Passing the Torch
Barring cataclysms, I consider the development of intelligent
machines a near-term inevitability. Every technical step toward
intelligent robots has a
rough evolutionary counterpart, and each is likely to benefit its
creators, manufacturers, and users. Each advance will provide
intellectual rewards, competitive advantages, and increased wealth and
options of all kinds. Each can make the world a nicer place to live.
At the same time, by performing better and cheaper, the robots will
displace humans from essential roles. Rather quickly, they could
displace us from existence. I'm not as alarmed as many by the latter
possibility, since I consider these future machines our progeny,
``mind children'' built in our image and likeness, ourselves in more
potent form. Like biological children of previous generations, they
will embody humanity's best chance for a long-term future. It
behooves us to give them every advantage and to bow out when we can no
But, as also with biological children, we can probably arrange for a
comfortable retirement before we fade away. Some biological children can
be convinced to care for elderly parents. Similarly, ``tame''
superintelligences could be created and induced to protect and support us,
for a while. Such relationships require advance planning and diligent
maintenance: it's time to pay attention.
It is the ``wild'' intelligences, however, those beyond our
constraints, to whom the future belongs. The available tools for peeking
into that strange future---extrapolation, analogy, abstraction, and
reason---are, of course, totally inadequate. Yet, even they suggest
surreal happenings. Robots will sweep into space in a wave of
colonization, but their wake converts everything into increasingly pure
thinking stuff. A ``Mind Fire'' will burn across the universe.
Inside the Mind, physical law loses its primacy to
to purposes, goals, interpretations, and God knows what else.