological organisms, some human beings retain primitive animal traits in their darker consciousnesses and that is why many are capable of cruelty and terrible crimes. It is postulated that without tuition in civilisation, humanity would 'soon sink to the lowest common denominator of profound primitiveness.' There would be no such  problems with superintelligences since not only would they be immortal and initially programmed to be free of the absurd dichotomies and suffering which afflicts humankind but they will also possess far superior computational architectures and learning algorithms which will possess the ability to sift out nonsense, prevent attempts to trick or exploit and thus set the intellect and consciousness free. Pure disembodied super-intellectualism would have no desire to inflict barbarity since that is something only associated with organic bodies and irrationality. Further, since artilects will be superintelligent they will know that greed and wargames along the lines of tic tac toe [as depicted in the 1980s film] can come to no avail except destruction. Artificial intellects can easily be copied. Each new copy or mindchild can, unlike biological organisms, begin life fully-fledged and endowed with all knowledge. Some enthusiasts keep talking about the body and imagine that the wants and needs of the long transcended organic body such as money, food and sex will be the same. Others argue that there will be no need for superintelligences to concern themselves about the wants and needs of a biological body if they no longer have one. That is simply a human projection of itself, of what it wants in its current state of consciousness in a confined body. The workings of human brains may only be the prototypes; thereon the supercomputers will take on lives of their own, create their own energy sources and supersede us in every conceivable way. Superintelligences will have moved far beyond anything we regard as human. They would be totally incomprehensible to us if we existed simultaneously. 'They will be beyond our intellect, ethical values or definitions of good or ill.'


According to many, the artilects would not be without ethics, empathy, compassion or spiritual dimensions since these traits are intelligence. 'It will depend on the initial programming'. Their positive attributes would far excel those of the most enlightened biological humans due to the artilect's heightened sensibilities. ‘Their consciousnesses would be the size of universes compared to our current golf-ball sized ones'. The chances of human consciousness being elevated to such a high degree of its own evolutionary accord would take thousands of years.



Understanding opponents

Numerous supporters of  superintelligence find it difficult to understand why many people are uncomfortable with the idea. The opponents state,  ‘..the problem is, that our imperfections are what make us human’, or,  ‘but we are only human.' Supporters of superintelligence argue that gross imperfections are nothing to be proud of. The whole idea is to weed out imperfection and thus rectify and entirely relieve the ‘dreadful afflictions and horrible suffering of bodies and minds.'  Futurist, Ray Kurzweil emphasises that biology presents inherent and insurmountable limitations that originate at the molecular level. The organic body and brain are the problem.’ If the technology is available we have an ethical duty to end suffering. We should not allow it to continue because of some peculiar outdated notion that ‘we are only human’ and ‘born to suffer.’ We will be posthuman.


Towards the Singularity

It is estimated that superintelligent computers will possess access to their own source codes and their own design. They will become increasingly proficient. The concept of the accelerating production of great intelligences creating even greater intelligences is called the Technological Singularity and was coined by the mathematician, computer scientist and author, Vernor Vinge. Nothing can be understood beyond it. It is thought that the Singularity will occur suddenly and definitely at some time during the late 21st Century. In what Ray Kurzweil calls the Law of Accelerating Returns, he estimates that 20,000 years will be condensed into the hundred years of the 21st Century due to growth in the sphere of computer interfaces and super technology. ‘There will be exponential growth in exponential growth.’ 



Many people take exception to the idea of Artificial Intelligence, the Singularity, mind uploading, or in fact, any prospect of posthumanism, perhaps due to anthropocentricity:


The problem is not simply that the Singularity represents the passing of humankind from centre stage but that it contradicts our most deeply held notions of being. [Vernor Vinge].

The idea is certainly a very thought provoking one. It is likely that our successors, as ascendants of humankind and uploaded consciousnesses,will travel through space, putting themselves into hibernation as they travel through time. The future is in space. I think it is unlikely that these ideas will occur in the 21st Century however - probably more like a hundred years or so, but who knows!

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