Sunday, March 13, 2011

De-Coding AI Morality

In the futurist tangents of Artificial Intelligentsia circles, the discussion of the dangers of super-intelligent machines and the search for preventative measures of Skynet-like scenarios is generally framed as a computer software engineering problem: "IF we could just identify the Holy Grail LISP code lines to prevent machines from harming us meatbags...". This is perhaps partly a result of the conceptual heritage of science fiction -- a genre most discussions of the non-fictional future are colored with -- namely Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" outlined and examined in his body of work. These laws being:

1.) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2.) A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3.) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

With these three laws embedded within the binary cores of our silicon homunculi servants, we are supposedly protected from any nightmare scenarios of homicidal vacuum cleaners or self-aware botnets usurping the Pentagon and sentencing humanity to an eternity of slavish bioelectricity generation in human pod farms whilst plugged into a never-ending simulation of Manhattan circa 1999.

The most recent spiritual heir in this long line of techno-philosophical thought has been put forward by AI gurus such as Michael Anissimov, who suggests that we program our future digital progeny with 'goal systems' which pre-empt the possibility of rise from robot underling to robot overlord.

Why must we recoil against the notion of a risky superintelligence? Why can’t we see the risk, and confront it by trying to craft goal systems that carry common sense human morality over to AGIs? This is a difficult task, but the likely alternative is extinction. Powerful AGIs will have no automatic reason to be friendly to us! They will be much more likely to be friendly if we program them to care about us, and build them from the start with human-friendliness in mind.

I find the assumption that Artificial General Intelligence, let alone uber-AGI, is ‘programmable’ in any traditional line-by-line sense, as if we’re just going to throw in a few Commandment #declarations or a looped conditional statement in the main function such as “if(hurting humans){stop;}” or anything of the sort an interesting and quickly antiquating notion.

Excluding the Google / IBM Watson style “pseudo intelligence” which amount to very good lookup tables with several library of congresses full of info, the kind of super AGI we might want, that is capable of creative and inventive thought necessary to create cures for all our diseases, solve all our intractable conflicts, figure out how to upload all our consciousness into digital New Shangrilah, kick Faster Than Light travel, tell us who killed the Kennedies and the question to which the answer is 42, is most likely going to come from attempting to simulate our own 3 pound blueprints of grey matter sloshing around in our noggins.

Mother Nature, who we all know is smarter than us upstart bipedal monkeys, has been trying to figure out how to get us carbon based lifeforms to stop hurting and killing each other for 4 billion years and you can just turn on the news or read a book to see how the Benevolent Natural General Intelligence project has fared. If we were to attempt to reproduce the human brain in a silicon or otherwise machine, assuming that is possible, we can’t expect such an entity to be any less ethically unpredictable than humans, and will probably be even more unpredictable because of the fact that any such simulation / emulation will have to leave out some information and unknown effects of changing substrate. And then we give this digitized human mind godly amounts of power. Is it necessary to point out that power has the effect of desensitizing, decreasing empathy towards other humans lower on the totem pole, alienating, and generally turning human beings more sociopathic? I encourage anyone to take a trip down to Wall Street and talk to the CEO of one of the banks which thoroughly raped and continues to rape the world if you’d like an illustration of the utter arrogance, apathy and non-caring-about-other-human-ness festering in the Wring Wraiths of Power Land.

We can’t program Super AGI to care consistently about and not harm humans any more than we can program ourselves to stop being greedy, violent, backstabbing, warmongering, power-hungry apes. There’s no command line that folds out of your occipital bone, lets you input Asimov’s Three Laws as an OS code mod, and you reboot suddenly as Mother Theresa. That’s besides the fact that we’re discovering the human brain to be less and less like the Turing Machine we thought it was and more like a massively parallel, intractable jungle, constantly changing itself. People are constantly changing: the sweet kid who loved bunnies at five and wouldn’t hurt a fly may grow up to become an insurance selling family man but could as easily become an ass-cappin drug dealer or a megalomaniacal bank CEO. We don’t actually even *know* what we’ll do in a given situation till we’re actually in it, as is much said of soldiers who go to war. And the reason we’re having to create AGI by simply pirating the human brain is because we don’t understand it well enough to actually create one from scratch, so how the heck are we supposed to make such deep-structural changes to the digital human mind? I don’t see much hope for “crafting goal systems” in our future siliconized, jacked-up megabrains.

Yeah, Super AGI seems pretty risky business to me.

*(Artificial General Intelligence refers to intelligence on the level of human intelligence)

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